Tips on Tracks: Sitka Black-tailed deer

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2011

Name of animal: Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis)

Illustration By Richard Carstensen
Illustration By Richard Carstensen

General description
of the track: Tracks look like upside down, opposing apostrophes. On average they are about 2 inches long and the same hoof may make another track 3 feet in front of the other, depending on the speed and style of travel.

When, where to look: Deer can be found near food. By now, snow has forced them off the sub-alpine meadows, where succulent food was abundant during warmer seasons. During low-snow winters like this one, deer are often in forested areas where the evergreen canopy keeps most of the snow off of the ground. They are surviving on a winter diet of evergreen forbs like ground dogwood, five-leaf bramble and fern-leaf goldthread. If there is heavy snow and the forbs get covered, deer will be forced to graze on the beach.

Lookalikes: Moose and mountain goats are also ungulates, also known as hoofed animals. Moose are much larger, as evident in the tracks they leave behind, and do not live in the immediate Juneau area. Mountain goat hoof prints are blockier and can be distinguished by tips that are less pointy.

More about the Sitka Black-tailed deer: Unlike the flat-footed human or bear, or even the toe-walking dog, ungulates have evolved to walk on their toe nails. This adaptation allows for speed and quiet travel, but does not give good flotation in snow. Sitka black-tailed deer are native to southeast Alaska. They are competent swimmers and live throughout the Alexander Archipelago. Unlike an old-world deer, such as elk which are harem formers, Sitka black-tailed deer are new-world deer and do not form harems. The rut peaks in mid-November and fawns are born around June. Aside from the distinctive large size of a mature male’s hoof prints, it is very difficult to determine the sex of a Sitka black-tailed deer by is tracks.

• This tracks feature appears every other week during winter months and is compiled by members of Discovery Southeast, a local nonprofit offering a variety of programs for local youth aimed at educating and engaging students in their outdoor world. For more information on the organization, go online to

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