Can you tell a whitetail buck from a doe by the shape or size of deer droppings? How many times a day does a deer poop? Great questions. The sex thing works for turkeys. Gobbler droppings are “J” shaped while hens’ are spiral. It also works for elk as bull droppings are dimpled on one end while cows are typically tapered on both ends. But does this hold true for deer?
Deer feces come in many shapes, sizes and colors, and they’re referred to by many names – scat, droppings and pellets to name a few. We can learn much from deer pellets, while some things we can’t. Let’s take a look.
In general, deer pellets change with the seasons based primarily on the deer’s diet and specifically on its water content. Although deer droppings are usually observed in groups of dark brown, oblong pellets, succulent spring foods can produce soft, clumped masses while dry winter foods produce hard, fibrous pellets.
When deer scat is fresh it has a shiny, wet appearance from an outer covering of mucous-like material, which is gone in a matter of hours as it is exposed to the elements. As scat ages it becomes lighter in color and the plant fibers become more visible. There’s even a slight difference in the number of pellets as does average 50 to 60 while bucks crank out 70 to 80 pellets per bowel movement.
Deer Dung Data
With some analysis in a lab, you can determine the quality of the deer’s diet and even estimate the amount of grain or supplemented ration it received. You can determine what the deer was eating, its protein content, and more. You can even detect and measure a stress hormone called cortisol to study how deer are affected by factors like predators and weather. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Wildlife Futures Program are even training dogs to identify the presence of chronic wasting disease in the environment via deer pellets.
Deer managers have used pellet group counts since at least the 1950s to estimate deer density, although studies show a deer’s daily defecation rate ranges from 13 to 34 times per day based on diet, relative age (fawns go more than adults), and time of year. In general, deer go an average of 10 to 15 times per day during fall and winter and 20 to 30 times per day during spring and summer. And you thought you spent a lot of time in the bathroom!
So, you can determine several things about whitetails by their feces such as food sources they’ve eaten and the quality of that food. You can estimate the number of animals in an area by the number of pellet groups and whether any of those animals have CWD. You may even be able to estimate the relative size of the animal based on the size of the droppings, but you cannot distinguish between the sexes based on the shape of their droppings. That woodsmanship skill is reserved for elk and turkey hunters.