Understanding Fawn Mortality is a Must!

Early summer in Minnesota is a sight to behold. As nature moves on from spring’s
weather, it provides the opportunity for new growth and new life, of which our whitetail
deer fawning is prominent.

Although the whitetail’s geographic territory is wide and varied, its reproductive cycle is
truly one of grand design, providing for does to give birth when conditions are at their best
for the optimal chance of survival for the newborn fawns, because birthing in the latter
half of May and the first couple weeks of June is when new thick vegetation not only
provides nutritious forage for the lactating doe, but substantial cover for the vulnerable
fawn. Fawn survival, however, still remains highly variable. Data after two years into a MN DNR three-year study in southern Minnesota has provided more insight into this varying fawn mortality rate and its likely causes.

To background, in 2021, 75 fawns were collared for the study. Of those 75, twenty-six of
them died, with 17 being killed by predators. There also were five health-related deaths,
three vehicle collisions fawn fatalities, and one deer fell into a ravine and died. A total of
82 fawns were collared in 2022, and 44 died – 34 were killed by predators, four deaths
were health-related, three vehicle collisions killed deer, and three of them were hunter-
harvested during the fall. Correcting for sample size, there was an 80.1% increase in
predation in 2022. 

Predation is a factor, however, is it the leading cause of fawn mortality?

Common Minnesota predators that scavenge and prey on fawns include wolves,
coyotes, bobcats, and black bears. Though results from such studies still remain
indecisive regarding if these animals are “on the hunt” of newborn fawns per se, the
study says they are more “opportunistic” predators in this case. Simply put, they just
happen to stumble upon the fawn. After all, fawns rely on hiding undercover separate
from the doe for at least the first four weeks of their lives. Although, there is no question that
predation is a major factor, especially as the numbers of black bears, coyotes and
wolves not only continue to climb to record highs, but expand outside their common
range due to these increases. There are many other factors, that can
contribute to the unusually high fawn morality, some of which would otherwise be
mistakenly credited to predation where, even in situations where predation was
confirmed, it is theorized the fawns would have likely died due to other natural causes –
a process biologists call “compensatory mortality.” 

Much of this “compensatory mortality” can be linked to food stress where limited natural
forage, harsh winters, late springs, a delayed green-up, and over-browsing can all be
implications for compensatory mortality outside of predation. Along with a lack of food,
over-browsed areas also do not provide proper or ample cover for newborn fawns
during their early stages of hiding, making them more easily found by predators. Proper
nutrition for does during their last trimester of pregnancy is vital for fetal development
and the prospects of survival after birth, while the doe’s nutrition during lactation is equally just as important to compensate for the energy-demanding process of producing milk and her maternal ability overall.

Location also matters

Studies suggest that fawns born in agricultural areas fare much better than those born
in forested areas. This is partially due to cohabitating with a lower population of
predators in agricultural lands, but, moreover, a stronger abundance of food throughout
the year. 

Similar studies are being conducted elsewhere.

A study conducted in Delaware in 2018 by Justin Dion and Jacob Bowman at the
University of Delaware reported that only 49 (45%) of the 109 fawns being monitored
were still alive 90 days after birth. Yet, not a single one had fallen to predators. That is,
of course, because predators there are extremely low as bobcats and black bears do
not inhabit the area, and even coyotes are fairly rare. When the researchers
documented key factors in fawns surviving their first few weeks, they found the main
predictor was weight. Fawns less than 6.6 pounds face a much higher risk of mortality
than those born larger and hardier. Larger fawns are also able to regulate their body
temperature much easier, in addition to being better equipped to fight off harmful
viruses or bacteria, and are more apt to outrun and maneuver away from predators. 
Although studies on such scenarios are inconclusive, seemingly leaving much up to
question and assumptions, it is undeniable that predator mortality on fawns is a genuine
area of concern, especially in parts of the state where the whitetail population is already

In the meantime, we can all play a part. Hunters and landowners should
advocate for increased predator control by hunting or trapping in addition to managing
habitats to provide year-round forage so females are bodily prepared to carry, feed, and
tend to their fawns. Proper management, and responsible harvests of Whitetail deer is irrefutable in maintaining a healthy population. J. Dion also suggests, “To increase deer numbers, managers might need to reduce antlerless harvests, and encourage hunters to pass up older does. Fawns from older
does will more likely survive summer than those from 18 or 30-month-old does.
Likewise, when harvesting deer, hunters should avoid older, more productive does.”

-Alice Wiese
Wheezy Outdoors

What should you do if you find a fawn?

If found, fawns should be left alone. In most cases the doe is nearby browsing although she may be out of sight. A doe can leave her young alone for an upward of three-days. Never attempt to transport, pick up, or rehabilitate a wild animal. For more information on sick, injured, or orphaned deer or animals please visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

You can view this article among others in the Summer 2023 issue of Whitetales Magazine.
Whitetales is the official publication of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. Published seasonally four times each year. Full of great articles and beautiful color images.

Rifle Season 2021: Bigwood’s Bucks

My experience targeting the American Whitetail Mature Buck in the Minnesota Northland.

               As some of you know my eagerness for targeting mature whitetail Northwoods bucks has grown tremendously over the past several years. I have always had an unwavering passion for whitetail hunting growing up hunting farmland deer in the Bertha-Hewitt area since 1998, where I still hunt there from time to time. Now, the challenge of tracking down these tough, free-roaming deer in the North have me captivated. These elusive animals are like an entirely different breed of bucks all together.

Our hunt starts well before season

               Our season started off spending hours upon hours driving around and utilizing the OnX app scouting and searching for prime areas, followed by days upon days rotating game cameras and looking for suitable sign. We put an immeasurable number of miles on by both foot and wheeler to locate consistent activity and sightings leading us to discover at least four different target bucks we were set on to hunt. We were ready to set-up. Although, not too long after, we were quickly presented some significant challenges.

               A few weeks prior to opening day we caught the first wolf on camera. Not unusual for our area of course, but soon we started to notice far more wolves than deer. And over the course of the next couple weeks, it became evident that the growing pack had moved into the area we were hunting and hence pushed the deer elsewhere. Now, everything had changed, and it was time to go back to the drawing board and formulate a new plan of action. New plan, new setup, newly regained confidence, we were ready once again.

It was a tough start

               Opener rolled around and we started this opening weekend just as we have all the years prior, chugging coffee and full of excitement. The forecast was calling for much warmer temps than we had hoped for. I quickly opted out of my late season gear, thankful I had washed and prepped my Sitka Stratus System just in case as it made for a much more comfortable sit in the seemingly balmy temps. The weekend came and passed with me only seeing a few does and fawns, not to mention the countless number of red squirrels. By the end of that second day, we had learned that two of our target bucks were shot by nearby hunters. Though, we were quick to offer our congratulations and express our happiness for them for such incredible harvests.

               Day three arrived, and some new hunters had moved into one of the areas we were hunting. We respectfully decided not to go in, after all, it is public land and there for all of us to enjoy. There goes target buck number three. We were down to one area, and one “hit-list” buck left. And from the most recent photo of him on camera featuring a broad daylight close-up of him, he was our number one! We still maintained a small shred of hope. This was a very promising area, with tall pines, poplars and maples, high ridges on both sides which acted as a funnel, butted up against a vast spruce bog. Not to mention a plethora of hot does around to keep him well occupied. We staged in that area for four days only seeing does and one small buck.

Time to get something in the freezer


  The second weekend of season, and not having tagged a deer yet I decided to take our three-year-old son, Finn, down with me to farm country. We saw several deer, and finally managed to harvest some meat for the freezer. Finn was happy to enjoy some time in the stand with me, although I don’t think he realizes that I probably enjoyed it more. Finn and I returned home late that Sunday night, and spent the following two days completing a few unfinished tasks. It was Wednesday morning when I got up early to hit the stand.


I decided to go back to the “funnel area”. It was clear all the does were still around, but there was no new “buck sign”. He hadn’t been back to check his line, no new scrapes, not even a track. My frustration grew and I had a feeling of angst as I was wondering where he may have gone, even more as I wondered what should I do next. The cooler weather had finally set in and we had a fresh blanket of snow. I decided it was time to get my boots on the ground on the search for some fresh sign, or just anything at this point. After walking in the timber for about three miles, I stumbled into an old blowdown area covered with thick swamp grass. Here I noticed a massive bedding area full of fresh deer beds, fresh scrapes, and the overwhelming (and quite unpleasant) fragrance of deer urine. This was it! I hurried back to the truck and raced home to grab one of our Muddy portable stands. I returned a short while later, well before prime-time, managed to get the stand up with little disruption and noise. I was determined to hunt over this bedroom that evening.

There he was… gone!

               As I got situated in the stand for that afternoon, I really wasn’t expecting much, but the wind was in my favor at least. Not long after I caught a glimpse of a large bodied deer through a clearing in the tall pines about 100 yards away. Just a glimpse was all I caught; no shot was provided as I watched this deer disappear. All I was thinking was “Crap! That was my chance!” After all, I knew very little about this buck, and this was an entirely new area to me. As my adrenaline ceased, my frustration had turned to understanding and furthermore appreciation. As a hunter, you do not find glory solely in the harvest but more so in the pursuit. You gain a deep appreciation and sense of gratitude for God’s beautiful creation that surrounds you, and realize these animals have become rather worthy adversaries in this unending game of wits and tactics. And with each play and counterpart, your knowledge continues to grow.

The Big Boy in all his glory

               As I sat there and reflected on these matters, a doe came running out from the direction that buck had walked in. No more than 10 minutes later, he came out, hot on her trail. I raised my rifle and gave a short grunt in effort to stop him. Though it was plain to see his focus was on that doe, there was no stopping him. I followed his steady trot refusing to let this opportunity to pass me by. Luckily to my good fortune he made a quick move which presented me with the perfect broadside shot. I squeezed the trigger on my Ruger 7mm, and heard the bark of the rifle echo through the pines. He no more than stumbled before collapsing to the ground. The stars had seemed to align in my favor, and I became flooded with emotion, as I realized I had dropped “The Big Boy.” All the impediments leading up to this point had vanished.

               I climbed down from the stand and admired my trophy. I realized quickly the real work was about to begin as I contemplated how I was going to get him out. I could have quartered and packed him out, though wearing full gear and knowing we would be losing light soon I knew I would not be able to get the whole deer in one haul. With wolves running heavy in the territory I didn’t want to take my chances on leaving anything behind. Not to mention, we utilize the whole carcass. My mouth began to water as I started to think about Traeger smoked venison ribs, and my wife’s homemade stew from bone broth. To say the drag of this beast was pure hell would be an understatement as I drug him up the valley ridge all by myself to the nearest trail. But I still smiled with every step, grunt, and back breaking tug the whole way out.

What it really comes down to…

               This hunt reminded me that effort, dedication, and perseverance will ultimately pay off. Never give up, even when everything seems to be an uphill battle, and you have lost all shred of hope. You can’t expect accolades from little effort, give it your all and keep grinding. The harder you work for something the more you will appreciate that reward. As I close out this 2021 Minnesota Whitetail Rifle Season I reflect on a quote by the late great Fred Bear, “A downed animal is most certainly the object of a hunting trip, but it becomes an anticlimax when compared to the many other pleasures of the hunt.”

               Now it is time for me to open the drawing books in preparation for the 2022 season. We hope you all had a great season be it from a freezer full of meat, traditions embraced, or new memories made with family and friends. And best of luck to those who are still out there for this final weekend and into the upcoming black powder season. God Bless!


 Captain Justin Wiese