The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Deer

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DEER, animals of the family Cervidæ (q.v.), which are noted for their grace of structure and their fleetnesss of motion. Since the earliest times they have been known as objects of the chase, and their meat, “venison,” is considered a delicacy. The male deer is usually called “buck,” but the male red deer of Europe is a “stag,” or when mature a “hart.” The female is called a “hind,” or “doe.” In the language of mediæval venery each kind of deer, and each age of growing buck, has a distinctive name.

All deer have a coat of short fur, dull in tone, ranging from reddish-brown to gray on the upper surfaces, and usually white below. Those that are marked bear such markings on the face and throat and on the tail. Only a few genera are spotted. In most genera only the young (the fawns) are spotted, and lose their spots when they are about one year old. Deer breed annually, the young, one or two at a birth, being produced in late spring. The fawns remain with their mothers until they are about a year old, when they are sufficiently mature to become independent. The grass-land deer, especially, are gregarious, and often gather in large herds at the approach of winter. These feed on the meadow herbage, whereas the forest deer eat the leaves, twigs, and buds of bushes.

The deer is valued not only as food (it is the main subsistence of some northern tribes), but for commercial purposes. The skins make a peculiarly strong, soft leather, known as buckskin; skins with the fur on are not of much account, as the hair is brittle and soon disappears. The hoofs and horns are prized for ornamental purposes, especially the antlers of the roe-deer, which are utilized for making umbrella-handles, and for similar purposes; and the elk-horn, often employed in making knife-handles. The Chinese also make a medicine from stag-horn and they eat the antlers of certain species when "in the velvet." The reindeer is as valuable to the people of the frozen North as the camel is to the desert traveler. The Indians of the region north of Hudson Bay and Great Slave Lake are almost wholly dependent on the caribou.

Deer have long been bred in captivity as ornaments for parks, but only in the case of reindeer has thorough domestication succeeded. Considerable attention is being paid in those parts of the United States where large tracts of wild land are available to breeding the American deer for market and this will doubtless become in the future an important source of meat supply.

The deer family is older than other families of ruminants, dating back to the Lower Miocene Period, when they were very small and without antlers. With a gradual structural change in other directions, such as variations in dentition and increased size, the antlers have been produced and amplified, so that the deer of the present is a far larger and finer-looking animal than his fossil ancestor. In the matter of antlers the young stag typifies the evolution of the race; as a yearling, his antlers are merely one-pronged spikes; but each successive year they become more branched and forked until at maturity they may have seven or more branches. See articles under various English names of deer, as Elk; Fallow Deer; Moose, etc. Consult Lydekker, ‘Deer of All Lands’ (London 1898); Roosevelt (and others), ‘The Deer Family’ (New York 1902); Ingersoll, ‘Life of Mammals’ (New York 1907).

DEER (Cervidae)

Americana 1920 Deer.jpg
1 The Sambur (Cervus Aristotelis) 4 The Axis (Cervus axis)
2 The Virginia Deer (Cariacus virginianus)    5 The Muntjac (Cervulus muntjac)
3 The Elk (Alces palmatus) 6 The Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)