From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

Antlered Female Deer


Reports of antlered female white-tailed, black-tailed, and mule deer go back more than a century and have been noted throughout the whitetail’s range.  Prevalence data vary.  It was reported that 1 in 4437 “bucks” were actually antlered females harvested in Pennsylvania.  Thirty years ago, it was generalized as 1 in every 1000-1100 adult females had antlers. However, reports of antlered females have not increased with the increase in either-sex harvest across the whitetail range.

Most antlered females have velvet-covered pedicels or small spikes with some branching, and can produce fawns. Antler development is a complex interaction of hormonal cues.  Researchers have noted that females can have a testosterone surge caused by a hormone imbalance, first pregnancy, tumors, or degenerative conditions of the ovaries or adrenal glands. This single surge can cause the growth of antlers in velvet.  Postmortem examination by researchers around the country indicates that does with antlers in velvet tend to be reproductively functional, or to have complete but malformed reproductive tracts, or to be true hermaphrodites in which the ovaries are more developed than the testes.

Adult females with hardened antlers have been reported but far less frequently than those with velvet antlers.  These animals are usually males possessing female external genitalia.  These animals are likely a male pseudo-hermaphrodites – teats present but unlikely to have ovaries or uterus with testes and penis present but not externally visible.  A case in South Carolina described a six-point with antlers in velvet that externally appeared to be a doe but only vulva, clitoris, vagina, and cervix were present.  The testes were located in the body cavity.

Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Management Section

PA Game Commission


Bubba Was Here


He’s of prime age and is available. He hangs with the bucks in the Yoak gang, but he is not the biggest or the baddest. He passed by on Tues. at 3 o’clock.

This is a lot to communicate, but deer can get this information from a quick whiff at any signpost. Bucks place signposts— licking branches, rubs and scrapes—year-round throughout their territory. Because bucks and does travel in different social circles, signposts facilitate communications for both sexes.

In the spring and summer, when tender new antlers are developing under a cushion of velvet, bucks communicate through the communal licking of branches. These branches usually are located over a trail or along the edge of a field, just above normal deer height. By mouthing the branch and sometimes rubbing it with their forehead or preorbital glands, bucks smell and taste “notes” left by other deer. Identities, status and social bonding can all be gathered through the nose. During summer, the licking branches are used by all bucks in the area, dominant or not; a one-stop gossip rag for all the deer in the neighborhood.

After their headgear has hardened and the velvet begins to shed, bucks begin tearing and rubbing the bark off bushes and trees with their antlers. Rubbing during and shortly after velvet loss is violent, as bucks thrash bushes to get a feel for what has been growing on their heads all summer. As the rut progresses, rubbing evolves into the more typical, highly visual buck rub. Once the rub is complete, bucks anoint it with their forehead gland. Some rubs are used year after year. Age plays a factor in rub making. Yearlings typically rub saplings no more than two to three inches in diameter, while a mature buck may rub trees six inches or larger. This work doesn’t go unnoticed, as bucks and does visit rubs.

The most complex signpost bucks use is a scrape. It is used most intensely just before the peak of the rut. A full scrape involves branch marking, pawing and urination. A scrape starts with an overhanging limb on which a buck will rub his forehead or preorbital gland. If the mood strikes him, he’ll even rattle the branch with his antlers. He takes the twig in his mouth and moistens it, thereby leaving his mark and detecting the mark of others using the scrape. Then he clears a 3- to 6-foot circle by pawing the ground, steps into the circle and urinates onto his tarsal glands while rubbing them together. Usually, only mature dominant bucks produce a significant number of scrapes. So while the whitetail spends its days in relative silence, plenty is being said. You just have to look, lick or smell.

By: J.T. Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist

-This article was originally posted in the Life & Times of the Whitetail.

Saving a Life- How to Feed and Care for a Fawn

Being little is hard. Here’s how to lend a helping hand.


Babies of all shapes and sizes are popping up everywhere.  Fawns are arguably the cutest ones of the bunch. But they are so little and helpless and often abandoned.  If you come across one of these frail creatures, here’s how you can help.

LEAVE IT ALONE! A “saved” fawn is a dead fawn.

The peak of fawning season for adult does (>1 year old) is May 30 with 90% giving birth from May 12th to June 27th.  For fawns (those bred when they were 6 months old and giving birth at 1 year old), the peak is June 19 with 90% giving birth from May 22nd to August 4th.

There are going to be a lot of fawns out there soon. They are not abandoned.  They are not in trouble.  They do not need to be saved by any person!

During the first few weeks of life, does only associate with their fawns briefly usually at sunrise and sunset with fawns nursing only 2 or 3 times a day.  A Fawn selects its own bedding location away from its mother and moves this hiding place frequently ALL BY ITSELF.  The doe is usually within about 90 meters of her resting fawn and makes contact only to nurse.

People often think fawns are abandoned or cold or sick or lonely.  Do it a favor and leave it alone. This is the best way to increase its odds of survival.

Because bad things happened when people mess with wildlife – like imprinting.  Have you read the recent story of the bison calf loaded in a tourist’s SUV in Yellowstone because they thought it looked cold?  Instead of saving the calf, they signed its death certificate.

A doe will imprint upon her fawns in a few hours.  If this critical period is interrupted, the imprinting process breaks down and may lead to abandonment.  But, fawns take several days or longer to imprint on mom.  During this interim, fawns risk being attracted to almost any large moving object – even people.  That’s why does are secretive and aggressive during fawn rearing.

It may be difficult but people need to let fawns be.  If, in fact, the fawn has been abandoned for some reason, nature will “take its course.”  Based on research conducted in Pennsylvania, 57 percent of fawns born in north central Pennsylvania (forested areas) and 72 percent of fawns born in central Pennsylvania (agricultural areas) survive through the summer.  This means that between 28-43% of fawns will not live to 6 months of age in Pennsylvania. The majority of this mortality occurs before they are 3 months old.  Mortality factors include predators, starvation, failure to nurse, infections, and parasites.  It is a harsh reality.

However, in the wild, fawns have a fighting chance. In the arms of a person, they are as good as dead.

So lend a helping hand by keeping YOUR HANDS to yourself. Look but do not touch and you can save a life!

Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Section

Pennsylvania Game Commission


Pennsylvania Bald Eagles Webinar


Join the Pennsylvania Game Commission for a webinar on Mar 25, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT.

Register now!

The Pennsylvania Game Commission Endangered Bird Specialist Patti Barber will be discussing the habits, biology and population of Pennsylvania bald eagles. The session will include a short PowerPoint (15-20 minutes) followed by a short question and answer period (10-15 minutes).

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. View System Requirements

Hunters Reminded to Report Banded Pheasants


Photo by Bob Boyd

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is finalizing a study to assess harvest rates of ring-necked pheasants raised on game farms, then released to provide hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania.


Game Commission wildlife biometrician Josh Johnson said about 5,500 pheasants were banded before release on public lands last fall.

It’s crucial for the success of this study that hunters report leg band information from harvested birds, or even from those found dead from other causes, by March 31, 2016, by calling the toll-free number on the band. After March 31, 2016, the toll-free number will be closed and reward redemption will expire.

Johnson said he’s pleased with the reporting response so far, as more than 2,000 bands have been reported.

“We thank all the dedicated hunters who have taken the time to report their pheasant bands. Reporting bands provides important information that will be used to assess future stocking strategies, and it shows support for the pheasant stocking program,” he said.

A similar study on pheasant harvest rates was conducted in the fall of 1998. That study found about 50 percent of pheasants stocked by the Game Commission were harvested.

Since then, however, many changes to pheasant-stocking strategies have been implemented. These changes aim for higher harvest rates, but harvest rates have not been evaluated since the changes took place.

Results from this current study will shed further light to redefine the pheasant-stocking program.

A report summarizing the analyzed data from the leg bands should be available this fall.

Pennsylvania State Game Lands

The Pennsylvania state game lands system, which since 1919 has provided critical habitat for wildlife statewide, and a network of lands open to public hunting and trapping, now tops 1.5 million acres.

State Game LandsSmall2

That’s a land base larger than the state of Delaware. Pennsylvania is the only independent state wildlife agency that owns and manages such extensive lands. And Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said all Pennsylvanians can take pride in the achievement of what the 1.5 million acre milestone represents.

“Early in its existence, the Game Commission recognized the importance of preserving wildlife habitat, and at the same time, creating opportunity for hunters and trappers by opening those lands to the public, ” Hough said. “For years and years, Pennsylvania hunters and trappers have paid into this system with the purchase of their licenses, and the sporting arms and ammunition they use in the field. Countless conservation organizations have stepped up to fund land purchases, and hundreds of private individuals donated parcels that were added to the system.

Game Lands Documentary

The Game Commission has produced a documentary chronicling Pennsylvania’s state game lands system. It can be viewed below.

Future of Game Lands

Taking care of the tremendous land resource state game lands represent is no small feat.

A lot of manpower and money goes into modifying habitat to get the greatest return for wildlife. The Game Commission’s 2015-20 Strategic Plan calls for the agency to transition management practices on state game lands to create more young-forest habitats through timber harvest, planting native warm-season grasses and prescribed fire. The Game Commission will also focus efforts on enhancing hunter opportunities on game lands.