Igot my first taste of the natural birthing process last fall on a 4,500-acre beef ranch in central North Dakota.

Next to the birth of my own children someday -- in what will hopefully be a much more controlled and sterile environment -- that's the last time I need to see that sort of thing. Frankly, it was disgusting.

The weather was cold. The cows were ornery. And everything I did to help just seemed to make things worse. When I pulled, I was told I should've been pushing. When I pushed, I was told I should've been pushing harder. It was a nasty process that I had absolutely no shot of successfully completing.

Comparing bovine to a dainty species such as a whitetail deer is like comparing an apple to grenade, but knowing the horrific sights, sounds and smells surrounding a cow's birth helps me to much better understand what Pennsylvania's does will endure over the next month or so.

The average gestation period for a whitetail is 200 days. If you pull out an old calendar and count backwards, you will see we are almost in perfect correlation with the peak of the rut. Just a few more weeks and fawns will literally be popping out all over the place.

Obviously, a wild animal such as a deer will not have the "luxury" of giving birth in a stall filled with hay and a bug-eyed newlywed looking to help. A whitetail has to create new life while constantly watching out for her own. Predators love the easy target that is a doe in labor.

Because they know they're so vulnerable, pregnant does will separate themselves from the herd and seek seclusion and cover. They even push away their yearly offspring in an effort to find seclusion.
Don't be surprised to see a wide-bellied deer or two over the next month in places you haven't seen them before. They're looking for protection. For first-time mothers, it can be a tough process.

The actual labor process can be as short as a half hour or it can last 12 or more grueling hours. In the end, the mother is left licking clean a 5- to 8- pound fawn, spots and all. Within 20 minutes, a newborn can be taking its first wobbly steps. After a few months of nursing and being shown the ways of the wild, a fawn is ready to take on the woods. By fall, a mother and her yearlings will rejoin the local herd and the cycle will start over.

Whether you witness it first hand or you merely reap the rewards of the birthing process by taking a stroll through the woods, it's impossible to deny it's a miraculous process. So many hunters are concerned about the rut, but the truly important time is about to get under way.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com. Read his blog, "The Outdoors Insider," at the Blogzone at yorkdispatch.com.