Ohio's State Mammal - White-tailed Deer

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White-tailed Deer, buck.jpg

In 1988, the Ohio General Assembly made the White-tailed Deer Ohio's official state mammal. The White-tailed Deer, Odocoileus virginianus, has been extremely important in Ohio's history. The state tree, the Ohio Buckeye, is named because its nut resembles a deer, or buck's, eye. Buckeye is based on the Native American word "hetuck," meaning "eye of the buck." White-tailed Deer have been in Ohio since the end of the last Ice Age. At this point in time, the deer lived in the portion of southeastern Ohio where there were no glaciers. The deer played a very important role in the lives of practically all of Ohio's prehistoric Native American cultures. Ohio's native people used the deer's meat for food, the hide for clothing, and the bones and antlers for tools. Native Americans also used the hides, antlers, and bones for ceremonial purposes. Archaeologists have found deer antlers sheathed in copper at a prehistoric site, and Hopewell craftspeople made shaman characters wearing deer antlers.

As the Ice Age ended, the White-tailed Deer spread across Ohio. The deer population before 1775 was healthy and stable because of good food and cover. The wolf, cougar, and Native American hunters limited the deer population slightly. The White-tailed Deer was the most important food source for the Native Americans. As they did during prehistoric times, Native Americans used deer for many reasons, including for food, clothing, and for tools.

As the Europeans entered into what is now modern-day Ohio, they too used deer to their own advantage. Europeans considered deer hide to be very valuable. They used deer skins in barter and trade with the Native Americans and with other Europeans. The slang term "buck," referring to a dollar, dates to this time when deer skins (commonly called buckskins) were used to trade and barter for supplies. According to a report in 1779, "A large buckskin is valued at a Spanish dollar; two doeskins are regarded as equal in value to one buckskin."

As white settlers began to carve farms out of Ohio's forests, the deer population decreased. To try and save Ohio's dwindling deer population, Ohio's government established hunting restrictions in 1857. However hunting seasons that lasted over a month with no bag limits continued through most of the 1800s. In 1882, A.W. Brayton wrote, "The Virginia Deer is rarely met with in Ohio at present, except as domesticated in parts." Because of the deer population's decimation, there were no hunting seasons between 1897 and 1899.

By 1904, White-tailed Deer no longer existed in Ohio. During the 1920s and the 1930s, a limited restocking program began, as well as the natural migration of deer from surrounding states into Ohio. By 1937 White-tailed Deer were reported in twenty-eight of Ohio's counties, and in 1943, enough deer existed in the state for a regulated hunting season to occur in select counties. By 1956, deer existed in all of Ohio's counties, and hunting now occurred across the state. In 1995, Ohio's deer population had reached 550,000 animals.

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