Axis Deer: The Facts

Do you know where the majestic Axis Deer actually came from?

The Axis Deer can be traced to the foothills of the Indian Himalayas and island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) where it is known as the Chital. Their original habitat was open country at lower elevations in forested regions. Fresh drinking water is always considered essential. Axis deer have been found on ranges varying from dry scrub to moist, deciduous forests. The Axis Deer and Bengal Tiger are historically linked as prey and predator and are displayed in mid-air assault in the United States National Museum of Natural History. Axis Deer are known to some of the best tasting venison around.

Physical Description

The Axis Deer is often considered the some of most beautiful and majestic deer. Both male and female have striking reddish-brown coats marked by white spots arranged in undisciplined rows along their sides. They have a black dorsal stripe and white bib on their neck, white inner legs, stomach, and under-tail. Male heights range from 29 to 39.5 inches. Mature weight is from 145 pounds to 250 pounds. Males have antlers which they shed annually. Males have darker facial markings with a more pronounced "scowling" expression the older they get. Bucks are larger bodied than does with thicker necks and broader chests. Female Axis stand 26 to 33 inches and weigh from 90 to 150 pounds.

Axis bucks can be in hard horn any time of the year. They grow and shed antlers on their own clock so in one herd there may be a newly shed buck, a hard horn buck and a buck in the velvet. Usual antlers are 22 to 27 inches. Trophies range from 30 to 36 inches. Axis have a typical antler structure of three points on each side consisting of a main beam, one secondary point halfway up the beam, and a brow tine. Four points on a side are not uncommon.

Habits

Axis deer are inhabitants of secondary forest lands broken here and there by glades, with an understory of grasses, forbs, and tender shoots which supply adequate drinking water and shade. They tend to avoid rugged terrain. Their food consists largely of grasses at all seasons, augmented with browse. Green grasses less than 10 cm high seem to be preferred. In Texas, they graze on grasses such as paspalum, switchgrass, and little bluestem. Sedges are favorite spring foods. Browse species include live oak, hackberry, and sumac.

These animals are gregarious and usually are found in herds ranging from a few animals to 100 or more. In each herd the leader is usually an old, experienced doe. Unlike our native deer, adult male axis deer normally are found living with herds of young and old animals of both sexes. Anatomically, axis deer are more closely allied to the North American elk than to our native deer. Like our elk, rutting male axis deer emit buglelike bellows, and both sexes have alarm calls or barks.

The reproductive pattern in axis deer is similar to that in domestic cattle. In the wild, bucks with hardened antlers and in rutting condition may be found throughout the year. Each buck seems to have a reproductive cycle of its own which may not be synchronized with that of other bucks in the herd. Consequently, when some bucks are coming into rut, others are going out or are in a non-breeding condition, with no antlers and with their testes quiescent. Likewise, females experience estrous cycles throughout the year with each cycle lasting about 3 weeks. The major breeding season lasts from mid-May through August with a June-July peak in activity. The bucks make no attempt to collect or retain harems of does, but instead they seek out and service the does in each herd as they become receptive.

Normally, only one fawn is produced per pregnancy after a gestation period of 210-238 days. Reflecting the summer peak in rutting activity, nearly 80% of Texas fawns are born in early January to mid-April, although fawns may arrive in all seasons. Following parturition, females again mate during the subsequent breeding period, so that adult females tend to produce one fawn each year. Twins are rare.

Fawns begin eating green forage by 5½ weeks of age, but weaning is delayed until 4-6 months. Permanent dentition is acquired when 2½-3 years of age and adult size is reached at 6 years for females and 4-5 years for males. Possibly, does may breed in the breeding season following birth, but most do not breed until the following season, when 14-17 months of age. Lifespan is 9-13 years, although zoo animals may reach 18-22 years of age

Distribution in Texas

The Axis was introduced to Texas in 1932. In 1988, Texas Parks and Wildlife found free-ranging herds of Axis Deer in 27 counties of central and southern Texas. The species could be found confined on ranches in 67 other Texas counties. The 1988 survey estimated a population of just over 39,000 Axis deer in Texas. In 1984, Concho County, Texas, was the first place Axis Deer were ranched for commercial venison production although excess animals had been taken off Texas hunting ranches for several years previous. The general consensus in Texas is that Axis are not a farmed species but thrive as a ranched species. Dr. Ronald Randal, University of Texas, is contact. It is thought that Axis Deer are not cold tolerant. In Texas, since 1932, they have adapted from their Indian year-round average temperatures of 70 degrees F. to the varied temperatures of the Texas Hill Country, 105 degrees in summer to winter temperatures bouncing from the 70's to zero degrees for several days. During stress times, good animal condition and heavy situational feeding have made the difference between high death loss and virtually none.


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