All posts by Macy Ledbetter

What are the Differences Between a Nutritional Food Plot and an Attractant Food Plot?

Food plots are planted primarily for two reasons:  1) to provide a nutritional supplement to deer during times of nutritional stress or when native browse is low in quality or availability, and 2) to attract or concentrate deer for viewing or hunting purposes.  This concept is similar to using protein pellets for a nutritional supplement and corn as an attractant.  A food plot by itself is not a cure-all or magic fix for any problem in deer management, just as feeding protein or corn is not a silver bullet for what ails your deer herd.  These are all just tools to be used in conjunction with others–parts to the whole of a well-rounded plan.

The idea of a nutritional food plot is to provide additional feed during times when the deer need it, not when conditions are right for growing lots of native forage.  One of the prime times that deer need that supplement is during the winter and early spring.  This is the time when much of the native browse has defoliated for the winter, soils are too cold to grow forbs from winter rains, the native forage that is available is nutritionally low, bucks are in poor shape from the rut and does are facing higher nutritional demands for developing fetuses.  This time of year is a perfect storm of conditions conducive to thinning your deer herd for you.  If you’ve done your job as a deer manager correctly, you have already reduced your density to where it should be and culled the proper bucks.  Now is not the time to let Mother Nature pull even more deer from your herd and kill off those bucks that you decided to let walk.  A properly planted food plot can help provide that supplement, as long as it is part of a bigger management plan.

Nutritional food plots can be either fall-planted or spring-planted.  Just about anything you plant in the fall can be considered a nutritional supplement, though some are more beneficial than others.  Cereal grains such as wheat, oats, rye and triticale will grow through the spring and so are available during the critical times they are needed.  Even though they are not especially high in nutritive values and decline in palatability through late winter and spring they still provide some additional nutritive forage when most needed.  Turnips and winter peas are more nutritious, but typically have a smaller window of use during the season.  Alfalfa, clovers and medics are very beneficial during the critical periods where they can be grown.  These species are planted in the fall and grow through the spring and remain very palatable and nutritious into the spring.  Since they are legumes, they are high in protein and are an excellent source of supplemental nutrition for deer.  While the main area of adaptation is north and east of the Hill Country and South Texas, there are some of these legumes that can be planted with success in these areas.  The key is choosing the right one for your soil type and planting it on a site that has better soils.  Although weather conditions in these areas may prevent some of these legumes from coming back every year as they would in wetter climates, they still can be a valuable nutritional supplement with at least average rainfall.

Spring-planted nutritional plots are generally intended to provide a supplement to bucks growing antlers and does carrying and delivering fawns.  This is usually in the form of legumes, especially peas and beans.  Iron & Clay cowpeas, lablab, blackeye cowpeas and other cowpea and vining bean varieties are used extensively for this purpose.  They are easy to grow, very high in protein, have good regrowth and are very palatable.  Other non-legume plants can be planted in the spring with these, though they do not have the same high level of nutritional quality.  Grain sorghum, or milo, is one of these.  Deer will browse the young plant but will then leave it alone until it makes a seed head and then eat the grain, which is a good source of carbohydrates.  As milo is drought-hardy and can last into the summer, this grain is sometimes all that is left in a food plot and so becomes important as a supplement.  Combinations of legumes and sorghums in spring nutritional plots work very well together.

Food plots planted for attraction of deer are typically only fall-planted, in order to use them for counting/surveying, observation and hunting purposes.  Any plot planted in the spring could be considered as an attractant, especially for observation of fawn numbers, body condition and antler growth, but are generally not planted specifically for that reason.

Cereal grains, such as oats, wheat, rye and triticale, are used most often and in the biggest percentage of fall food plots.  Even though they are not very nutritious, these grains are relatively cheap, easy to grow, regrow well and are very palatable to deer late into the winter.  Since most of the time spent in the deer blind is from fall into the winter, these grains are very useful for attracting deer during this period.  There are many other things that can be planted in conjunction with these small grains, though their windows of use by deer may be smaller or not at the same time that the grains are preferred.  Purple-top turnips are often used as they also grow well and seem to be palatable after the first frost of the year.

Food plots, when done correctly, are very valuable in any deer management program.  Not all food plots are created equally and they are used for various reasons.  Make sure you are planting the right crop at the right time and for the right reasons in order to maximize your money and energy.   Food plots do work.

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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Deer Blind Location

Blind placement is one of the most overlooked segments of deer hunting I regularly encounter.  When selecting a suitable location, don’t think like a human, but like that of a deer.  Oftentimes, placing the blind for convenience is much different than placing it where it may offer the best chance for success.  Deer, particularly mature bucks, use travel corridors — edges, drainages, creeks, tree lines and other screening covers to get from one place to the next.  Outside of the rut and the accompanying brief lapse of intelligence, mature bucks stick close to these landscape features to offer maximum concealment as they travel.  A well placed blind will be able to observe these corridors, perhaps more than one simultaneously, at a safe enough distance to avoid detection by the quarry yet offering a high percentage shot distance.

Placing the blind too close to travel or feeding locations such as feeders or food plots will disrupt the animal’s daily routine and minimize success significantly.  Feeders should offer protective cover as animals travel to and from them as well.  Feeders in the wide open offer no such protection and create deer activity only under the cover of darkness.

Obviously, prevailing wind direction must also be taken into consideration.  Cross or down wind from travel and feeding areas will ensure the best chance of success and such locations must only be hunted when the winds are favorable.  Hunting these locations when the winds are “not right” will only educate the animals and make them more wary of the area.  Outside of the rut, most mature bucks will approach a feeding location downwind to scent-check the area for danger and for hot does before exposing themselves. If your blind is too close to the feeder, the buck will approach downwind of your location as well as the feeder and you will be busted.   If your blind is too far, you may be unable to make an accurate shot. Since “how far is too far” is highly variable, try to take into account your actual abilities and place the blind at as far away from the feeder as you can confidently make the shot.

An often overlooked part of deer blinds is anchoring them to the ground.  The winds are not always calm in Texas, so making sure your blind will be there next hunting season is a must.  Tie-downs, anchors, guy wires, concrete posts and t-posts are required to not only keep your blind upright, they will also help keep the blind steady when the moment of truth arrives and you have to make the shot.

There is an unwritten rule among ethical hunters and landowners that states that no hunting blinds will be placed along property lines.  The appropriate distance requires common sense based on topography, habitat, line-of-sight and shooting direction.  The same holds true for feeder placement.  No neighboring landowner should be able to see your feeders or blinds and you should not be able to see theirs.  If your property is small and irregular shaped, hunt only the center and perhaps a tower blind is not for you.  If your property is large, concentrate on travel corridors away from the boundary line and out of sight of the neighbors.  Common sense and blind location not only makes hunting a safer and more enjoyable sport, but makes for much better neighbors as well.

Other helpful hints when selecting blind locations:

  • Sunrise and sunset facing blinds are obviously limiting, so place blinds to look north or south or realize hunting such sun-facing locations may only be hunted when the sun is at your back (and the wind is right).
  • Take into account human traffic such as highways, walking/hiking trails, fishing areas, farmhouses and other high-use areas that may be dangerous to shoot towards.  Deer may or may not be scared of these areas, but hunters must be cognizant of the bullet’s flight path at all times.
  • How will you access your hunting blind?  Walking past the feeder or through the food plot is not wise.  You need to enter the blind into the wind and with the least amount of disturbance as possible.
  • Placing the blind below the crest of the hill, not on top, will keep you from being silhouetted while traveling to and from the blind.
  • Sit in the back or corner of the blind and do not allow yourself to be silhouetted against the sky behind you.  Sit in front of the latched door, use dark curtains, or completely cover the window behind you.
  • Use comfortable seats that are the correct height to shoot out of the windows.
  • Staying quiet and still only increases your chances of success.
  • The windows should be only tall enough to get your scoped rifle easily through without banging the frame.  Large windows allow for your movement to be seen from the outside and allows for more scent to escape.
  • Make the blinds large enough to safely and comfortable hold all the hunters and their gear.  If youth or guiding hunters are planned, bigger is always better.  Cramped quarters create more noise and less comfort.
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Antler Growth & How You Can Help

Deer hunters hunt for many different reasons, that is understandable and hard to argue with.  What about trying to produce the bucks with the largest racks possible for hunting purposes?

Deer antlers are captivating and upright humans have had a desire for them since cave paintings were created.  Antlers are the fastest growing bone known.  Antlers are obviously different than horns, so what does it take to grow antlers and what can you do to encourage more growth on your deer lease or hunting ranch?

Unlike horns, antlers are grown and shed annually.  The antler growing cycle for whitetail bucks lasts only 128 days, or just over four months.  Yes, a spike and a Boone and Crockett grow their racks in the exact same timeframe!  How can this happen and why are some years better than others when it comes to antler development?

Mother Nature is incredible.  She mandates that the whitetail buck’s antlers are secondary to the health of the body.  The body takes precedence, or priority, over antlers in regards to bone health, internal organ health, protein and mineral consumption and overall total physical health.  This means that if the buck’ s body is lacking in nutrition or minerals or otherwise stressed, the antlers will suffer.

A buck usually comes out of the rut in physically stressed condition.  Some bucks can lose 30% of their total body weight during the rigors of the rut and they are tired, sore, perhaps injured and in need of immediate repair.  After the breeding season is complete, the antlers are cast, or shed, and testosterone production is reduced severely.  This is Mother Nature’s way of helping the buck to regain his health and eventually storing fat in preparation for next winter’s rutting season all over again.  Antlers are used as tools to determine mating privileges, rights, and for dominance establishment.  After the breeding season, the antlers are no longer needed and they are shed and the cycle continues again.

When the bucks shed their antlers, the 128 day antler growing cycle begins approximately one week after shedding.  Upon antler shedding, the raw pedicles heal over to protect the open wound and soon thereafter the new set of antlers begin to grow.  If the buck’s body is still recuperating and healing, the antler growth will be slowed as protein, minerals, vitamins and blood flow are redirected to the body recovery effort.  Once the body recovery effort is complete, those valuable antler-growing nutrients are redirected into antler growth.  The 128 antler-growing clock has been running, so the longer it takes the buck to return to good health, the less time he has to produce the current year’s set of antlers.  So, the condition of the buck’s body as he comes out of the rut is directly proportion to the quality of the rack he will be wearing the following hunting season!  Clear as mud?  The clock begins upon shedding and the sooner he begins to grow his antlers, the more time and growth he can produce in that period of time, resulting in longer tines, extra points, more mass etc.

Now, all of this antler growing process is also controlled by age and genetics, but this article is an example of the nutrition portion of the pyramid requirements for large antlers—genetics, age, and nutrition.  With age and good genetics, a buck can still grow a poor set of antlers if he is nutritionally stressed.  Or a buck with poor genetics, good age and nutrition will just grow a big set of poor antlers as he lives up to his full genetic potential.  The three requirements must all be met to produce a large set of antlers.  Antlers are genetically based and environmentally influenced.

What can we do on the ranch or lease to help the bucks out of the rut in the best possible physical condition?  First is balancing the total herd with the available habitat.  Fewer deer will have more food to eat and they will be healthier, that is an easy one.  Keeping the adult sex ratio tight is also recommended so that the females are bred during their first estrus cycle so that the fawns are born in the optimum time of year.  The balancing of the herd with the habitat is not quite as easy because this depends on rain and weather patterns.  The amount of available forage the habitat produces is a moving target.  In good rainfall years, the habitat can produce an excess of usable forage plants and that is why larger antlers are produced in wet years.  In poor rainfall years, the habitat can not produce enough usable forage plants for the animals and that is why smaller antlers are produced in wet years.  The manager must be aware of the habitat condition coming into and out of each deer season and make adjustments accordingly.  So, don’t get stuck in the habit of shooting X amount of bucks and X amount of does each and every year because the habitat is changing and so must the animal population that relies on it.

Obviously, cattle numbers must follow this same strategy as the deer harvest.  Cattle are much easier to manage than deer, so moving cattle into different pastures, rotating them more often or simply reducing the herd is a very quick and easy fix.

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Habitat management techniques that result in forage plant regrowth is also a valuable tool to help produce “extra” forage for deer.  Shredding, aerating, fallow discing and prescribed burning are good examples of this technique.  When most deer forage plants are top-removed, they resprout from the bottom and create more of a “bush effect”.  The extra limbs and stems produce extra leaves and the entire plant is now lower to the ground and allows for increased forage accessibility and availability.  The tall, thick stands of eight foot tall brush is little value to deer, but if you top removed that same brush, it would provide tons of usable, palatable, nutritious forage for deer without killing the parent plant.  The plants may be re-stimulated every three or four years for continuous and on-going forage production with very efficient per acre costs to the manager.  Keeping your deer woods in a mosaic pattern of regrowth is ideal for many other important reasons, but none are as important as improved foraging for your bucks in order for them to recover as quickly as possible so they may begin their new antler growth again.  The clock is running, how are your bucks doing right now?

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Cottonseed: The Good & the Bad

I get asked often about cottonseed as an alternative whitetail deer feed.  The answer is not short or quick so here is my typical answer to that question:

Pros:  First, cottonseed is readily eaten by whitetails (and mule deer) and is very high in crude protein.  It is high in fat and oils, is high in digestibility and protein, and not much else will eat it (such as raccoons, feral hogs or javelina and most birds).  Second, cottonseed is generally a cheaper alternative to pelleted feed as a source of fat and protein.

Cons: First, the availability depends on the current year’s cotton crop and distribution.  So, in drought years, the availability is here today and gone tomorrow, which is a huge no-no when feeding deer.  Constantly switching the feed, feed type, feed blend, protein content, etc will disrupt the gut microorganisms in the stomach that process and digest the food.  By feeding cottonseed for a while, then stopping and restarting over and over, you actually keep the efficiency of the deer’s stomach in a stage of disruption, resulting in poor digestibility, processing and other stomach issues that negatively affect the deer’s overall health.  Second, cottonseed is not a consistent source of nutrition among batches or loads.  One batch of cottonseed is different than the next and the first issue comes right back into play again– minor disruptions of the stomach processes.  Third, the physical handling of cottonseed is expensive.  The actual cottonseed feed itself is generally cheaper than most bagged protein; however, it has to be handled only in loose bulk and cannot be properly stored or bagged or put in bulk grain bins like protein or corn.  The handling involves an eighteen-wheel truck dumping the cottonseed somewhere on your ranch and driving off.  Next, you have to move it into the barn or shed or cover it with tarps or just leave it outside to the elements.  It will “harden up” and create its own protective cover (remember the oils?) and does a pretty good job of shedding water, but it is still sitting on the ground and out in the open.  Next, ranch personnel have to shovel it either into their ranch truck or in the front bucket of the farm tractor and deliver it to the feeder location.  Once at the feed station, it again has to be handled either by shovel from the truck into the wire mesh cylinder or dumped by the tractor bucket.  Cottonseed cannot be fed from traditional corn or free choice protein feeders (due to the fluff and oils) so a separate wire mesh cylinder has to be used to contain it.  It won’t stand up alone, so the cylinder has to be tall and held upright to keep it orderly and better utilized.  Fourth, and certainly most important, cottonseed creates a condition called gossypol toxicity.  Gossypol is a chemical found in the seed that will actually render all male animals sterile.  Yes, sterile, as in no babies made that year.  However, the gossypol will leave the animal’s system once it stops eating the cottonseed, and fertility will return.  So, ranches that feed cottonseed MUST remove the feed, or stop feeding it, as the bucks remove the velvet from their antlers.  This timing gives the gossypol time to pass through the buck’s system and leave before he begins producing live sperm.  Remember: the only time a buck produces live sperm is while he is in hard antler.  I have seen several ranches that either didn’t believe it or forgot to stop feeding cottonseed before hard antler and they actually had zero fawns produced that entire year.  Talk about hard on a deer management program!

So, if you can overcome all the many issues of feeding cottonseed–availability, lack of consistency, storage, handling, and stop feeding it at the right time–it can and will work for you.  Many ranches have full time ranch hands to do the feeding, so the owners tolerate the handling and distribution issues, but sometimes the availability and lack of consistency still impacts them from time to time.  And the majority also use protein pellets as well.  Cottonseed is a great alternative for cheaply restoring body condition after a hard winter and for providing protein to grow antlers.  It is not considered a complete feed, but can work well in conjunction with a balanced feeding program.

When beginning a cottonseed feeding program, there are two things you can do to help deer adjust to eating it.  First, allow the protein feeder to dry up for several days, thereby almost forcing it on them.  Second, throw some corn in and around the basket.  Being something new, bright white, fluffy and totally different in texture and taste than your deer have EVER seen, they may still be scared of it.  There is nothing in nature that even resembles cottonseed in a basket, so they may not even know they can eat or that it is good for them.  Follow these tips, be patient, and the deer will eventually accept the new feed and begin eating it.

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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Corn vs. Protein Pellets

What are the differences between feeding corn and protein pellets to your deer herd?  Corn is used primarily as an attractant to lure deer to a location for viewing or hunting and is low in overall nutritive value.  Protein pellets contain a balanced ration with micro and macro nutrients and is used to supplement the natural diet of deer to help them maintain a consistent and high level of health and body condition–which translates to increase body weight, fawn production and antler growth.

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Protein pellets contain vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins in a highly digestible form.  Digestibility is the key to absorption and without being absorbed into the blood and body, it is less efficient.  Deer absorb the pellets with very little waste in their feces, making the protein pellet a very good vehicle to deliver the ration.  Percent of protein and the micro- and macro-nutrients differ among rations and among manufacturers, so read the tag carefully to be sure you are getting a quality product with the right ratios of components for what your deer need at varying times of the year.  Range conditions are constantly changing and so the nutritional needs of your deer should be changed accordingly.

The purpose of feeding protein pellets is to stabilize and level out the peaks and valleys of the nutritional variations in the native habitat as the seasons change.  It is not a “cure all” or designed for a specific period of time but best used year around and to help the deer stay in top physical condition.  Ideally, it should be used from the end of the rut until hard antler development.  By doing so you are helping does to carry, deliver and nurse fawns, and bucks to recover from the rigors of the rut and grow a new set of antlers.  A buck begins growing his antlers approximately one week after shedding the previous set.  When bucks are malnourished and drawn down from the rut or lack of rainfall, their bodies go into a self-preservation mode (thus why skinny bucks shed earlier) in order to stay alive.  If supplemental feeding is used during post-rut, the deer would not sink to such a low nutritional level and his body would not have to play “catch up” from a nutritional perspective.  So, offer feed after the rut through the entire antler growing process and you will increase the chances your bucks will grow to their full genetic potential.

Corn has a specific role in many management plans even though it is not as beneficial as protein feed.  Corn contains less crude protein (7-8%) than a deer’s body requires just for basic daily maintenance (12-14%).  Corn to deer is like candy to you and I.  It is high in starch and carbs so it works well for energy and heat production but does almost nothing for nutrition.

Because it is so attractive to deer yet poor in nutrition, it is not recommended to offer corn in free choice feeders (unless mixing it with protein to get deer accustomed to a new feed, but that is another subject completely).  Corn is used in spin/timed feeders to attract the deer when and where you want them to be.  Corn spun from a timed feeder helps to put the deer on your schedule and, combined with several boxes of quality ammo, is the best winter management tool available to landowners.

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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Blind Placement is Critical to Hunter Success

As my wife gathered her bags before heading to the deer blind, the other hunters stared in amazement.  Binoculars, blue seat cushion, pink blanket, water bottle, spotting scope, video camera, flowery-colored knitting bag, colorful balls of yarn and her rifle all slung over her red sweatshirt shoulders.  “What is going on here, you headed to a circus or what?” one hunter finally blurted out.  The rest of the guys laughed but knew better than to chime in.  “Oh be quiet, I know what I am doing” my wife replied as she staggered under the heavy load.  Dressed in full camo from head to toe, some even wearing scent wafers pinned to their ball caps, the hunters laughed and eventually headed off to their blinds for the evening hunt.

Three hours later, the hunting party arrived back at camp to find the game skinning shed light on.  Upon opening the shed door, the men stood in awe with their mouths agape.  Inside was my wife, still wearing her red sweatshirt and pulling the last of the hide off of a mature sixteen inch wide ten point buck.  Not another word was said about her hunting prowess after that night.

The secret to her success was really no secret at all– a very well designed hunting blind and the location.  When selecting a location for your hunting blind, think like a deer and not like a human.  Convenience is nice but it rarely pays off in high hunter success rates.  My wife’s tower blind, dubbed “The Momma Shack”, was positioned downwind from a major travel corridor, overlooked several drainages, and was located on the edge of the largest oak tree thicket on the property.  The blind had it all—good concealment, excellent visibility, was minimally impacted by the rising or setting sun, provided concealment when entering and exiting the blind, and her scent was always blowing away from where the deer gather.  It continues to be one of the most productive blinds on the property year after year.

The success of this blind is simple:

  • It is large enough to safely and quietly hold all her “must have” hunting supplies to keep her comfortable and quiet for hours on end.
  • The windows are long and narrow, offering her a panoramic view of her surroundings yet wide enough for her to easily get her scoped rifle out the window without hitting the frame.
  • The windows are the right height for her and her chair is coordinated to the window height so she doesn’t have to strain or move her body to see out.
  • The interior of the blind is darkened so she can’t be silhouetted.  Dark fabric curtains are to her back that help hide any movement inside.  She can easily see to the front and both sides and not worry about what is behind her—her back faces downwind, her entry and exit trail, and the least likely place for deer to travel.
  • Because her blind is darkened inside, camo clothing is not required, and she sits near the back of the blind and away from the main windows.
  • Her blind is below the crest of the hill and not on top.  Blinds on the very top of hills offer higher winds, and hunters are silhouetted as they enter, exit, and sit in the blind.
  • Her blind is securely anchored to the ground with metal stakes and guy wires.  A tower blind needs anchoring to the ground to not only keep in upright in heavy winds, but also to steady the blind when the shot of a lifetime presents itself.
  • She has a good, solid window ledge to steady her rifle.  She has sandbags on a small window shelf to not only anchor her gun before a shot, but also to steady her binoculars and spotting scope that helps her to identify and age her target.
  • Her blind is located far from human traffic areas such as main ranch roads, farmhouses, corrals and other high traffic areas.  Her shots are all downhill and into thick brush, so safety after the shot is not an issue.
  • Her blind is located in the interior of the property and far from any boundary fence.  She can’t see the neighbors and the neighbors can’t see her.  Good blind (and feeder) placement makes for good neighbors.

Proper blind construction and location can make the difference between success and failure.  Whitetails are crafty animals, so use these tips to help you stack the deck this hunting season, even if you have to carry a knitting bag full of yarn!

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Wildlife Habitat–General Requirements

Wildlife has a certain requirement for cover.  Cover provides a sense of security from disturbance and protection from inclement weather and predators.  The amount and kind of cover vary with the species.  A stand of herbaceous plants may provide adequate cover for some bird species and small mammals, while other species require woody cover (trees and shrubs) in lieu of or in addition to herbaceous cover.  The best cover for a large species such as white-tailed deer is a pattern or mosaic of woody brush and trees interspersed within open areas.  Clumps or strips of brush should be wide enough so that an observer cannot see through them from one side to the other during the winter months when deciduous species are bare of leaves.  Cover strips should be as continuous as possible to provide travel lanes.  A habitat that provides several different types and arrays of cover benefits more species of wildlife than a habitat that has limited types, amounts, and distribution of cover.  Management of vegetation, whether it be deciduous post oak woodlands, ashe juniper woodlands, mesquite brush land, or open grasslands, requires long-term planning.

Any vegetation manipulation practice will have an impact on resident wildlife species, either good or bad, depending on the type of treatment used, the degree of use, and location.  Before implementing vegetation control techniques, determine what the long-term effects will be for each concerned species and minimize the negative impacts.  Consider the location and size of sensitive wildlife habitats that provide important nesting or roosting sites, feeding areas, desirable wildlife food producing plants, cover, water, and space needs.  Wildlife can be displaced by disturbance from an area without adequate escape or security cover, especially on small properties.

 

The long-term goal should be to maintain a very wide variety of browse plants (trees, brush, and vines).  They are important food sources for white-tailed deer and quail, and a source of cover for many species of wildlife, game and nongame.

The more “edge-effect” you can create, the more diversity you create.  The more diversity you create, the higher quantity and quality of wildlife you will attract and hold.  The old adage, “measure twice, cut once” is never truer than in brush manipulation practices.

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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Why I Hunt

I hunt because my father hunted, and he took me with him, and so we built a bond that I still cherish. And because his father hunted, and his father’s father, and all of the fathers in my line and yours, as far back as those fathers who invented spears and axes and recorded their adventures with pictures on the walls of caves.

I hunt because I am convinced, as many anthropologists argue, that prehistoric man was a hunter before he was a farmer, and because the genetic drive remains too powerful for me to resist. I do not need to hunt to eat, but I need to hunt to be fully who I am.

I hunt because if I didn’t, I would have seen fewer eagles and ospreys, ‘coons and skunks, foxes and bobcats, antelope and deer, and although I don’t happen to hunt all these creatures, I do love to enter into their world and spy on them.

I hunt for the whistle of a teal’s wings and the sudden explosion of a bobwhite’s flush, for the tinkle of a dog’s bell and for the sudden silence when he locks on point, for my partner’s cry of “Bird” when he kicks up a covey. I hunt for the call of a distant coyote, for the high predatory scream of a red-tailed hawk, for the hissing of the breeze in the mesquites, for the snoring of my companion in the one-room cabin, and for the soothing patter of an autumn rainstorm on the tin roof.

I hunt because it is never boring or disappointing to be outdoors with a purpose, even when no game is spotted, and because taking a walk in the brush without a purpose makes everything that happens feel random and accidental and unearned.

I hunt for the satisfying exhaustion after a long day in the brush, for the new stories that every day of hunting gives me, and for the soft snoring and dream-whimpering and twitching of sleeping dogs in the bed of the truck as I drive home through the darkness.

I hunt because it reminds me that in nature there is a food chain where everything eats and is, in its turn, eaten, where birth, survival, and reproduction give full meaning to life, where death is ever present, and where the only uncertainty is the time and manner of that death. Hunting reminds me that I am integrated into that cycle, not separate from or above it.

I hunt because it keeps my passions alive and my memories fresh and my senses alert even as my hair grows gray, and because I am afraid that if I stopped hunting, I would instantly become and old man, and because I believe that as long as I hunt I will remain alive.

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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Which Deer Do I Harvest?

Hunters are faced with this dilemma each time a group of deer present themselves for harvest. This article is to help you answer this question once and for all.

First, we need to establish a set of ground rules. A deer management plan, not just a lease contract, needs to be specifically addressed and organized. What specifically are your goals and objectives, other than to shoot a nice buck? Do you want to see plenty of deer or simply the best deer you can? There is a huge difference here, so be careful how you answer. Also, how dedicated are you at achieving your stated goals and objectives? This is not a trick question, but one of sincerity and honesty. If you have a one year lease, are you willing and able to pass up that young buck? What if you own the land or have a long term lease? Now we are getting somewhere.

If you have a long term lease or own the land, why not raise the best deer you possibly can? I realize there are those who simply want meat to eat—and we will address that too—so be patient!

OK, let’s assume you have a long term hunting arrangement on this piece of heaven so let’s get started managing it. First, you need a survey method that is fair and representative of the terrain and habitat. Once the survey is selected and the actual data is in hand, look at what can be taken from the property in order to make it better. If you only have six bucks and one hundred does, shooting bucks is not an issue so forget it for this season. Female management is the need for this property and once that issue is controlled, then, and only then, will we address the bucks. Harvesting bucks on this property is only adding to the problem and certainly not helping it.

If, on the other hand, you have thirty bucks and fifty does, now we can manage both sides of the population. If you want to see lots of deer with little concern for quality, simply harvest about 25-30% of BOTH sexes and go on down the road. In this situation, you basically remove the recruitment for that current year and the population and ratios stay static, ensuring a constant population each year.

If, though, you have this same ratio and you are concerned about quality, we will need to delve deeper. A deer hunter, very generally speaking, wants to shoot the largest buck possible on the ranch. A manager, however, wants to shoot the sorriest buck on the property and leave the biggest buck for breeding. Hey, don’t throw rocks at me, I am a deer hunter too you know!

So, we inventory the buck segment and carefully select the WORST bucks from each age class for harvest. Trophy buck harvest is very light and only the oldest quality bucks are removed, none of the best quality young bucks are removed. Of the female segment to be harvested, select the oldest female possible, ensuring the younger females are the offspring of the better-managed segment of the buck population and therefore assumed to be from better genetics than the older does.

Now, there are issues with bowhunters and Managed Lands Deer Permit (MLDP) holders when selecting a mature female with fawns present to harvest so early in the season. The answer here is DON’T, not yet anyway. Basically, a fawn is weanable once it loses the spots. That means basically that it will not starve to death if the mother is removed. So, don’t harvest a mature female with spotted fawns. Keep her for harvest later in the season, once the fawns are self-supporting (about November to be safe). So, first priority for female harvesting is any mature female without a fawn present or obvious milk bag. Removing as many mature unproductive females early in the season will create more and better habitat for the remaining deer, tighten up the adult sex ratio, improve future fawn survival rates, and lessen the chance of accidentally removing a buck fawn later in the season. People that elect to wait late in the season to complete their surplus antlerless harvest are not realizing the full benefits of their management. They also usually harvest far too many buck fawns since the little bucks closely resemble a middle-aged doe, are usually alone, and are the first to come to the feeder or food plot.

Based on the idea that you want to manage the resource, no matter the length of your lease or your ownership status, here are my buck harvest recommendations for our great area:

Yearling bucks: harvest all three and less point bucks. Yes, that means long and short spikes alike. A yearling buck is defined as eighteen months of age, this does not include “nubbers” in January and February. Leave the bucks with four or more points alone so they can grow up and make you proud.

Two and three year old bucks: harvest bucks with seven or less total points and leave the eight-plus points along to grow up and make you proud.

Four year old bucks: harvest any buck with eight or less points unless he has some great redeeming quality and you want to see more big eight points. Some folks like huge-framed eight points, but rarely will they score very high. I would take the eight or less points out and move closer to better genetic gains quicker.

Five years and older bucks: At this age, most hunters will recognize this buck as fully mature. For genetic gains and optimum management effectiveness, and if two five-year-olds are standing side by side and one has eight points and the other ten, you should shoot the eight point and allow the ten to breed another day. This is where the deer hunter and deer manager diverge. This is where your management and dedication shows. Which one will you shoot?

OK, meat hunters, here goes. Do not shoot, for any reason, an immature buck that does not fit in the age criteria listed above and make up the sad, old, poor and ridiculous story about needing meat to fill the freezer. You will have passed multiple older does in order to select for that one little buck, so I don’t buy your story at all. If you really and truly need just meat, I can’t think of a single reason why you have to shoot a buck to do it.

Again, I know this doesn’t apply across the board to everyone, but I hope you see the mechanics and benefits of proper deer management by this exercise. By harvesting the biggest buck in the woods and doing nothing about controlling the does, you are NOT managing the population—except in a negative way. Do your part to improve the herd and the habitat, and take responsibility for your actions.

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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Tips to Aid Spotlight Surveys

For those choosing spotlight surveys this year, consider the following tips:

  • Spotlight surveys have limited application on small tracts of land or where dense vegetation greatly reduces visibility.
  • Spotlight surveys are not designed to observe a total deer population, rather to sample a representative portion of habitat and the number of deer found there.
  • Multiple counts (three is recommended) are required on the same route for reliable information.
  • Select all-weather roads that go through a variety of habitat types. Avoid roads that frequently wash out or become impassable following heavy rain.
  • Route should sample different habitat types in proportion to number of acres they         represent on the property. Avoid roads by feeders or food plots where deer may be concentrated.
  • On large tracts, more than one route may be required to adequately sample a ranch.
  • Make a map of the route for future reference.
  • Visibility readings (distance from the vehicle you could actually see a deer in a straight line perpendicular to the truck) should be taken at 1/10 mile intervals if the total length of the line is less than 12 miles. If the length is 12 miles or greater, visibility readings can be taken at 2/10 mile intervals.
  • Visibility readings are needed only on the first survey. Multiple surveys along the exact route do not require retaking visibility readings.
  • Visibility estimates may be used for several years unless significant changes in vegetation have occurred along the route.
  • Spotlight surveys should be conducted during the months of August, September, and early October.
  • Do not conduct surveys during rain, high wind or following significant disturbance along the route during the day of the count.
  • Begin all counts one hour after official sunset.
  • In thicker areas, drive 5-8 mph. In more open areas, speed may be increased to 10-15 mph. Stop only to identify deer.
  • Identify all deer encountered as bucks, does, fawns, or unidentified. Unless all deer observed in a group can be identified by sex and age-class, record ALL deer as unidentified. Recording only bucks from a group will bias data and reflect a better sex ratio than may be present.
  • A good pair of binoculars is imperative during a survey to correctly identify animals.
  • Deer observed over 250 yards from the vehicle should not be recorded or counted.
  • Pickup trucks with two spotlights and two observers standing or sitting in the bed are recommended. Passenger cars and SUVs offer limited visibility and are often too low to the ground.

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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