Mama’s Fawn Survival Strategy

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Several years ago the author discovered this new fawn, still wet from being born,. If you discover one, don’t assume it has been abandoned.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorenson

“We found an orphaned fawn!” You probably know someone who has said that, but most of the time it’s not true.

My closest encounter with a tiny newborn fawn was several years ago when I was turkey hunting in late May. Before approaching it, I scanned the woods for its mother.

Mama was nowhere to be seen, so I quietly walked over for a closer look. Still wet from being born, it was perfectly motionless. I saw no signs of life, until it blinked.

I wanted photos, but it took me 15 minutes to hurry to my truck and return with my camera. The fawn was still there when I got back.

As I knelt down to snap some pictures I wondered where the little buck’s mother was. I didn’t want to leave any more human scent than necessary, so I didn’t touch it or any of the vegetation around it. After about ten photos I quietly backed away and left the scene.

Most of us get our ideas about nature’s newborns either from Disney cartoons (never a reliable source of wildlife info) or from critters like robins, rabbits and raccoons. Those mothers closely supervise their young in a nest or a den, but that’s not true of deer. Many fawns are found alone in the woods around Memorial Day and soon after.

Mother deer most often have two fawns, and since they are not born in nests or dens, these babies are left alone for hours at a time. For the first day or so, a whitetail doe will leave her babies and return only to supply them with milk.

The mother is programmed to protect her fawns with a two-pronged survival strategy. Newborn fawns are hiders, not escapers, so the mother’s first duty is to hide her newborns. The spotted coats are good camouflage in spring’s dappled sunlight. She will deposit each of them in a safe spot, apart from each other, so if a predator does find one, it does not find both. Most of the time when a predator comes near, it does not notice the fawn.

The mother positions herself within hearing distance of her twins. If she hears a threat, her second duty takes over. She will rush in to defend her fawn, even at the risk of her own life.

When a human finds one of these lone fawns the mother may be aware of the human’s presence and she is worried, but usually does not respond to protect the fawn because the human makes no predatory sounds.

The human, seeing no mother in the vicinity, often thinks the fawn was abandoned wants to rescue it. Either a heroic impulse or unwarranted pity motivates some humans to remove the “orphaned” fawn. They are, in effect, kidnapping the fawn.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says only about 5% of the fawns “helped” by people were truly orphaned. Sadly, some fawns are injured during capture, and need expensive rehabilitation. Roughly half of those that are rehabilitated and released end up dying anyway because even minimal contact with humans during rehabilitation robs them of skills they need to survive in the wild.

The bottom line is this: if you see a fawn that appears abandoned by its mother, chances are it’s right where the mother wants it. She probably realizes you are there. The fawn doesn’t need your help. And if it really has been abandoned, the odds are your efforts will be harmful. So please, leave the baby deer alone.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting , he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).