All posts by Macy Ledbetter

Density

Density is defined as “the amount of something per unit of measure”.  The density of cattle and deer on a property are the primary factors influencing the overall production of the ranch.  It is a balancing act to match the animals with the ever-changing food supply of the property.  A progressive manager must react in an efficient manner if continued success is to be realized during the good and bad habitat times.

Cattle numbers are obviously much easier to manage than deer.  In a wildlife-oriented operation, cattle should be stocked conservatively during all weather conditions.  As they say, “We are one day closer to the next drought”, so plan for such limitations and stock cattle lightly.  Light stocking rates allow for fewer cattle to consume more grass per head and allow them to reach their full genetic potential.  As their body condition and score improves, so does their reproductive capacity and performance.  Rotate cattle often throughout the property and allow them to remove only half of the available grass, leaving the other half for ground protection and wildlife cover. Proper cattle management directly benefits wildlife production.   A healthy habitat today creates healthy animals tomorrow.

Research has proven that approximately 7% of a deer’s total diet is grass. The other 93% is a combination of forbs (weeds), mast (fruits, acorns, berries) and browse (leaves and twigs of brush).  Forbs and mast are short-term delicacies available only when timely rains occur, while browse plants support the majority of a deer’s diet throughout the year.  Browse plants are not created equally, but are classified according to their preference by deer.  The most highly preferred deer browse species are usually those most limited on a property so managing the foraging pressure put on those plants by deer is the astute manager’s primary goal.  In a healthy ecosystem, you should not notice an obvious browse line or hedging effect on preferred deer plants.  If you do, reduce the total number of mouths on the range…. it is just that basic.  Maintaining a deer population within the present food supply is critical for optimum production and remains one of the biggest challenges facing managers today.

Supplemental feeding deer is a common practice throughout Texas and is most beneficial when used correctly.  Supplemental feeding is not meant to be used to carry extra deer that the native habitat cannot support, but rather a supplement to the native forage and to provide additional trace minerals and additional protein when the deer require it most.   Simply put, carrying too many deer on a ranch results in poor habitat, an escalating feed bill and a decline in antler growth.  Supplemental feeding is not a replacement for good management; rather, it is a tool to be used to compliment good management.  On average, one deer consumes $0.25 of supplemental feed per day plus the native forage.  On overstocked properties with poor habitat, the same deer consume much more feed per head with less favorable results and a higher feed bill.

For deer, selective harvesting is the best method to control numbers.  Trapping and removal is another option, but is not practical in most situations.  Selective harvest is the act of removing animals in a controlled and managed fashion.  Selective harvesting is utilized to maintain the deer numbers within the food supply produced by the habitat at any given time; it can also be used to obtain a desired sex ratio and to achieve a desired age structure.  Maintaining deer within the carrying capacity of the habitat will improve fawn production and survival, increase body weight, improve antler development, and prevent habitat deterioration.

Habitat is where the deer live every day, rain or shine.  A healthy habitat produces healthy animals.  Managing to protect the habitat is critical.  Habitat that is overstocked with cattle or deer on a long-term basis will yield a decline in the total carrying capacity, animal nutrition, health and performance.  Just because it rains today doesn’t mean you can increase your animal densities tomorrow.  It takes time, often months or even years, before the habitat recovers enough to support extra animals.  Be mindful of the responding habitat and adjust management actions accordingly.

All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.

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How to Determine the Rut Peak on Your Ranch

Have you ever wondered exactly when the peak of the breeding season occurs on your very own hunting grounds?  Are the hunting magazine articles too general and not specific enough for you?   Have you read the TPWD brochure showing the eco-region peak breeding dates?  All of these offer great information but some folks desire much more specifics for their own ranches.  Continue reading for more information and details to help you determine the peak of the breeding season on your very own ranch.

Back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, deer researchers began developing a method to understand the exact dates of breeding activity.  This technique involves aging a fetus based on its size and then backdating to determine conception dates.  The technique has proven extremely accurate and valuable to land managers and hunters in order to better understand their specific herd dynamics and when to make specific management decisions.

Two amniotic sacs in partially gutted doe.

The method involves removing the fetus from a harvested doe carcass and using a fetus scale specifically created for such tasks.  The scale not only measures the length of the fetus, but also uses the Julian calendar to backdate in order to determine the specific conception date.  It also provides the ability to foredate to estimate the date it would have been born.  This information is important for managers to detect changes in breeding dates with respect to adult sex ratio and herd management programs.

Here is a typical crown-to-rump measurement example:

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For this exercise, let’s say the doe was harvested on December 28.   The fetus in this photo is 64 days old.  The Julian date for December 28 is 362.  This number minus the fetal age in days (64) is 298.  The Julian date of 298 occurs on October 25 and this is the date of conception.

The number of days to parturition (birth) was 134, see scale. This number, added to the Julian date of the harvest (362) is 496.  The Julian date of 496 occurs on May 11 and that is the projected date of birth.  So the doe was bred on October 25 and would have fawned on May 11, great information you would have never known without this exercise.

I harvested this northern San Saba County doe two years ago on December 28 so this tells me that the rut was on the last week of October and that the first wave of newborn fawns hit the ground on or about May 11 that year.  This information is valuable and helps me to decide if I want to have cattle in that particular pasture at that time, decide when to harvest a crop or perhaps use heavy equipment in my pastures at that time.  Perhaps I will defer grazing in that pasture for a few extra weeks to allow maximum fawning cover to remain or maybe I can use the local trappers or helicopter to help me lower the predator population in the weeks leading up to the peak birthing dates.  This information also tells me I need to be enrolled in the MLDP program so that I can harvest bucks with undesirable antler traits before they breed instead of waiting on traditional November rifle dates to remove those bucks.  This data also tells me approximately when the secondary rut will be (28 days after the primary rut) so that I may expect more mature buck activity.

So you can see how useful and practical this information can be.  Some folks cringe at the facts and others like to claim never to shoot does late in the season because they may be pregnant.  This technique and exercise proves that if you shoot a doe in San Saba County in the month of November, you are indeed harvesting pregnant does.

Take this information to your hunting camp and see what you learn.  I suspect you can win a few bets and impress your buddies around the campfire with it.

Macy Ledbetter

www.SpringCreekOutdoors.com

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High Fences are Tools

High fences are tools, just like low fences are.  Heck, FENCES are tools, regardless their height, material used, thickness, cost, color, or design.  Just like a screwdriver, hammer, or nail, either one is used to help get the job done that the operator desires.  If you want to stick two boards together, why use a tape measure?  Why not use a nail and hammer?  If you want to keep the deer on your property and your neighbor’s deer out, why not use a high fence?  If you are only interested in keeping your cows out of the bar ditch, why don’t you build a low fence?   Why don’t you build a cinder block fence and not just a net wire fence?  Why use barbed or slick wire?  Why metal and not wood?  Why not rocks or mud?
Tools, that is all they are.

Instead of your trusty .270 rifle, why don’t you use a club or 30-30 to do the job?  Instead of driving that old Chevy, why don’t you use a motorcycle?  Personal preference, that is why.  They all get the job done, but not in the fashion that YOU want to do it in.  Doesn’t mean that one is better, or worse, than the other, it just means you prefer to use what you have for your own reasons.
Personal preference.  It’s nobody else’s business as long as it’s your decision and responsibility.

Why do you wear boots and not tennis shoes?  Why not wear shorts to work?   Personal preference, safety, regulations, professionalism, presentation.
Goals and objectives and image and results, that is why.

Ear tags on deer, no ear tags on deer.  Supplemental feeding or no supplemental feeding.  Predator control or no predator control.  Culling too hard or not hard enough.  Spikes or no spikes.   Food plot or no food plots.
Tools of management, that is what they are, only tools to help you reach your  goals and objectives.

Tools of management are called tools of choice.  It may not be your preference or opinion, but it is the person who elects to use it.  Some use a hammer to extract a bent nail, some bend it over flat and others use a crow bar to pull it out.  You know what, the results are the same, the nail didn’t count.
Because we live in the USA, we have private property rights, choices, and can make our own management decisions.  You don’t have to agree with them, but we all have a choice.

Deer management in the 21st century has come a long, long way recently.  You don’t have to agree with, or even participate, in all it has to offer but you do need to understand and appreciate that we are blessed to have the ability to be our own bosses and decision-makers in order to meet our own personal goals and objectives.  God bless the USA and our military!

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All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Harvest Data: Why Is It Needed?

Harvest data collection is a real necessity of any deer management program.  It tells you about the current and past health history of your herd.  It helps establish trends in antler and body production.  It gives you averages and percentages.  It allows you to separate out portions of your deer herd for closer scrutiny and evaluation.  It takes out the emotion of the hunt and the eye appeal of the antlers.  It is black and white and it is objective.

What type of harvest data should be collected?  The more detailed data you collect, the more you can do with it.  Simply put, the popular Managed Lands Deer Permit holders are required to gather age, field dressed body weight, and basic antler measurements.  Others desiring more detailed information might gather age, live and field dressed body weights, gross Boone and Crockett score, lactation rates in females and photographing each buck.

Sex:  This is obvious, but creating subcategories for the bucks will prove beneficial for better evaluation.  Differentiate between bucks which are selected for their antler characteristics, such as spike, cull/management, or trophy class.  Designate a letter such as “S” for spike, “M” for management, and “T” for trophy.  This will help to further evaluate each subcategory of bucks produced.  Buck fawns accidentally harvested should be recorded as bucks and not does.

Age:  Properly aging a deer is very important.  The tooth wear and replacement method is not a sure thing, but it is the best method currently available for field use.  This data set will help to establish age-specific trends and correlations that can prove very valuable when combined with the antler measurements.  If you are unsure of how to age a jawbone, extract and label it and put it in the freezer until someone with more experience can view it or consider sending it to www.DeerAge.com for evaluation.  If taken to a taxidermist for mounting, request the jawbone is returned to you.  Collecting other data without recording the age is useless, so accurate age determination is very important and should be mandatory on every animal harvested.  Jawbones collected from a ranch can eventually be accumulated to build a reference collection.

Field dressed body weight:  This is one of the most common measurements of individual deer health.  Weight is taken immediately after field dressing and measurements should be taken to the nearest pound.  The old cotton scales in the barn are usually not accurate enough, so invest in a good set of scales that can measure more precisely.  Leave the head, hide, and lower legs on the carcass when weighing.

Antler measurements:  Antler quality is the objective of most management programs, so every buck harvested, even the spikes, should be recorded.  All TPWD permits require basic measurements of main beam length, inside spread, and basal circumference as a minimum standard.  For optimum data evaluation however, complete Boone and Crockett score is recommended.  Gross scores, before any deductions, are preferred.  Photographing every buck with a profile and front view will also prove very valuable over time.

Lactation Rate:  This data can be used to confirm the current year’s fawn survival estimate.  If your survey method indicated one survival rate and your lactation rate indicated another, the lactation rate is the more accurate of the two.  Lactation rate data is usually good only for the first half of the general deer season, so pick Thanksgiving weekend in Central Texas and December 1 in South Texas to cease such data collection.  Fawn survival estimates are critical to any deer management program because it represents the “interest” of the deer herd.  In order to establish a harvest recommendation, a manager must know what is being added to the population before knowing how many to harvest from the population.  Without a buck fawn being produced one year, you certainly can’t harvest him as a trophy five or six years later.  Fawn survival rates are critical to monitor each and every year so that harvest recommendations may be adjusted in order to reach your goals and objectives.

Harvest data collection is one of, if not the, most important management tool of an intensive deer management program.  Trends and averages can be determined and problems can be detected that otherwise may not be obvious.  Harvest data collection is quick, easy, and necessary for a successful program.

All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Food Plot Experiment: San Saba County

Background information:

Four deep sandy soil food plots were plowed and planted on the Ledbetter Ranch in northern San Saba County.  Topography is slightly rolling throughout, but each food plot was basically flat or terraced throughout.   Two separate large plots were divided in half length-wise and planted with different species for comparison purposes.  Right down the center of each large field, one narrow strip was planted (hand broadcasted) to plant both turnips and rape.  Exclosures were constructed at each intersection to fairly and equitably judge plant success and deer preferences.  One long and narrow field was planted with a mixture of wheat and oats together and one exclosure used in the center of the field.  One small plot, the Game Patch, was planted via hand broadcaster with Austrian Winter Peas, Madrid and Mixed Clover Seed.  This plot was very small and no exclosures were present.

8-28-04:

Four individual food plots were planted this year to determine what species grew best in the deep sandy soils and to determine which species were preferred by deer as they grew.  One week prior to planting, nine inches of rain fell on the property, so soils were just dry enough to plow and plant.  The disc took the ground extremely well due to the moist conditions and an excellent seedbed was established in all plots.  A grain drill was used to plant most seeds and a light cyclone fence section was used behind the drill as a drag.  Light rains fell while planting was taking place.  All plots had exclosures constructed immediately after planting to eliminate foraging animals in order to gauge growth rates and browsing pressure.  It took a total of seven hours to plow, plant, and construct the exclosures that day.

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9-4-04:   

Exactly seven days after the planting, ALL seeds were up and growing.  The Buck Forage Oats (BFO) were four inches tall while rape and Black-eyed Peas (BEP) were very short but present.  The tallest BEP was four inches tall, most were shorter overall though.  Both clovers (Madrid and Clover Seed Mix and Austrian Winter Peas (AWP)) in the Game Patch plot were 1-2” tall and growing well.  It rained 0.6” one day after photographing all plants.

September 4 to October 10, 2004:

Only 1.5” of total rainfall fell on the plots.  The rains came in several small amounts of no more than 0.5” at any one time.  Photos were taken of all plants on 10-10-04.  In the Bender Oat Patch, every BEP was eaten and removed by deer (except those inside the exclosures).  Rape was slow but still growing, showed signs of browsing pressure and appeared to be drying out somewhat.  Purple-top turnips were growing well with very little disturbance or use showing.  There were many deer tracks observed in all plots and the triticale, Buck Forage Oats (BFO), and the Deer Season Mix (DSM) were growing very well.  Lots of deer tracks in the oats, wheat, triticale, and mix sites with some browsing signs obvious.  In the Game Patch, the clover mixes and AWP were all but gone by browsing pressure and lack of moisture.  This dry spell had the deer on the move searching for nutrition and they obviously found each food plot.  Looking inside each exclosure, differences were obvious as all inside was much healthier and taller than anything outside.

10-31-04: 

Since October 10, 1.5” fell on all plots.  All plots were doing well, except clovers and AWP in Game Patch.  They are basically wiped out from intense browsing pressure and earlier dry conditions.  Signs of utilization on both turnips and rape were obvious now and triticale growing very well.  ALL BEPs are gone, except those inside the exclosure-that are now blooming and pea pods are 10” long.  Turnips are approximately tennis ball sized and very productive looking.  Many grass burr and silverleaf knightshade growing in all plots due to earlier soil disturbance.   Excellent growth in both BFO and DSM.  Of the two, planted side by side for comparison reasons, it appears that the BFO are outgrowing the DSM slightly and appear to have more leaf volume and density throughout.  There is ample browsing pressure on both species and they look in excellent conditions, very green and lush.  Wheat is growing well but slow.  It appears thinner than the oats, but doing well.  Not as much pressure on the wheat at this time.

11-27-04:

For the month of November, 5.5” of rain fell on the plots.   All plots are in excellent condition and look fantastic.  Hunters report few daylight deer observations while hunting, however, there are many deer tracks present, indicating that deer are using them more at night to avoid hunting pressure.  Exclosures beginning to show obvious signs of pressure from the outside.  Due to increased moisture, it appears that the deer are either slowing down on using the plots or that the plots are exceeding the browsing pressure as each plant species is thriving and looking extremely healthy and vigorous.

12-04:

Only 0.37” of rain fell on plots in December and the weather had gotten much colder.  Several light freezes have taken place early in the month.  Christmas Day temperatures were 22 degrees with a 12 degrees wind chill factor and hard ice on the ground.  Most all green stuff has disappeared, or in the process of, and deer are turning their full attention to the food plots and feeders.  Food plot daylight observation activity has picked up some, but not too much.  A full moon during the Holiday season kept most deer active at night and less during the day.  Food plots began showing signs of pressure and stress.  Exclosures showing dramatic differences now.

1-05:

2.5” of rain fell on all plots in January.  There were three hard freezes in late December (see above) and three in January.  Food plot daylight observations picking up both mornings and afternoons.  Exclosures proving valuable, very visible signs of stress outside each exclosure.  BFO, DSM, triticale, wheat, turnips all doing very well.  Rape not growing much, being kept very low to the ground by both deer and freezing weather.  Turnip tops froze off and deer finally began eating the bulbs in earnest.  BEP inside exclosures froze and died, about twelve inches tall while standing dead and solid black.

2-05:

Three separate rains totaling 2.0” of rain fell on the plots in February.  Last day of doe hunting season had five bucks and eight does and fawns in the BFO and DSM plots.  They were busy feeding and not much else.  All plots were showing severe browsing pressure with no clear preference over any particular plant.  Wheat was growing well but getting browsed very heavily.  Wheat was thin overall, but grew vigorously and deer kept coming to it.  Triticale was holding up well with lots of utilization.  Rape never really recovered, remained low and slow growing, even inside the exclosures.  All but a few turnips existed in the plots, all the tops were gone and few bulbs could be found.

3-24-05:

Total rainfall was  2.0” for the month of April.  Photographed all plots and took down exclosures.  Huge and dramatic differences outside versus inside exclosures, a very good demonstration of utilization in my opinion, well worth the effort.  Most plots were approximately 2” tall overall with severe browsing pressure throughout.  Where the triticale and DSM were planted side by side for comparisons, the DSM was obviously shorter and hit harder than the triticale.  Lots of utilization on the triticale, but the DSM showed more when compared side by side.  Both grew very well for a long time through six different freezes and performed very well overall.  Inside the exclosures, the turnips were softball sized on average and the tops were frozen off.  Outside the exclosure, no turnips of any real size could be found, average of perhaps golf ball size of the handful that remained.  We were able to harvest all remaining turnips inside the exclosure for our supper that night and most were excellent fare.  Where the BFO and DSM were planted side by side for comparisons, there were no obvious preference signs, however, the BFO did appear to be more vigorous and robust looking with more leaf volume remaining.  Both species grew very well throughout the year, through six freezes and did very well.  Early on, it appeared the BFO were more preferred by the deer; however, by the end of March I could not see any obvious differences.  Inside the exclosure, both the oats and wheat were headed out.  The wheat measured 40” tall and the oats at 34” tall.  Rape was not more than three inches tall inside the exclosure and one inch outside.  The rape never appeared to get established and didn’t do very well in my opinion.

Conclusions based on this experiment:

Buck Forage Oats, Deer Season Mix, Triticale, wheat, and Purple Top Turnips will grow very well on this deep sandy soil site with a moderate to heavy deer density.  Rape, Black-Eyed Peas, Madrid Clover, Clover Mixes and Austrian Winter Peas did not perform very well due to either lack of moisture or browsing pressure or a combination of the two.  The deep sandy soils do not retain moisture very well and most legumes cannot recover from moderate browsing pressure.  Early December freezes also hampered any or most legume production when the nutrition was needed the most by the deer.  The oats, wheat, triticale, etc. performed very well throughout the wet and dry months and withstood six different hard freezes and heavy deer utilization.

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Facts About Deer That You May Not Have Known

* White-tailed deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, elk, axis deer, fallow deer, and moose all belong in the Family Cervidae. This family of deer is characterized by an absence of a gall bladder, feet are actually four toed (dew claws count as toes), all have 32 teeth (except the elk), and the males grow antlers.

* There are 30 different subspecies of white-tailed deer in North, Central, and South America.  White-tailed deer are also ungulates, which means they have a hoofed foot as well as ruminants which means they have a four chambered stomach and chew their cud.

* A deer’s eyes are large and set on the sides of their head to give them a 310 degree field of vision.  They also have a tapetum lucidum, which is a reflective layer of pigmented specialized epithelial cells in the back of their eyes which collects available light to allow deer to see better at night and is responsible for the “eye shine” present in many nocturnal animals.

* Deer have pilo erector muscles in the skin that raise the hair coat up, much like humans get “goose bumps”.  This is to increase air space for insulation and also used in behavorial posturing (primarily among bucks).

* Deer deposit fat first in bone marrow, kidney and pelvic areas.  Fat is deposited last over the ribs, brisket and tail head and deer lose fat in the reverse order.

* Deer have approximately seven glands that are very important in their daily lives.  The forehead gland is most active on bucks during the rut, but also used as a business card of sorts for identification purposes.  The preorbital glad is located in front of the eyes and is used primarily to deposit scents for territorial  marking.  The interdigital glands are located between the two larger hoofs and are used for tracking each other or communicating to a large group of deer (a buck follows a doe’s scent via this way or when a deer stomps its feet to warn others of danger).  The metatarsal glands are located between the knee and foot along the inside of the rear legs and thought to be used in circulatory and thermoregulation purposes.   The tarsal gland is located along the inside of the hind legs just inside the knee area and is used to identify individual deer, express dominance and breeding conditions, and other smelly responses.  The gland actually reacts to the urine when deposited on the hair to produce the musky odor that most hunters are so familiar with.   The vomeronasal glands are located within the nostrils and upper palate of the mouth and are used for taste and smell and the receptors are sensitive to non-volatile compounds so that they can gauge a deer’s reproductive status.  The pineal gland is located in the brain and detects changes in day length, or photoperiod.  This gland influences the pituitary gland to produce hormones that influence not only antler growth, shedding of velvet and the hardening of the antlers, but also male and female reproductive cycling.

* The four chambered stomach of a deer include the reticulum, rumen omasum and abomasum.  The reticulem is the first compartment of the stomach, a honeycomb looking thing that simply holds and collects swallowed material.  The reticulum is the fermentation vat with the large papilla (hair looking things) on the wall to increase absorptive and mixing surface area.  The omasum absorbs fluids with its many folded pouches (which increase surface area and grinding ability) and the abomasums is considered the true stomach where glands produce acids which finally digest the contents.  Beyond the stomach, the small intestines are where the primary nutrient absorption occurs and the fluids are finally absorbed in the large intestine.

* The liver produces bile since there is no gall bladder, and digests the fats and detoxifies any substances such as toxins that are eaten from certain plants.

* Deer are seasonally polyestrous, meaning they only cycle during certain times of the year and usually come into estrus (heat) on 28 day cycles.

* Gestation period is 199-201 days.

* Males are only fertile when they have hardened antlers, infertile the remainder of the year.

All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Hunter and Landowner Ethics

In my many travels, I see and hear of some pretty amazing deer hunter-landowner related stories.  Some are just funny and others are downright unethical.  I want to share with you some suggestions to help all of us as outdoor enthusiasts to present a fair and ethical face on all fronts.  Some of these may or may not apply to you, but I bet you can relate to all in some form or fashion:

Primarily for hunters:

  • As politics and public perception slowly and steadily changes with big-city folks, we hunters need to make certain we do our part to not add fuel to the fire.  Represent your hunting fraternity in a positive manner at all times and show respect to any and all harvested animals.  You know the routine—lay deer down flat in the bed of the truck or trailer, don’t prop them up for all to see because not everyone WANTS to see.
  • When taking photos of yourself and your harvested game, leave out the cigarette and adult cold beverage and make sure the animal is presented respectfully and tastefully. Clean yourself and the animal up to minimize any appearance of being bloody.
  • When in town buying groceries and supplies, watch your conversations around others you don’t know, not everyone enjoys the stories of your hunting prowess over supper or wants to hear about the exit wound in the grocery store.  Save that for the feed store and campfire where you likely know all of your audience.
  • When wearing camo clothing in town or pulling a trailer full of ATVs, you are advertising that you are an active supporter of local folks and their property. Please remember that as you drive through town and down our roads and please do not litter — intentionally or otherwise.  Round up all empty ice, corn, and seed bags and beverage containers and put them where they belong. Don’t let them blow off the trailer or out of the bed of the truck. Also, drive cautiously down our rural roads. Somebody’s mother or children are likely to be driving down that same road and we don’t want any accidents!
  • When taking aim at a potential animal target, take your time and use proper shot placement.  The idea of using a small cannon to shoot such lightweight animals is not required, but practiced and accurate bullet placement is.  One well-placed shot is usually all that is required rather than five misplaced ones.
  • A landowner cherishes their land.  Some places are almost sacred to their owners and many have been in the same family for a century or more.  Do everything you possibly can to prevent any damage to the land in which you hunt—if it isn’t your litter, pick it up anyway.  If you find a gate closed, make certain you leave it closed.  If you find a broken waterline, report it or fix it.  If the cow is having trouble calving, report it and offer to help.  If the goats are in the wrong pasture or in your feed pen, offer to help correct the situation and not make it worse.  If it rains, walk or take a different route to the blind, do not tear up the roads.  Make yourself an asset and not a liability and I guarantee you will be invited back next year to hunt again.
  • Do not place your blinds or feeders within close proximity of the boundary fence.  Use common sense and hunt your own property and not the neighbor’s.  If your blind has to be close to the property line, as in an irregular shaped or small property, permanently block the window facing to the neighbor so it is obvious you are not even looking that direction.  Use hills and trees to help block the view that neighbors have of your blind and feeder location.
  • Practice real-world game management to improve the herd for everyone.  Nobody likes a game hog and nobody likes a buck-only hunter (unless the management plan calls for such, very rare).  If the herd needs thinning, females are usually the ones needing thinning and not immature bucks.  Leave the egos at home and shoot as many females as prescribed in the management plan.  You can live with shooting just one buck a year and you can’t eat all those antlers, so do your part to improve the herd for everyone.

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Primarily for landowners:

  • Lease and package hunters pay a great deal of money to borrow your land for a short period of time.  Be respectful of their limited access and time and enjoy their enthusiasm as they pursue their passions at your profit.  Almost all hunters are well-meaning and cooperative, so give them a fair chance to show their true colors.
  • Be fair and honest in your dealings with them.  Provide them a decent place to build a camp and set up for the season.  If you can help by setting up the electric or water company accounts and construction, do so because it won’t take much time or work on your end.

 

  • When presenting a legally binding contract, be fair.  Don’t have unreal and unreasonable expectations and don’t assume all hunters are like the last ones you had to run off.  Be flexible and give them a shot at returning the favor.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask them for help if you need it.  Perhaps you can’t pull that windmill rod alone or can’t find that one cow in the pasture.  Why not use the extra eyes and muscles if they can help?  Share your resources and work together.  If they want to plant food plots for the deer, why not cooperate and use both parties’ resources?  You might be able to turn the cattle in on the plots after the season, so building a temporary electric fence in August or using your tractor to work the fields is a good trade.

 

  • Just because a gate was left open doesn’t always mean the hunters did it.  Could the cattle have pushed it open, the wind, or the horse figured out the latch?  Don’t assume the worst right off the bat.
  • Don’t allow your hunters, or yourself, to place their camp, blinds, or feeders along the boundary fence.  Not only is this unsafe, this is not being a good neighbor.  Hunt your own land and not the neighbor’s, be a good neighbor!
  • Don’t check your livestock at daylight or dusk during hunting season.  Do something else until late morning before checking your stock and driving all over the ranch.  Remember, the hunters are leasing your property, at a profit to you, for a limited amount of time basically for early morning and late evening hunting privileges, so don’t disturb their legal rights to give you their money!  Work around the hunter’s schedule and keep them posted if there is an emergency need to be in a particular pasture during peak hunting times.

Now I know I didn’t cover everything, but these are certainly the more common issues I see occurring in the deer pastures these days.  The list could be long and involved, but I hope it at least stirs some campfire discussions.  Communication is the key to a successful relationship between hunters and  landowners, so put yourself in the other’s boots for a few hours before making any comments or demands and certainly before any negotiations.  We as landowners and hunters are in this deer industry together, and it is up to us as a team to make it look good for all involved.

All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Does Supplemental Feeding Protein Pellets Really Work?

Supplemental feeding in the form of pelleted feed is a valuable tool in the serious deer manager’s tool belt, as it provides two things: consistency and a higher level of nutrition.  As it’s name implies, supplemental feeding is something done to augment or increase the natural feed available to deer.  Seasonal cycles, weather patterns and man-made disturbances can cause the nutritional value and availability of native deer foods to be unpredictable with a wide swings in quality.  Supplemental feeding is a safety net or an insurance policy against periods of low nutritional value and/or availability.   Of course, there are different degrees of supplementation and how it is used and its effectiveness, but a supplemental feeding program’s primary responsibility is to lessen the blows of low nutrition and keep the deer on a more level nutritional plane throughout the year.

Supplemental feeding is just that–a supplement.  When the rains are right and the stars line up, we can’t even compete with Mother Nature.  As you likely know, when it rains, deer won’t eat the protein.  They eat it only when they need it, when the habitat is stressed or defoliated. In the pasture, the deer makes the choice to eat or not to eat protein.  And his or her stomach tells them when and how much to eat.  Some deer eat two bites and leave while others camp out and eat four to six pounds of feed per day.  This is why the amount of protein on the bag means very little.  Don’t get caught up worrying about the highest amount of protein.  You need to worry about the quality of the feed, as a total package, so that when a deer does eat it, he/she gets what they need and when they need it.

Protein feed is not the magic bullet.  It simply is a supplement to level out the peaks and valleys of the nutritional swings the habitat typically goes through as the seasons or weather patterns change.  It is not a “cure all” designed for a specific period of time.  It is meant to be used year around and to SLOWLY and STEADILY help the deer stay in top physical condition.  By waiting until July or August to feed the bucks something extra or special is way too late.

 

A buck begins growing his antlers approximately one week after shedding the previous set.  When he is malnourished or pulled down from the rigors of the rut and lack of rainfall his body go into a self-preservation mode (thus why skinny bucks shed earlier) in order to stay alive.  If supplemental feeding was used during post-rut, the buck would not sink to such a low nutritional level and his body would not have to play “catch up” from a nutritional perspective.  As the body suffers, so do the antlers.  Antlers are a bi-product of nutrition.  Providing supplemental feed ensures that the buck will have enough to eat no matter what the native forage is providing so that his body will be healthy enough to support the growth of antlers to his full genetic potential.

The same benefits go for the does.  If you provide an additional source of feed, the does will be healthier and able to carry, deliver and nurse a healthier fawn(s).  Fawns that receive a good start at life get bigger and stronger and therefore increase their chances of survival, especially as winter approaches.

So, does supplemental feeding work?  The answer is yes, as long as it is part of the bigger management plan. Here are some situations that illustrate what does and does not allow a supplemental feeding program to be successful:

Works:  Good quality feeders that keep out moisture and are in a feed pen at least 60’ diameter to exclude non-target animals such as livestock, feral hogs and javelina.

Doesn’t Work:  Leaky feeders that let in moisture to spoil feed or placed in a feed pen so small that deer are afraid to jump in or only a couple of deer can get in at any one time.

Works:  As many feeders as financially affordable spread evenly across the ranch.  Even distribution means even use and keeps the animals spread more evenly across the landscape.

Doesn’t Work: One feeder near the ranch house, or several feeders bunched up only compounds the problems.

Works: Keeping protein feeders filled from post-rut through shedding of velvet, year in and year out.

Doesn’t Work:  Putting protein out a couple months a year, maybe this year, maybe not.

Works:  Placing protein feeders in areas of the ranch away from high traffic and near escape cover.

Doesn’t Work:  Placing feeders by the main roads with high traffic or in wide open fields.

Works:  Use protein feeding as a part of your overall management program and after you have deer densities reduced to what the habitat can support.

Doesn’t Work:  Keep providing feed with no plan for reducing the additional deer you are growing with the feed and allowing population to go uncontrolled to the decimation of the native habitat.

Works:  On small, low-fenced acreage, get all neighbors cooperating with harvesting and providing protein.

Doesn’t Work:  Be the only one in the neighborhood feeding protein while the neighbors are shooting every two year old buck that crosses the fence.

The immediate benefits of a proper supplemental feeding program include increased body weights.  During the second year fawn survival rates will improve sharply and on or about year three, improved antler production will be evident on those young bucks raised on the feeding program.  As  you can see, supplemental feeding is a long-term project and should not be taken lightly or sporadically in order for it to really work.

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Doe Harvest Strategies Examined

“Back in the day” antlerless harvest was not only unpopular, but also downright illegal in some areas.  Many areas of North America still have permit-only antlerless harvest due to low populations so why all the fuss about why to harvest female deer?

This article is more about the HOW and not the WHY of harvesting antlerless deer.  We know why we harvest females—to help lower the population and keep the herd in balance as best we can; but the how sometimes gets lost or foggy and so perhaps we can clear the muddy waters abit here.

Doe harvest is not, or should not, be about going out and just harvesting a female deer.  Only in severe over-population instances is this scenario recommended.  When it is an emergency herd reduction, you are correct–any female that turns broadside is one to remove.  But what about managing a sustained deer herd or taking a deer herd from point A to point B?  Read on if this is for you……..

Ranch A is a classic scenario where the landowner or lease hunters desire to produce quality bucks on a sustained basis but don’t like having to harvest a boatload of antlerless deer every year to do it.  It seems every year the biologist recommends harvesting 60-80 does and this turns into a job.  Because the managers desire to concentrate more on quality than quantity, why feed and support all those extra does?  Females have babies and males do not so why care for all those females that will drop fawns and simply add to the problem?  This situation requires one or two years of increased female harvest to lower the female population to the point of replacing only enough deer that the hunters wish to harvest each year.  For example, let’s say this property has 60 bucks, 120 does and a 50% fawn survival rate, or 60 fawns annually.  Obviously, the sex ratio is two does per buck (expressed as 2:1) and a 50% fawn survival rate.  So in order to keep this population static, or constant, 60 total deer must be harvested (60 fawns means 60 new mouths coming into the herd).  So the standard sustained harvest recommendations would be something like 10-12 bucks and 40-50 females each fall.  Again, this is referred to as sustained harvest and it usually represents 20-22% of the standing buck herd and 30-32% of the standing female herd.  So just to “keep on keeping on” this group of hunters must harvest 10-12 bucks and 40-50 does, or at least sixty total deer.

Because they want to lower the population, the first year we lower the buck recommendations to “no more than ten total bucks” and now we increase the antlerless harvest to 50% of the standing female herd and recommend 60 total females.  Now we are harvesting at a 6:1 ratio and allowing more bucks to mature while severely lowing the female population.  This strategy does not mean to harvest any female possible, but instead, to now select females that are less productive.  Perhaps we concentrate on any female deer over two years of age without a fawn present for initial harvest.  This dataset says there are at least 25-35 in the herd (remember only half of the females successfully raised a fawn and some of those are yearlings so without knowing last year’s fawn survival ((this year’s yearling cohort)) we can only assume that 25-35 exist).  So begin harvesting early and aggressively while it is simple to identify an adult female without a fawn present.  Once we get all we can get, and let’s say that is 30 adult females with no fawns present, then we move to the next step and harvest the oldest possible doe with the oldest possible single fawn.  This will be a big number because previous recommendations said just to shoot female deer.  So there should be ample mature/dominant females available that have only one fawn with them.  We will select the largest and oldest females we can find because they have the oldest genetics.  Chances are, we were not managing this herd as well as we are now, so removing the oldest genetics possible will speed up our genetic gains.  So we head to the field with this harvest strategy in hand and remove a total of 20 old dominant does that have only one big and healthy fawn with them.  Now we stop and wait for the rut and work on our bucks.  We took out a few pre-rut mature bucks that visited the feeders early and so each lease member took a mature management buck each and are happy.  Now the rut is coming so let’s quiet down the ranch and keep activities quiet and just relax and hunt for trophy bucks.  Remember, our strategy is to harvest only mature or post mature bucks so trophy harvest must be selective and not guaranteed on this lease.  After three weeks of good quality trophy buck hunting, a few guys were lucky and successful.  Now that we realize we have ten more females to harvest, let’s be ultra selective and take out ten does that perhaps had young fawns with them earlier in the season but now their fawns are weaned.  We had watched a few old does but their fawns were too young so now we target them for removal.  So by the time the first run finished, we have successfully removed the least productive females, taken out the easy mature management bucks and managed a few trophy bucks along the way.  For those hunters that have not yet taken a trophy, they still have the second or even third rut to hunt and find something that qualifies.

By next year, the deer herd should look much improved and the buck numbers will have sufficiently increased (removed only 10 of the 60 bucks, so we now have 50 plus the 30 buck fawns that are now yearlings).  Assuming a 15% mortality of yearling bucks, you can assume we will have about 75 bucks in the population next fall.  The doe herd now looks much different.  We now have 70 breeding aged females and the 30 yearlings that will not likely breed.

The rains were average through the spring and summer so our surveys indicated 72 bucks, 92 does and a 50% fawn survival rate.  Now our sex ratio is 1.27 does per buck (1.27:1) and we have 46 fawns, half are male and half are female.  Using this dataset, the harvest recommendations are now to harvest up to 18-20 bucks and only 25-30 does.  A big improvement from just a year ago!  We use adult sex ratio to alter our harvest outcome and it really is that easy.  We lay off the bucks, selectively hammer the does for one or two years and manage for an average to above average fawn survival rate and in only two or three years, we have a fun deer lease instead of one that requires lots of work and effort to control.

Ranch B has always kept their deer herd at or below carrying capacity but now wants to take their quality to the next level.  They want to produce the largest possible bucks on their lease and are willing to let the bucks reach full maturity before harvesting.  They want to have only enough females on the ranch to replace what they intend to harvest upon maturity.  Their surveys indicate a 1:1 adult sex ratio, or 50 bucks and 50 does, and because they are conservatively stocked, their production is very high at 75%, or 37 fawns.  They have been managing this ranch for years and so their old genetics are just about as good as their new genetics.  Given these goals and objectives and dataset, the harvest recommendations would be to harvest at a 1:1 ratio to mean 18 bucks and 18 does.  Because the older genetics are just as good as the newer ones, these guys will still harvest any ultra old female without a fawn present (they may know their does because they have watched them grow up over time).  Let’s assume they harvested five old post-mature does for various reasons.  Now they need to harvest up to 13 more.  But because the sex ratio is tight and the rut will be hard on the bucks (because they have a good age structure in their buck herd), they wait to harvest the rest of the females until after Christmas until all fawns are sufficiently weaned.  And they begin harvesting doe fawns once they are more easily identifiable from their brothers.  Doe fawns are not producing yet and the hunters want to keep as few females on the property so they elect to leave the older does that tend to produce twins and remove any doe fawns or even yearling does that may or may not produce for them.  So they harvest 13 doe fawns in the month of January and make no mistakes.  So the bucks had less antler breakage in the rut because there were enough breeding-aged does to be had and the hunters kept their overall population static yet production was kept high because the bulk of their female herd are experienced mothers that tend to produce more fawns than younger females do.  This ranch is easily maintained from a harvest perspective and annually produce fully mature trophy bucks with minimal harvesting efforts.

Ranch C has historically been mismanaged and overharvested on bucks.  The landowner doesn’t care about the deer herd and allows his cattle to eat every blade of grass he can grow.  He regularly swaps out lease hunters because they always complain about not seeing any big bucks and his cattle always messing up their hunts.  Surveys indicate a wide adult sex ratio, six does for every buck (6:1) and his buck age structure is poor.  The oldest buck on the property is three years old and there are only two of them and one is a seven point and one is an eight point.  There are 20 bucks and 120 does.  Because the population of deer is high and the sex ratio is wide and the landowner overstocks his cattle, the fawn survival rate is only 20%, or 24 total fawns.  In the hunting lease, it specifies that each of the four hunters can shoot one cull buck and one trophy buck and no more than two does each fall.  So the hunters set up their camp, set up their blinds and corn feeders and then can’t wait for opening morning of the hunting season to arrive.  At daylight, each hunter is greeted with 18-26 does and fawns at their feeder and only one or two young bucks.  They sit there all morning until the cows show up at 10:30 and run the deer off as they try to pick up any remaining corn on the ground.  When the hunters return to camp for lunch, they realize they saw a grand total of seven bucks and more than one hundred does and fawns–and they all saw cattle!  Sunday morning arrives and each hunter decides to shoot something.  At the crack of dawn each hunter shoots a buck.  Two spikes, one two year old six point and the three year old eight point all hit the ground on the last day of the opening weekend because the hunters were determined not to return home empty handed.  Each man packs his truck and heads home and drops the bucks off at the local meat market for processing.  Three weeks later, the men return to the lease for another weekend hunt just before Thanksgiving.  The rut should be on so anticipation is high.  Saturday was full of more disappointments with only four total bucks observed and  more than one hundred does and fawns counted…… but now the cattle have knocked over two of the corn feeders.  Sunday morning once again rolls around and three bucks hit the ground.  This time it includes a three point yearling, a five point two year old and the big seven point three year old.  The men once again drop their “trophies” off at the meat market and head home ready to brag about “tagging out” so soon in the season.

About Christmas, the men’s kids are out of school and on break and ask to go hunting.  But when the wives gets wind of the idea, they plead otherwise because the freezers are completely full of deer meat and they have nowhere to put anymore, and besides, there are no buck tags left on the lease.  So the kids don’t get an opportunity to hunt or get outdoors so they call their buddies and go hang out at the mall for the entire Christmas break.  Meanwhile back at the ranch, the deer herd continues to spiral downward.  Winter is setting in and it is cold and dry.  The remaining bucks are working hard trying to cover all the does cycling into estrus for the third and final time.  Some simply can’t recover and die from the instinctual demands that push their depleted body too far.  Most of the does manage to get bred but they are so thin and in such poor condition, they can’t carry the fetus and end up having to absorb it just to survive.  By the second year, the hunters are struggling to find any bucks to shoot and so they pack their camp, blinds and feeders and leave in search of “greener pastures”.  The landowner puts another ad in the local newspaper and sure enough, more calls come in and he has a long line of folks interested in leasing the ranch.  And the vicious cycle continues…….

Antlerless harvest is what makes a deer herd work.  Everyone worries about the bucks but they are simple—bucks wear their genetics on their head.  If you like him, leave him alone and allow him to breed and mature.  If you don’t like him, kill him.  But the does make the herd go.  Does are the lifeblood of any herd and the selective manipulation of the female segment will determine the outcome and health of the herd.  What are you doing to manage your doe herd?  If you are not happy with the current results, look at the doe herd to make the needed changes.

All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.

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