Deer-hunting season begins in Georgia this month. The only native species of deer modern hunters can hunt in state is the white tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) which numbers close to 1.2 million, making it the second most common large mammal in the state, behind man. This season, hunters are allowed to take an astonishing 10 antlerless and 2 antlered deer, suggesting either a shortage of hunters or an overpopulation of deer.
The fossil record provides evidence that white tail deer were a common large mammal species during the Pleistocene too. Their bones are found in almost all Pleistocene-dated sites in state. They’re a species that prefers forest edge habitats, and the dynamic ecosystems of the Ice Age with fire, rapid climate fluctuations, and megafauna destruction of trees, created extensive areas of this type of habitat.
Photos I took of white tail deer at Fripp Island, South Carolina. The deer here are numerous and have little fear of humans. Nevertheless, they should not be approached or fed because they are unpredictable wild animals and dangerous. They can use their hooves to stomp people. Deer have been known to kill dogs.
I suspect elk (Cervus canadensis) may have been the second most common kind of deer in what’s now Georgia during the Ice Age, ranging as far south as the fall line between the piedmont and the coastal plain. Elk fossils from Kingston Saltpeter Cave in north Georgia, and near Charleston, South Carolina are the southernmost record of this species. None have been found in Florida’s abundant fossiliferous deposits. I think this is evidence of an abrupt difference in climate between the piedmont region of southeastern North America and the coastal plain.
Scientists don’t know much about the extinct fugitive or stilt-legged deer (Sangamona fugitiva). It was like a white tail deer but approached an elk is size, maybe being slightly smaller. The deer lived in east central North America from Missouri to West Virginia and a definitive record comes from Hamblen, Tennessee. It probably occurred in northern Georgia because Dr. Clayton Ray found a tooth that may or may not have been from this species–the specimen was in too dodgy a condition to identify with certainty.
That caribou (Rangifer caribou) lived in northern parts of southeastern states during the Ice Age fascinates me. Caribou fossils discovered in Bell Cave, Yarbrough Cave in Georgia, and near Charleston, South Carolina are evidence this species lived much further south than it did in historical times. Were they stragglers or members of large migrating herds that regularly travelled through Georgia? I wish I knew.
The stag-moose, or elk moose (Cervalces scotti) is kind of misnamed for it wasn’t closely related to a moose or an elk. It was named so because it slightly surpassed a moose in size and sported antlers similar to those of the elk. However, it was a distinct species, now extinct. Its fossils are occasionally found in places like Ohio or New York. One tooth of this species was discovered in Magnolia Phosphate Mine near Charleston (as I noted in a previous blog entry about the site)–evidence a small population roamed the upper south.
Pleistocene venison may have had a bitter flavor. According to pollen records, wormwood (Artemesia) flourished more abundantly in the south than it does today. This plant still commonly occurs in western localities, such as in Yellowstone National Park. Reportedly, game that’s been eating wormwood acquires a bitter taste. I can attest to the fine qualities of wild Georgia white tail deer meat–it tastes like dry beef, and I think the wild venison is better than New Zealand farm-raised animals, which though also good, tastes more like lamb.
Tags: Bell Cave, caribou, Dr. Clayton Ray, Elk, fugitive or stilt-legged deer, Georgia's hunting season, Hamblen Tennessee, Kingston Saltpeter Cave, Magnolia Phosphate Mine, stag-moose, white tail deer, wormwood, Yarbrough Cave