Editors Blog

Molting: When and Why Deer Lose Their Hair

A close-up at the whitetail's molting process. This doe is losing her winter coat - fast. She will soon don the clay-red hairs of summer. Stealth Cam photo by Daniel Schmidt)

A close-up at the whitetail’s molting process. This doe is losing her winter coat – fast. She will soon don the clay-red hairs of summer. (Stealth Cam photo by Daniel Schmidt)

If you have trail cameras out, you’ve probably noticed some really ratty-looking deer out there. I’ve received many inquiries here at D&DH, and the common question is: What’s wrong with the deer?

There’s nothing wrong with them, actually. The annual molting process — the few weeks in spring when deer lose their thick fall coats — is underway. The entire process is fast — usually complete in just a couple of weeks. And, contrary to what the images might be showing, the more awful it looks, chances are the deer you’re seeing one of the healthiest in the herd. Deer that are in poor physical condition won’t lose their hair until closer to summer (late June).

Molting usually begins at the top and progresses downward, as seen in this Stealth Cam photo. The thick “blue” hairs of the neck, chest and sides fall out and are replaced by the new, reddish coat, of summer. (The red hair reflects the sun’s energy compared to the darker winter hair which absorbs the sun’s heat.) The deer’s hind quarters, rump and back legs are the last places to shed their hair (normally).

There has been debate in the scientific community for years over the whitetail’s shedding process. One noted researcher and deer behaviorist, Ian Alcock, floated the idea in the late 1990s that the spring molting process is the only true molt for the whitetail species. Others, including longtime D&DH contributor Charles Alsheimer of New York, disagree, saying the autumn hair-shedding process must also be considered a molt.

Perhaps their splitting hairs? Kidding aside, the take-away lesson from these sights in the deer is woods is simple: The whitetail molting process, albeit unsightly, is nature’s way of providing deer with “clothing” that suits the temperatures.

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