All posts by Macy Ledbetter

Tips to Aid Aerial Helicopter Surveys

For those choosing the aerial helicopter survey this year, consider the following tips:

  • Begin the survey soon after daylight or in the evening for optimum visibility and animal observations. Avoid mid-day surveys unless absolutely necessary.
  • Experienced pilots know how to fly game surveys, but some less experienced may need to be reminded to fly low and slow during the entire survey.
  • Transects may be required on larger tracts, while complete coverage can be used on mid to smaller tracts.
  • Most helicopter companies require a minimum charge to cover basic costs. On small tracts, make certain you understand what the minimum costs are compared to how long the actual survey will take.
  • Helicopter costs are based on the size of the machine on a per-hour basis. The larger machines cost more than the smaller ones.
  • The larger machines can haul more passengers (more eyes in the sky) and therefore, may increase your visibility and overall numbers of animals observed.   Care must be taken to not double count animals. Communication among passengers is paramount.
  • Smaller machines are more flexible, agile, and responsive than their larger counterparts.
  • Observers should be kept constant, if possible, over time to keep the data more consistent.
  • Very few people (or video cameras) can take good video footage from a helicopter survey. Vibrations and jerky movements are very hard to overcome with a video camera.   Photographs are easier and can be taken quite successfully with a moderate zoom lens and a very fast film speed. Multiple photos need to be taken of each animal so that a select few may turn out well.
  • On large tracts, individual pastures may need to be flown individually and treated as individual management units.
  • Visibility will decrease along creeks and rivers with tall tree canopies. You may need to slow down and give the animals more time to “flush” where they can more easily be seen as they cross openings.
  • It is recommended to count only those deer that are within 100-125 yards from each side of the helicopter. Avoid counting deer as they cross the horizon or are in the far distance.
  • As an observer, watch straight out and back over your outside shoulder for deer. Avoid looking straight ahead and directly under the machine. The noise and motion will flush the animals as you pass over them.
  • A clipboard, with data sheet secured at both ends, with large and wide data entry columns allows the observer to quickly record the required data with minimal effort. You need to keep your eyes in the brush and not on the data sheet.
  • As with any survey, record everything possible—deer, turkey, coyotes, bobcats, stray cattle, feral hogs, javelina, etc. Helicopters are not cheap and the more data you can gather about a piece of property, the better your management will become.
  • Be observant to overall range condition, brush distribution, water distribution, fencing (condition of, needs of, etc. ), and terrain while in the air. It will amaze you what you can see and learn from a brief helicopter ride.

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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The Magic of the Rut

What, exactly, is the rut in whitetail deer and why do hunters enjoy it so much? What causes the normally secretive and elusive mature bucks to temporarily lose their minds and wander out into a wide open field during the hunting season? In this two part series, we will take a deeper look into the science and biology of this incredible, annual, phenomenon hunters call “the rut”.

The drive of self-perpetuation is a strong one. It is more than just “survival of the fittest” and includes a myriad of hormone and chemical responses throughout the body triggered by nutritional and environmental factors alike. Assuming the animals are healthy, let’s look closer at exactly how the rutting behavior happens.

Courtship: Running is a large part of the whitetail’s courtship behavior. Bucks travel great distances in search of females that are nearing receptiveness, or estrous. They use their nose exclusively to determine if a doe is getting close as they travel from doe group to doe group in search of a potential mate. During this time, bucks may lose up to 30% of their body weight as they feed and rest rarely during such extensive travels. The females that are nearing estrous, but just not quite ready yet, will run from the buck’s asserted charges. At first a trot, her fawns will usually follow as they can. As her receptiveness increases, the chase tends to resemble a track meet and the fawns are usually then left far behind. As the receptiveness of the doe peaks, the chase slows down and the two spend more time closer together, even bedding down together at times. Once the doe is completely receptive, she will stand for the buck and allow him to rest his head on her rump. Soon thereafter, copulation takes place but lasts only a few seconds. After mating, the pair split up and the buck begins the same cycle over and over again. In a nutshell, the peak of the rut is simply the period when most of the females are in estrus and the healthy mature females dictate the timing of the rut.

Timing: The timing of the rut depends on your general location, or latitude, where you hunt. Except near the equator, the rutting season is tied to the photoperiod, or day length. The diminishing ratio of daylight to darkness triggers the start of the reproductive cycle each year in both sexes. Because photoperiod is tied to latitude, the rut progresses in North America from the north being the earliest and the south being the latest. In a nutshell, photoperiod triggers physiological changes that lead up to the rutting activities.

Nutrition: Because the actual rut peak is dictated by adult females coming into estrous, the nutrition and body condition of the females in the months proceeding up to the rut plays a key role in the exact localized timing. Weather and temperature also are factors, but once the photoperiod has prepared the females physiologically for breeding, cooler weather and a drop in the barometer certainly helps in getting the deer on their feet more often. Unseasonably warm weather suppresses rutting activity. Obviously, a body that is lacking from adequate nutrition cannot and will not function properly. In this scenario, females fail to enter heat, or estrous, and therefore can’t get pregnant or cannot maintain their pregnancy which ends in the same result. The males can’t maintain the physical strength or their hardened antlers long enough to participate and thereby cannot contribute to the gene pool.

Biology: In both sexes, a pea-sized gland near the center of the brain is called the pineal gland and it receives input from the eyes that triggers the release of a hormone called melatonin. As the days become shorter in the fall, more melatonin is secreted and this increased melatonin acts on the pituitary glands and regulates the release of a host of different hormones. Such annual cycling is responsible for the different hair coat changes, food intake levels, antler growth cycles, ovulation and timing of the overall rutting activities. If the pineal gland is damaged or interrupted in any way, the timing of these natural seasonal cycles is compromised.

In females, follicles in the ovary produce estrogen—the hormone responsible for the doe’s mating urge. Another ovarian hormone, progesterone, acts with estrogen to promote optimum heat—or the time when a doe will permit actual copulation. The rise in estrogen eventually causes the release of a mature ovum for the buck’s sperm to fertilize.

In males, the testicles are separated into three production phases: primary development, full production and resting. The phases are directly related to the onset of antler growth, the shedding of velvet, and the antler casting period. The growth and sex hormone, testosterone, is produced to begin live sperm production. Viable sperm production, measured in the billions per ejaculation, increases slowly up until the actual peak of the rut and then begins declining as the mating season ends. Sperm production and testes size are greatest in males aged three to seven years of age, however, buck fawns, given the chance, can successfully impregnate females. Testosterone dictates the course of antler development, so any damage to the testicles during any stage of the antler growth process will usually result in the antlers being held in limbo and may cause severe deformities or a permanent velvet stage to remain, regardless of the season.

So, now you know how and why the rut begins and what triggers and controls it. Next time, we will discuss the management implications and how you can use this information to grow a quality deer herd on your own property.

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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The Fall Armyworm

Attention all farmers, ranchers, and deer hunters. The fall armyworms are here once again and causing problems for everyone. Damaging populations of the pests have been reported in north, central, and south Texas again this year, especially on newly established small grain pastures (food plots) and established bermudagrass fields.

The fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, are likely to be present from August until the first frost. Populations can reach damaging proportions following fall rains while temperatures are relatively warm. Fall armyworm moth flights are carried here by air currents from Central and South America when conditions are favorable. As temperatures decrease, the life cycle of the armyworm slows.

The fall armyworm is identified as a small (1.5” at maturity) striped, light green, black or even brown caterpillar with an inverted “Y” on the head and four black dots on the back of the tip of the abdomen. They feed continuously on lush, new growth grass and grass-like foliage and are most active early and late in the day. Like their cousin the cutworm, fall armyworm caterpillars damage grass by chewing plant tissue. However, cutworms are night feeders while fall armyworms feed throughout the day. The first clue of an infestation may be the appearance of brown circular patterns within an otherwise healthy area. From a distance, these patches can look like drought stress. Such areas may first appear around the field edges near fence lines with overgrown vegetation or wooded borders.

Fall armyworm caterpillars will feed on almost all forage grasses, as well as corn, cotton, alfalfa, sorghum and approximately 100 additional plant species. The adult fall armyworm is an ash-gray moth with a wing span of approximately 1.5”. The front wings are mottled and have white or light gray spots near the tips. The back wings are white with a narrow, smokey-brown edge. They have an average life span of two to three weeks. The female moths lay eggs at night in masses of up to several hundred on light colored vegetation and the underside of tree branches. The eggs are light gray covered with grayish fuzz. The eggs darken with maturity and hatch within two to four days and all the eggs hatch about the same time. The tiny black-headed larvae (caterpillars) spin down to the ground on silken webs and begin to feed. As they grow, their bodies darken and noticeable stripes appear. The destructive caterpillar stage lasts two to three weeks. At this point, the larvae burrow into the soil and form pupae. The moths emerge in about ten to fourteen days, beginning the cycle again. Under prime growing conditions, there may be as many as five generations produced.

The decision to treat for fall armyworms depends on the stage of the armyworms and the intended use of the forage. A population of three or more worms per square foot is a reasonable treatment threshold. Small armyworms are much easier to kill than larger ones, so timing of treatment is very important. If infestations are detected too late, the damage may already have been done.

Controlling armyworms may be as simple as mowing the field in question or insecticides may be used.  Formulations of Sevin, Lannate, Lorsban SG and methyl parathion may be effective but pay close attention to grazing restrictions and re-entry periods. Apply insecticides early or late in the day because larvae (caterpillars) are most active at these times. Control of caterpillars longer than 3/4” may be poor and control in tall or thick stands of grass may also be poor. Significant numbers of armyworms may reappear within five to seven days after treatment so fields should continue to be monitored until the area experiences cooler temperatures and plants are more advanced in their growth.

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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The Diverse Trail Camera

The foundation of any wildlife management program involves collecting survey data. Survey data may be collected in a variety of ways but consistency and trends are critical.

With recent advances in technology, the use of infrared-triggered cameras (trail cameras) may be used as an acceptable form of gathering such data, especially on properties that may not be conducive to spotlight or helicopter surveys. These devices have become an invaluable tool in the deer manager’s toolkit.

Trail cameras have matured over the years and they have come down in price to a point to where users can afford to own multiple units. With an adequate number of cameras, there is much more to be learned than initially meets the eye.

Obviously, users can get a good look at each year’s antler production, as well as adult sex ratio, fawn survival rates and estimate the buck population, but with multiple photographs of individual bucks, managers can formulate specific buck harvest recommendations by creating a hit list of known bucks. Specific bucks may be targeted for harvest and their general locations also known.

These devices also provide a good look at the overall herd health indices to learn how individual animals progress from year to year. Cameras can be used to gauge how successful (or not) your individual protein feeders are being utilized and if your feed pens are large enough for the deer to be comfortable in.

Trail cams can also be used to watch specific trails or corridors to understand deer travel routes for hunting purposes.  They can tell you when the velvet is first shed or when bucks appear to be rutting (swollen necks, dark tarsals) to help determine when to rattle or use certain scents. Likewise they can tell you when the first antlers are shed in late winter/early spring and perhaps where to begin looking for them.  Yet another valuable use is the ability they provide to help deter poaching.

Other uses include the ability to get a good estimate of raccoon density and perhaps feral hogs if you are not using a feeder pen.    Some folks use them to scout for turkey roosts, poult production and squirrel density estimates as well as monitoring ponds for waterfowl activity or fish predation. Grain fields may be monitored to see when the first doves arrive or if geese or feral hogs are depredating crops in your absence.

Some folks use the more progressive cameras to text photos to their computer to monitor ranch gate or headquarters activities and some folks use them in DMP pens to monitor deer activity or count fawns.  Cameras can be used to find wild or renegade cattle on the ranch, monitor water hole activities for wildlife or illegal aliens, and even monitor ranch road activities.

Needless to say, trail cameras have far exceeded their original intention. If you don’t have your own cameras out now, there is no time like the present to get them afield to gain a much deeper interpretation of your hunting area.

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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Quantity vs. Quality

How many times have you heard someone say that they would love to see a pasture full of 180” deer? As a private consulting biologist, I hear it often and usually just nod my head when I hear it. Not that growing 180” deer isn’t possible in your pasture, it is very possible. But what may not be possible is producing the proverbial “pasture full” of them.

You know the old saying about having your cake and eating it, too, I presume? Well, this is basically the same idea. You can have a pasture full of deer and you can have a few 180” deer, but you honestly can’t have a pasture full of 180” deer. The native habitat can only produce so much forage in a given year and one animal needs to eat so much forage to support itself per year. Then you need to consider the space, water, and social requirements of the animals along with the climatic conditions in which they have to live. That being said, a 180” buck is a special mix of genetics, excellent nutrition and, of course, age requirements to reach his genetic potential. The chances, or randomness, of this scenario playing out are rare indeed so realistically expecting it to play out with every buck in your pasture is expecting a bit too much.

When I ask clients to specifically explain the goals and objectives for their ranch, many of them cannot do so. They, of course, want to grow big deer, but when I query them about quantity and quality issues, they hesitate as if they have not given it much thought. Think of it this way, why can you only run so many head of cattle, or sheep, or goats on your property? It is density-related, definitely, but what happens to the quality of the animals as the quantity increases? The two are inversely related, which means as one increases the other decreases and vice versa.

Managing for quality animals is as basic as keeping your stocking rates (density) BELOW the carrying capacity of the habitat, using a supplemental feeding program, maintaining a tight adult sex ratio, having a good ratio of mature bucks in the herd and actively managing your habitat according to the climatic conditions. With the proper use of a bullet, genetics may be selected for or against, and with time, your quality will increase. Quality production is about controlling the numbers and ratios and being steadfast and vigilant every year to keep the system balanced over time along with making adjustments as climatic conditions warrant.

Managing for quantity is differentiated by keeping the stocking rates (density) AT or ABOVE the carrying capacity of the habitat, using an aggressive supplemental feeding program, maintaining a wide adult sex ratio favoring females, and harvesting as many bucks each year as annual recruitment will allow. Genetic selection with a bullet is usually not required due to increased harvest pressure, decreased quality nutrition/habitat, and harvesting the bucks at an early age as they will never reach their full genetic potential anyway. Quantity production is a numbers game – by raising more total deer, you get to shoot more total deer.

Now that the differences have been made obvious, which scenario would you prefer? Which scenario do you believe creates the best habitat for other animals like quail, rabbits, and turkey, or erosion control, or disease prevention, or even predation rates? If you were a deer hunter, where would you want to hunt? If you were a deer, where would you like to live?

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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Prescribed Burning for Better Wildlife

Wildfire and prescribed fire are similar to illegal drugs and prescription drugs. The first can destroy your home and possibly kill you while the second will improve your wildlife habitat and cure your ailments. Wildfires and illegal drugs carry heavy negative impacts while prescribed fire and prescription drugs carry positive and healing impacts.

Popular throughout the last century, Smokey the Bear had a major influence on many young lives. His overall message was well-meaning but often misinterpreted. Children grew up fearing fire of any kind because Smokey said fire was bad. In wildfire conditions, he was correct, but under controlled conditions, fire can be the best tool used to help turn a property around– to increase the overall herbaceous production, to add weight gain to the animals, to rejuvenate new growth, to remove thick layers of thatch that prevent forbs/weeds and new grasses from growing, to even encouraging new plant species to grow and prosper. Prescribed fire is the answer to old, tired, rangeland that has become stale and stagnant and in need of a shot of production. Prescribed fire adds fertilizer—thru the combustion and restructuring of nutrients—back into the soil where it belongs and becomes usable again. Prescribed fire “opens up” the short herbaceous canopy, thins out invading brush and grass species, removes the young, old, and dead plants and improves sunlight, rain and nutrient penetration at ground level. Prescribed fire stimulates soil micro-organisms and begins the natural food chain from the earliest of stages and thereby creating a much more stable, vigorous and healthy habitat.

Prescribed burns generally occur during two times of the year–summer reclamation burns and fall cool season burns. A summer burn is considered a “hot” fire used to kill large trees (cedars, huisache, mesquite) primarily to reclaim overgrown pastures that need to be returned back into long-term production. A summer burn is very aggressive and destructive and extreme care must be used when using it. A winter burn is considered a “cool” fire and is used primarily to top-remove any debris, set back (not necessarily kill) invading brush species and encourage a quick regrowth response. The fire temperature is hot enough to do the job yet not so hot as to kill large trees or mature brush species — targeting primarily the short brush and grass canopies. Cool season burns are best used to generate browse plant regrowth and forb/weed production—forages that wildlife highly prefer.

Obvious safe-guards need to be in place before any burn: suitable fireguards around the perimeter of the area to be burned, a low humidity/low wind day with a favorable wind direction in order to direct the fire and smoke as desired, and ample experienced help on hand to assist. Heavy equipment such as water spray rigs, dozers, or a tractor and disc are always wise. A game plan for the actual burn and a backup plan should something go awry is also needed, not to mention contacting local neighbors, sheriff office and fire departments to let them know your intentions.

Burning is not for the weak of heart. It required much planning and coordination and weather forecasting, but the benefits of a successful burn outweight all the troubles and stress involved. A burned area is the first to green up and animals will walk great distances to feed on the new lush growth. Fire removes the thorns and needles found on aggressive plants, so many animals enter the burn area even before the smoke clears in order to feed on such delicacies.

Tame pastures, rangelands and even brushy pastures can benefit from prescribed fire. Use fire as a tool just as you do with heavy equipment, responsible cattle grazing and selective harvest. It is one of the cheapest and quickest forms of habitat management available today and it will make a believer out of you once you give it a chance.

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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Predator Control and How it Affects Your Hunting Success

Hunters, managers and landowners all have an interest in raising baby animals. Whether it be calves, lambs, quail chicks, turkey poults, or deer fawns, the end result is the same—without babies you will not have adults. Sounds pretty simple and easy doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. This article is to remind you of the importance of predator control for the sake of wildlife management.

I have never been hired by a client — whether it is a landowner or a hunting group –that asked me to help them mess up their ranch! Nope, not one has ever asked me to help them destroy habitat, make their bucks smaller or produce fewer quail. With that being said, it is obvious that everyone involved has a vested interest in producing, promoting, and enhancing what they have for the ultimate end-use.

Predator control has a major and direct influence on wildlife populations and management. If you are managing for ground nesting birds such as quail and turkey, predators include raccoons, skunks, opossums, badgers, feral hogs, grey and red fox, coyotes, bobcats and feral house cats. If you are managing for big game such a deer or antelope, your primary targets include coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and feral hogs. Predator control does not mean predator elimination–that is impossible and impractical. Predator control means just that—controlling the total number of predators that select against your targeted species of interest.

Predator control is not a cure-all for poor habitat management, overgrazing, lack of water or poor herd management, but a TOOL used to help manage your wildlife populations. Predator control is like cedar control or supplemental feeding or selective harvesting or even a game survey- it is but one of the many pieces of the puzzle required in order to help your property reach it’s full wildlife potential. If you fail to have quality habitat or continue to overstock your property, or even shoot your bucks too young, predator control will not fix the problem. When you think of predator control work, think of saving baby critters, habitat damage control, disease control, fence maintenance, supplemental feeding cost savings, road/vehicle encounters, farm crop damage prevention and even water resource management. Predator control is multi-faceted and very important to the local community and economy along many fronts.

I tell folks all the time that if you don’t raise that buck fawn this year, you will not shoot him as a trophy buck in five or six years. If that hen does not raise a successful clutch in the spring, you cannot take a mess of quail in the fall or harvest that trophy gobbler next spring. You must have babies to have adults, so get involved with your local trappers and let them help you manage your wildlife populations.

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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Now What?

At this time of year, I get many inquiries about what projects there are to help the deer and deer hunting for the fall.  Deer season and growing big antlers happens in a small percentage of the available time and you have to work smart and hard when the time comes. And now is the time.

Timely projects include, but certainly are not limited to:

Keep all protein feeders full and operational. Deer are growing antlers and raising babies, they need all the extra nutrition possible. Check for squirrel and raccoon damage to the feeder wires, spinner plate, latches and lid. Is there a huge hole under the feeder from all the hog activity? If so, either move the feeder over or fill in the hole so that feed doesn’t fall in standing water when it rains. Are the legs spayed out from hogs or cattle rubbing on them? Perhaps building a large pen around the feeder is required. What about those all-important trail/scouting cameras? Batteries need replacing and they likely need cleaning before they will be ready again this fall.

For food plots, take soil samples on those areas not yet sampled, heavy/deep disc now to remove any unwanted grass or in more dry areas, simply spraying might be in order. How many acres are in your food plot system now and do you need more? If so, do you need more warm or cool season forage plants?   Research your options and get informed and ready for the planting season ahead of time. Do existing food plots need fencing from the cattle or enlarged to keep the deer from wiping them out so quickly? Consider exclosures this fall to gauge exactly how the plants perform. Do you need to adjust your planting date or rates this fall? What worked best last fall and what can be experimented with this year?

Predator control work is important this time of year. Remove feral hogs when and where possible, they depredate on everything baby-related.  Snaring and trapping coyote, bobcat, fox and raccoons will help too.  Raccoons and fox don’t predate on deer, but they do impact quail and turkey production and raccoons certainly disturb deer feeders. Traps around watering sources baited with any smelly work very well. There is a difference between predator control and predator eradication. You can’t, nor don’t want to, eradicate predators, but their numbers do need to be controlled.

Analyze the past season’s harvest data to gauge your success.  What effect, if any, did this past winter’s drought have on your deer population?  Does your adult sex ratio need adjusting? Did you see a positive response from your management actions? What worked best and what didn’t work this past season and why? Do it now in order to make better management and harvest decisions this fall.

Is it time to relocate deer blinds in order to keep the deer guessing? Do you need to select a new blind location due to deer movement patterns?  Set up new locations now so that the animals can get used to them before this hunting season.  Are there large blocks of acreage on your hunting grounds that lack water?  If so, now is the time to get water lines installed or call in a dozer to build a new pond. How are the cattle impacting the grass component on the property? Too many cattle can reduce fawning cover and therefore fawn survival. Do you need more cross-fencing to rotate the cattle more often or do you need to simply reduce the total numbers? Does the property have enough valuable “edge effect” or do you need to create more?

How about the group of hunters and the hunting cabin itself? There are always camp repairs and wood to stack. Are all the hunters as educated about deer management as they need to be? Summertime is seminar and convention time, so encourage education and more involvement with the program so that everyone benefits. Are they familiar with and have they successfully passed the Shoot or Wait game to your satisfaction? Is the fall survey already scheduled? Are there any hunting vehicle repairs needed? Remember that unexplainable miss last fall? Perhaps a new scope, a new rifle, a new set of binoculars…………….

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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Natural Mortality, What is it?

Death by Mother Nature–by “natural causes”– accidental death, death caused by something other than your weapon, that is what it is. Shooting at and wounding a deer that eventually dies from the wounds is not natural mortality. Starvation, flooding, fighting, predation, birthing complications, drought, snake bites, hung in fences and car accidents are examples of natural mortality.

As managers, we can certainly control the harvest pressure and weapon accuracy, but can we really control natural mortality? Yes and no to be honest with you. Yes, we can alter the adult sex ratio and buck age structure to change the social structure of the deer herd. Yes, we can lower the predator populations to lessen their impact. Yes, we can even build wildlife-friendly fences to help them safely negotiate over or under or even through them without harm. Yes, we can create the perfect habitat that allows them to feed and travel with maximum safety and ease. Yes, we can keep the herd at or below natural carrying capacity so that everything has more than enough to eat. No, we cannot control the weather. No, we cannot control diseases in most cases. No, we cannot help those birthing mothers having trouble and no we cannot keep snakes from biting.

Natural mortality can be difficult to understand or downright confusing because it is oftentimes out of sight. But managers need to consider natural mortality when constructing their management plan and the annual harvest recommendations. You can lessen the impacts and effects, but you cannot eliminate it completely. Look at your ranch from a deer’s perspective and see what you can do differently.

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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My First Ground Blind Hunt with Dad

When I was about knee high to a grasshopper, I was sitting in a ground blind with my dad.  It was one of my first hunts to sit on the ground and not on a board nailed in the limbs of a tree.  I enjoyed it very much because I could see the critters better, draw in the dirt and sharpen a stick with my pocketknife.  The blind was fashioned from logs we had gathered up previously that summer and built a mini log house of sorts, like a three sided square, and a large oak tree at our backs with a small opening between the tree and logs to enter and exit from. I really enjoyed building the ground blind and we worked very hard at making it just the right size and height for each of us to see from.  There was no top on it but the large oak tree at our back served as a support to lean against and to shade and semi-cover our heads.  Visibility was great from this blind as it set up on a rise overlooking a small field.

As dad and I walked to the blind that cold morning in the pitch dark, we flushed a covey of bobwhite quail.  We were literally surrounded by quail when they erupted from the grass in the total darkness and I will never forget feeling the wind of their wings on my face.  I think dad jumped about as high as I did when it happened and we had a good laugh after the fact.

We finally got settled in the blind and got prepared for the long wait for daylight.  My dad leaned over and whispered to me that he was going to take a short nap and to wake him up if he snored or if I saw anything.  He immediately fell asleep and I set there in the darkness wondering if every sound behind me was the big bad wolf or a mountain lion looking for an easy snack.  I was so happy when daylight arrived so I could see what was really making all those scary noises!  Finally, I was able to use the binoculars enough to see deer in the field, lots of deer.  I kept glassing and inspecting every deer for antlers.  Finally, way at the back of the field and staring in my general direction, I saw the largest buck of my life.  He was huge, his neck swollen, his ears and eyes aimed right at me.  I was frozen in my seat and I was afraid he could hear my heart pounding against my coat.  For a brief moment, I forgot what I was there for; I was totally mesmerized by this huge buck.  As the does and fawns fed throughout the field, the buck stood his ground, never moved a muscle and just stared at the other deer.   I finally snapped back to reality and gently nudged my dad to wake him up.  He shifted around and I leaned over to tell him the largest buck in the entire world was in the field and looking right at us.  Dad immediately snapped to attention and grabbed the binoculars from me.  He took one quick look at the buck and immediately grabbed for his rifle.  The shot was a long one–across the field and over the top of the other deer as the big buck was facing directly towards us.  I remember watching through the cracks in the logs while holding my fingers in my ears when the gun went off.  The trophy buck hit the ground immediately and all the other deer raced from the field with their tails frantically waving good by.  We both jumped from the ground blind and quickly made our way across the field to the trophy.  He had not moved an inch and a small hole was obvious right in the center of his neck, just below the white patch on his throat.  The body was huge and the antlers even moreso.  We grabbed the rack and began counting the long dark brown tines.   The spread was well outside the ears and the mass was as thick as my wrists.  Dad and I said a brief prayer of thanks to the man above and gave each other a huge hug.  It was a very powerful moment and one that I will never forget.  We could not drag the deer at all, he was entirely too heavy for us.  We left him there and returned with the truck.  After several unsuccessful tries to load him, we finally managed to get it done, and I learned a few lessons about physics and leverage and critical mass.
We took the buck into town to show it to friends and family.  I rode the entire trip facing backwards in my seat, just staring at the antlers poking above the toolbox.  I can’t remember ever seeing my dad so happy as that day.  You couldn’t wipe the grin off his face.  We drove that buck all over town and people came from near and far to see it and hear the story.  The best part of the story, to me, was that dad told the story just as it happened–he was asleep, I found the buck, I woke him up and he shot it.  It was a team effort and one of the most proud moments of my life.   Dad let me hang the plaque-mounted antlers in my room and we wore the carpet out showing it to everyone that came to our house.
My dad passed away a few years ago, about thirty years after this story unfolded.  At his funeral, I hung the antlers of this buck next to his casket.  I couldn’t think of a better tribute to my dad, and to this buck, and for the story it represented.  Today, the same rack hangs proudly on my living room wall where I see it every day.  This rack is so much more to me than just the trophy it is, and is responsible for me choosing my life long passion as a profession.
Cherish the times hunting with your parents my friends.  They are limited and they are precious.  They will stay with you for the rest of your life.

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