All posts by Cathy

Antler Growth 101

Who out there can honestly say that deer antlers don’t get them excited?  Whether we manage deer as a profession or a passion, growing bucks with the big antlers is on our minds somewhere down the line.  From the earliest drawings of our ancestors on cave walls, we have always had a fascination with antlers–their size, their shape, their oddities, their growth.  Why else would we get up well before daylight and brave the harsh elements to pursue antlers and their owners?

But, do you fully understand the antler growing cycle from start to finish? It is an amazing process for sure and something all serious deer managers need to understand and appreciate if growing big antlers are your goal.

What makes an antler and antler, and not a horn?

Antlers differ from horns in that they are shed, or cast, each year and annually reproduced.  Antlers are made of bone while horns are made of keratin, the same material your fingernails are made of.  Horns are a thin sheath grown over a portion of the skull while antlers are completely separate of the skull, held on only by a small section nourished by vitamins and minerals with the ability to start and stop growth.  Horns grow continuously while antlers grow for only 128 days.  Antlers are the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom and can be grown only by deer and other Cervids. Horns are grown by cattle, goats, sheep and antelope.

Now, let’s take a closer look at HOW antlers are actually grown.

Antlerogenesis is the term that describes the annual physiological production of antlers.  It is regulated by a series of interconnected processes that are important to understand.  Antler growth is primarily regulated by testosterone levels.  The testosterone levels in a buck’s body are regulated by photoperiod, or length of daylight.  And length of daylight is regulated by the seasons that occur from the tilting and rotation of the Earth.  Because of all of this, the antler growing process lasts only 128 days and cannot be extended or expanded.

When first born in the spring time, a buck fawn has small indentions and hair swirls on the frontal bone of his skull.  At about four months of age, increased testosterone levels help to produce small, flat platforms called a  pedicles.  Pedicles provide the structural base for, and the foundation of, future antler development.  A buck fawn born early in the spring and living under good nutritional conditions will have noticeable, hairy bumps during his first winter.  The hairy bumps are not true antlers but instead dormant pedicles until he is old enough to produce “real” antlers.  At approximately ten months of age, the young buck’s testosterone level increases enough to produce his first set of antlers.  When fall arrives, this little buck will be about eighteen months of age, and referred to by deer managers as a “yearling buck.”  Under ideal conditions and with good genetics, his first rack can have many points but most range from two to six points on average.

As antler growth begins, the underlying pedicle gives rise to new antler material, which at this point is a semi- firm tissue composed of approximately 80% protein.  This growing material is cartilage-like and full of blood vessels.  The nutrient-rich transporting blood vessels rise up through the pedicle as well as form the soft lining around the outside of the growing antler.  The tiny little blood vessels and protective hairs are what we refer to as velvet when a buck is actively growing antlers.  Blood vessel density and capacity is what “feeds” the growing antlers. A healthy buck produces and maintains a high volume of blood vessels, while one whose body is stressed will not.  The velvet is also full of a dense network of microscopic nerves.  The nerves make the velvet covered antlers sensitive and helps to protect the soft growing tissue against damage.  The nerves may also make the buck aware of how his antlers are shaped, which will be useful when stripping the velvet and sparring with competing bucks.  The visible grooves on the base and beams of hardened antlers are the impressions left by the blood vessels as it grew in velvet.

What role does nutrition play?

Normal dietary intake cannot supply enough nutrients and minerals to support the rapid growth rate of the new antlers.  Remember, antlers are the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom, and consequently require huge demands on the buck’s body for quick nutrients and energy.  The buck’s body actually recalls and transfers calcium and phosphorus (the primary building blocks of antlers) from the entire skeletal system and the blood transports these minerals to the growing antlers via the new blood vessels.  Research has shown that the bulk of the minerals are taken primarily from the ribs and sternum area creates a temporary condition of osteoporosis–a degenerative bone disease common in older humans.   In deer, however, this condition is only temporary (unlike in humans) and once the antlers are fully mineralized, the bone density returns to the normal pre-antler growth levels once again.

As the days become shorter, the pineal gland (attached to the brain) senses the shorted daylight/photoperiod (through the optic nerve) and sends the signal to the testes to increase testosterone levels.  As testosterone levels increase, the antlers become mineralized and begin to harden.   Once completely mineralized the ever-increasing testosterone levels cause the blood flow to cease and the velvet dries and begins to split and crack open.  The buck then begins to rub his antlers on small trees and shrubs to remove the dried velvet and this rubbing action mixes the brown pigment in the plants (called tannins) with the remaining dried velvet blood to create the familiar brown color commonly found on antlers.  Bucks that either rub on plants without tannins or held in captivity without the ability to clean their antlers will have snow white antlers when stripped of velvet.

Testosterone levels peak in the breeding season and decline shortly thereafter.  The decrease in testosterone triggers osteoclasts that erode the base of the antler at the pedicle, resulting in the antler falling to the ground.  Osteoclasts are bone cells that are associated with the dissolution of unwanted bone.  Once the antlers are cast, the amazing growth cycle begins all over again in approximately two weeks.

The scab that forms over the wound left by the cast antler heals and becomes covered with fine, thin hairs.  The fine-haired skin forms the beginnings that will nourish and protect the growing antlers for the next four months.

Management implications to consider:

  • Mother Nature 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 and healing.  This means that if the buck’ s body is lacking in nutrition or otherwise stressed, the antlers (and the 128 day growth cycle) takes a back seat nutritionally until the body is fully healed and recovered.  Managers must make certain that the bucks exit the rut in as good of physical condition as possible so that healthy antler growth begins on the first day and is not delayed in order to maximize antler growth time and energy.
  • Maintaining a tight adult sex ratio ensures that the does get bred on their first or second estrus cycle and ends the stressful rutting activity.  Unbalanced ratios extend the rutting activity for months, thereby nutritionally stressing the bucks for longer than necessary and causing them to delay their antler growth cycle while they rebuild body condition.
  • Remember, antlers are directly influenced by the health of the buck growing them, and his health is influenced by the quality and quantity of nutritious forage.   Nutritionally speaking, the early spring and fall are the best times for a deer.  The worst are summer and late winter when forage is lower in quality and quantity.  In order to keep the nutritional plane more level and constant, maintain the herd at or below carrying capacity to ensure all animals have more than enough to eat every month of the year.
  • Manage your habitat to provide deer with the most nutritious and palatable browse and forage for your area.  Good habitat = healthy deer = better antlers.
  • Supplemental feeding is just that, a supplement to the deer’s diet.  It assists when and where needed and it makes a positive impact.  If it is legal and you can do it, you should strongly consider it for maximum antler growth.
  • If you do need to offer supplemental feed, do it year-round.  A buck is either growing antlers or preparing his body to grow antlers 365 days a year.
  • Calcium and phosphorus are the building blocks of antlers.  Make sure you are offering effective amounts of each and in a balanced 2:1 ratio for maximum efficiency.
  • Calcium improves weight gain and feed utilization, which in turn promotes a healthier buck capable of growing antlers to his full genetic potential.
  • Phosphorus improves growth rate, feed utilization and appetite and combines with Calcium to form essential bone mineral salt.
  • Vitamins such as A, E and D stimulate the immune system, improve bone growth, improves sperm production and assists with bone mineralization.
  • Copper, Manganese and Zinc improves antler mass and tine length, stimulates the immune system, reduces sterility, and aids in bone formation.

As you can tell, antlerogenesis is an incredibly detailed process.  Antlers are, basically, grown year around from a nutritional perspective and it would do managers well to keep that in the front of their minds.  Habitat and herd management all have direct and lasting nutritional impacts and those impacts will affect future antler 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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Rut Hunting, Your Management Window

Every deer hunter worth his salt knows that hunting during the rut is likely the best time to harvest a mature buck. Last issue, we explored the mechanics and biology behind the rut and why and how it makes mature bucks do the silly things they do and therefore makes them vulnerable to your weapon of choice. This issue, let’s discuss HOW deer managers can use the rut to their benefit to help them manage their deer herd.

You are likely familiar with the primary stages of the rut: pre-rut, rut and post-rut. Some will argue that there are additional steps or levels and there certainly is if you use a microscope, but for generalized management purposes, the three main categories are close enough. Obviously, the pre-rut period is where the bucks begin to think about it but the girls are not. Coming out of the summer bachelor groups, the bucks begin to rub the velvet from their antlers and begin settling the pecking order among their previous best friends. The bucks are building fat reserves, working their necks out and in general getting ready for the impending challenges that they know lie ahead of them. From a deer management perspective, THIS IS THE TIME TO INCREASE YOUR HARVEST of breeding-aged bucks that you DO NOT want in the herd. The bucks are still very predictable and relaxed. Now, a deer hunter oftentimes wants to harvest the biggest deer in the pasture while a deer manager wants to harvest the sorriest deer in the woods. Don’t get excited here, but there are real differences from recreational hunting and serious management. For deer managers, the pre-rut is the best time to remove those bucks with undesirable antler traits BEFORE the rut and they have the opportunity to spread those undesirable genetics into the herd. As a manager, this is the perfect time to be afield in order to remove such animals well before the breeding period. By this time, deer surveys should have been completed or at least winding down so you should have a good idea of antler quality, age structure and fawn survival rates. All of this data will be useful as you set your standards as to what is, and is not, a buck with undesirable antler traits. Every ranch is different and personal opinions are varied, but use the buck herd on YOUR ranch to help you decide where the cut-off should be.

With the bucks being less mobile and more predictable, now is the time to hit them hard to remove those that you have determined as undesirables. Letting the higher quality animals go while removing the lesser quality animals is how genetic gains are realized. Bucks wear their genetics on their head. Look at his genetics and ask yourself this one very simple question, “Do I want more of the same?” If the answer is yes, don’t shoot. If the answer is no, shoot him now and don’t wait. The pre-rut period may last for several weeks or perhaps a month. There is plenty of time for the serious manager to get the job done even if the weather, wasps, and mosquitoes are against you.

The rut is when all bets are off and all stops are pulled. Bucks you have never seen before magically appear out of thin air. Mature bucks you weren’t sure were still alive certainly are and the woods come alive with buck activity. At this time, most folks shift to trophy buck hunting and that is fine. But, the chance to still take a buck with undesirable antler traits still exists so be ready to take him anytime you can. Passing on two or three undesirable bucks in hopes of taking a trophy may not be the smartest thing to do when extensively managing a deer herd, but human nature certainly makes it easy to do so. If you harvest the trophy buck too early, he may not have had the opportunity to breed, so keep that in the back of your mind. Are you hunting for your ego or are you hunting for management purposes? You be the judge here, just realize the results of your decisions may last for years to come.

The actual rutting period is not that long. It may last one to two weeks and that depends on the health of the animals, the adult sex ratio, the weather, and the habitat, so hunt hard as it will end quickly. Of course, 28 days later another cycle will hit but this will depend on the adult sex ratio, weather and habitat too, and it won’t last nearly as long. Hunting the rut is certainly a rewarding time of the year so get the management bucks out of the way so that you can relax and enjoy the magic and perhaps take the buck of a lifetime after he breeds.

The post-rut is the rut in decline. The female receptiveness and availability is reduced but the buck’s desires are not. As fewer and fewer females are receptive, the buck’s travels must increase as his evolutionary desire to reproduce is still strong. The body weights are now 20-30% of what they were two and three months ago and food consumption is not a priority. Bucks travel great distances and simply lean forward in their lust to find a receptive female. At this time of the season, a manager must be very aware of broken tines before pulling the trigger. Good optics are a must when harvesting bucks now as the body condition won’t help determine age due to the deleted muscle and fat reserves and missing tines can camouflage a quality buck. Extreme care must be taken when selecting a buck for harvest now, but it can still be effective. Certainly, breeding has already taken place earlier by those remaining undesirable bucks, but you can still harvest him now before any additional damage is done and he doesn’t need to get another year older.

So, using your knowledge of how, why, and when the rut begins, and all three primary stages, can help you better manage your deer herd. The first two stages of the rut are the best time to remove a buck you don’t want breeding while searching for a trophy buck allows you to concentrate on the final two stages. Take this knowledge to the woods and keep notes of the dates and stages of the rut as they happen in your woods. This will help you be a better hunter and manager from now on.

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Management

We have all heard and probably used the word management when referring to a ranch or a hunting scenario. I know I see and hear it in almost every article, magazine ad and ranch description. But I also make my living physically managing ranches and I am here to say that this term is often used, abused and misused!

Now, please understand this article is not to bash or discount anyone’s efforts or financial standings at all, but merely here to get you to think of the many different types of management these days and how this particular term is abused.

What does management mean to you? Of course, this is a moving target and the term clearly means different things to different folks. Is putting up one feeder on your ranch considered management? What if it is one corn feeder and your ranch is 80 acres? What if it is ten protein feeders on 5,000 acres?   Is management acre-dependent in your opinion? Does management infer only to herd management or can it be inclusive of habitat manipulation and permanent infrastructure improvements like water wells and cleared fields for food plots?

Or does management mean that since you managed to kill a buck, you are managing the property now? What if you lease the land to a group of hunters and you supervise them, is this management? What if you managed to find three paying hunters to harvest those inferior bucks so that you managed to make some income to help pay the feed bill or the land taxes? If you managed to finance a used tractor and are now fallow disking to promote weeds or planting food plots, is this management? If you hire a ranch manager, is your ranch now being managed? See what I mean, this term is used, abused and misused!

When I think of the term management, I conjure up a scenario of where both herd and habitats are being purposefully manipulated to achieve a desired outcome. I think of pressure being applied to change or alter a current situation in order to “fix” it or change it to meet your goals and objectives. Right or wrong, this is what I think of when I hear the term management.

Managing a ranch, regardless of acreage involved, includes making it better and a work in progress to make it something you desire to be proud of. Management can be a single act, a one-day project or a year-long project or it can be a perpetual project that never really ends. Mother Nature is always changing and so must we in order to keep up with those changes. Weather patterns, finances, personnel, priorities, emergencies, equipment and time are usually our limiting factors and so we must adapt, evolve and adjust accordingly. Management progress may be measured in baby steps in some projects and in giant project-completed steps in others. Management is, after all, an evolving long-term process generally speaking and we must keep our eyes on the ball and stay consistent in order to be most successful.

Let’s explore a few scenarios and see how management can be used:

* “My ranch is only eighty acres but it is in a hardwood forest with very limited sight distance and extremely thick underbrush. I love to hunt deer but I rarely see them. I know they are here because of their tracks and scat but I would love to be able to harvest two or three deer each year.”

Management advice: Hardwood forests are very productive environments but sunlight limits forage quality. Consider selling some timber this year but make sure to have a high quality timber lease agreement in place first. Log the acreage in 15-20 acre blocks and work on only one block per year. The lease agreement will generate needed income, remove certain tree species and most of the underbrush in the immediate area. Once sunlight reaches the forest floor, new and different quality browse plants will emerge. Deer will flock to this newly opened area and grass will grow—providing bedding and fawning cover, not to mention open up a new hunting area with increased visibility. Another technique includes thinning of the underbrush to increase visibility and add valuable edge effect. If ample grass is produced, a small prescribed burn could be used to maintain such openings and plant diversity long term. Rotating the logging and/or selective underbrush thinning over time will keep your habitat in a constant state of regrowth and this, in turn, will attract not only more deer, but the new visibility created will allow you to more easily hunt the property and harvest surplus deer each fall.

* “My ranch is low fenced, 500 acres but I am surrounded by small tracts of land with tons of hunters on it. Opening morning sounds like a war zone around here and I can’t seem to grow a buck past two years of age.”

Management advice: First, talk with each neighbor to see if you might have the same goals and objectives. Most hunters do want to see quality deer and once they learn their neighbors are like-minded, they might be more susceptible to working cooperatively as a team, instead of competing against you. Next, make your acreage the best it possibly can be to not only attract the deer, but HOLD them on your property. You can control the fate of the deer on your land so keeping them there longer increases their survival. Perhaps you create a large sanctuary in the center of the property, a safehaven area for the deer to hide in and far from the neighbors. This area would be thick with brush, have almost no disturbances in and around it and offer the deer everything they need such as food and water. This might mean you fence this area off and keep your own cattle out of it. Perhaps you have to extend the waterline and put in a water trough to provide water so the deer never have to leave. Maybe you put up a feeder or two and never hunt it, just offer some free food during the hunting season. You may want to hunt some deer too, so perhaps you switch to archery hunting only. As the neighbors bang away with their rifles, your ranch remains quiet and the deer will respond accordingly.

* “My wife inherited 5,000 acres but we live in another state. We can’t move to the ranch but we want to keep the ranch in the family and it would be great if we could make it self-sustaining. We don’t have a lot of extra income but want to take care of the property and don’t want it to run down or we go broke trying to support it ourselves.”

Management advice: First and foremost, do your homework and learn who in the area of the ranch you can and cannot trust. Visit with many folks and professionals and locals and learn the local lore and traditions. Don’t worry about the ranch initially, but learn the local economy, work ethics and social factors involved. Now, set goals and objectives for the ranch that are real and attainable. You may or may not need professional help on this one but it certainly will help. Write these goals and objectives down and refer to and edit them often as needed until you feel most comfortable with them. Now, using those trusted sources you met earlier doing your due diligence, reach out to them for advice and suggestions or how to proceed. Perhaps you hire someone to live on the ranch or perhaps you find a part time person to help. Next, draft up a high quality hunting lease and a cattle grazing lease. If you own minerals, explore those options and contact a qualified mineral person to assist. Once you and your sources are comfortable with the various leases, begin advertising for leasees and begin the interview process. Don’t take this step lightly or quickly. Finding the right person(s) is not always easy and it involves checking sources and perhaps even background digging around on your part. In time, you should be able to locate quality lease hunters, quality cattle lease operators and maybe learn your mineral options. The ranch is now producing income from at least the two leases and now the ranch is financially viable. Now, and only now, can you make good quality management decisions that will allow the ranch to move forward and remain sustainable and perhaps even profitable. So yes, properties can be managed from afar and quality leases can help you.

* “I have a high fenced game ranch but my bucks are getting smaller, not bigger. I was told if I had a high fence I could grow some monster bucks with no problem.”

Management advice: Installing a high fence completely around your ranch is just like having kids all over again. The animals within that high fence can’t leave. They can’t move off if water gets in short supply and so they simply multiply and increase to the point of problems arising. Just like babies or very small children, they rely on their parents for food, water, shelter and protection and so do the deer behind your high fence. The level of management must increase ten-fold once the fence is up because those animals inside have far fewer options and may not be able to support themselves in severe cases. Without a fence, they can leave/migrate/return and move as needed for survival. With the fence, they are kept in place and must deal with the conditions as they change for the better or worse. The primary purposes of high fences are to keep the deer on your property and those deer on your neighbors’ property off. High fences stabilize the population and it is more difficult to manage a moving population of anything. Like a hole in your pocket, you never know how much money is there unless you fix the hole and then you control all the money in your pocket. So a high fence is not an “easy fix” at all, but instead a long term commitment similar to having small children and it takes work, lots of work, to provide for those dependents and raise them to reach their full genetic potential.

If the bucks are getting smaller behind the high fence it is likely a numbers issue-too many deer, not enough quality forage and limited resources. First order of business is to conduct quality surveys to understand the herd dynamics involved. Once the data is compiled, goals and objectives will need to be reviewed and possibly revisited and then a strategy put into place to meet those goals and objectives. As the deer numbers decline, antler quality will no doubt improve. Just how much you want them to improve will dictate the next series of steps but when numbers are high, you can grow bigger bucks by simply shooting more does, it is just that simple.

Management is a moving target, something hard to grab ahold of and hang on to. Management is slippery and ever-evolving and so we need to be careful when we talk about or read about it because it is oftentimes easier said than done.

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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Antler Growth 101

video 38

Who out there can honestly say that deer antlers don’t get them excited? Whether we manage deer as a profession or a passion, growing bucks with the big antlers is on our minds somewhere down the line. From the earliest drawings of our ancestors on cave walls, we have always had a fascination with antlers–their size, their shape, their oddities, their growth. Why else would we get up well before daylight and brave the harsh elements to pursue antlers and their owners?

But, do you fully understand the antler growing cycle from start to finish? It is an amazing process for sure and something all serious deer managers need to understand and appreciate if growing big antlers are your goal.

What makes an antler and antler, and not a horn?

Antlers differ from horns in that they are shed, or cast, each year and annually reproduced. Antlers are made of bone while horns are made of keratin, the same material your fingernails are made of. Horns are a thin sheath grown over a portion of the skull while antlers are completely separate of the skull, held on only by a small section nourished by vitamins and minerals with the ability to start and stop growth. Horns grow continuously while antlers grow for only 128 days. Antlers are the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom and can be grown only by deer and other Cervids. Horns are grown by cattle, goats, sheep and antelope.

Now, let’s take a closer look at HOW antlers are actually grown.

Antlerogenesis is the term that describes the annual physiological production of antlers. It is regulated by a series of interconnected processes that are important to understand. Antler growth is primarily regulated by testosterone levels. The testosterone levels in a buck’s body are regulated by photoperiod, or length of daylight. And length of daylight is regulated by the seasons that occur from the tilting and rotation of the Earth. Because of all of this, the antler growing process lasts only 128 days and cannot be extended or expanded.

When first born in the spring time, a buck fawn has small indentions and hair swirls on the frontal bone of his skull. At about four months of age, increased testosterone levels help to produce small, flat platforms called a pedicles. Pedicles provide the structural base for, and the foundation of, future antler development. A buck fawn born early in the spring and living under good nutritional conditions will have noticeable, hairy bumps during his first winter. The hairy bumps are not true antlers but instead dormant pedicles until he is old enough to produce “real” antlers. At approximately ten months of age, the young buck’s testosterone level increases enough to produce his first set of antlers. When fall arrives, this little buck will be about eighteen months of age, and referred to by deer managers as a “yearling buck.” Under ideal conditions and with good genetics, his first rack can have many points but most range from two to six points on average.

As antler growth begins, the underlying pedicle gives rise to new antler material, which at this point is a semi- firm tissue composed of approximately 80% protein. This growing material is cartilage-like and full of blood vessels. The nutrient-rich transporting blood vessels rise up through the pedicle as well as form the soft lining around the outside of the growing antler. The tiny little blood vessels and protective hairs are what we refer to as velvet when a buck is actively growing antlers. Blood vessel density and capacity is what “feeds” the growing antlers. A healthy buck produces and maintains a high volume of blood vessels, while one whose body is stressed will not. The velvet is also full of a dense network of microscopic nerves. The nerves make the velvet covered antlers sensitive and helps to protect the soft growing tissue against damage. The nerves may also make the buck aware of how his antlers are shaped, which will be useful when stripping the velvet and sparring with competing bucks. The visible grooves on the base and beams of hardened antlers are the impressions left by the blood vessels as it grew in velvet.

What role does nutrition play?

Normal dietary intake cannot supply enough nutrients and minerals to support the rapid growth rate of the new antlers. Remember, antlers are the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom, and consequently require huge demands on the buck’s body for quick nutrients and energy. The buck’s body actually recalls and transfers calcium and phosphorus (the primary building blocks of antlers) from the entire skeletal system and the blood transports these minerals to the growing antlers via the new blood vessels. Research has shown that the bulk of the minerals are taken primarily from the ribs and sternum area creates a temporary condition of osteoporosis–a degenerative bone disease common in older humans.   In deer, however, this condition is only temporary (unlike in humans) and once the antlers are fully mineralized, the bone density returns to the normal pre-antler growth levels once again.

As the days become shorter, the pineal gland (attached to the brain) senses the shorted daylight/photoperiod (through the optic nerve) and sends the signal to the testes to increase testosterone levels. As testosterone levels increase, the antlers become mineralized and begin to harden.   Once completely mineralized the ever-increasing testosterone levels cause the blood flow to cease and the velvet dries and begins to split and crack open. The buck then begins to rub his antlers on small trees and shrubs to remove the dried velvet and this rubbing action mixes the brown pigment in the plants (called tannins) with the remaining dried velvet blood to create the familiar brown color commonly found on antlers. Bucks that either rub on plants without tannins or held in captivity without the ability to clean their antlers will have snow white antlers when stripped of velvet.

Testosterone levels peak in the breeding season and decline shortly thereafter. The decrease in testosterone triggers osteoclasts that erode the base of the antler at the pedicle, resulting in the antler falling to the ground. Osteoclasts are bone cells that are associated with the dissolution of unwanted bone. Once the antlers are cast, the amazing growth cycle begins all over again in approximately two weeks.

The scab that forms over the wound left by the cast antler heals and becomes covered with fine, thin hairs. The fine-haired skin forms the beginnings that will nourish and protect the growing antlers for the next four months.

Management implications to consider:

  • Mother Nature 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 and healing. This means that if the buck’ s body is lacking in nutrition or otherwise stressed, the antlers (and the 128 day growth cycle) takes a back seat nutritionally until the body is fully healed and recovered. Managers must make certain that the bucks exit the rut in as good of physical condition as possible so that healthy antler growth begins on the first day and is not delayed in order to maximize antler growth time and energy.
  • Maintaining a tight adult sex ratio ensures that the does get bred on their first or second estrus cycle and ends the stressful rutting activity. Unbalanced ratios extend the rutting activity for months, thereby nutritionally stressing the bucks for longer than necessary and causing them to delay their antler growth cycle while they rebuild body condition.
  • Remember, antlers are directly influenced by the health of the buck growing them, and his health is influenced by the quality and quantity of nutritious forage.   Nutritionally speaking, the early spring and fall are the best times for a deer. The worst are summer and late winter when forage is lower in quality and quantity. In order to keep the nutritional plane more level and constant, maintain the herd at or below carrying capacity to ensure all animals have more than enough to eat every month of the year.
  • Manage your habitat to provide deer with the most nutritious and palatable browse and forage for your area. Good habitat = healthy deer = better antlers.
  • Supplemental feeding is just that, a supplement to the deer’s diet. It assists when and where needed and it makes a positive impact. If it is legal and you can do it, you should strongly consider it for maximum antler growth.
  • If you do need to offer supplemental feed, do it year-round. A buck is either growing antlers or preparing his body to grow antlers 365 days a year.
  • Calcium and phosphorus are the building blocks of antlers. Make sure you are offering effective amounts of each and in a balanced 2:1 ratio for maximum efficiency.
  • Calcium improves weight gain and feed utilization, which in turn promotes a healthier buck capable of growing antlers to his full genetic potential.
  • Phosphorus improves growth rate, feed utilization and appetite and combines with Calcium to form essential bone mineral salt.
  • Vitamins such as A, E and D stimulate the immune system, improve bone growth, improves sperm production and assists with bone mineralization.
  • Copper, Manganese and Zinc improves antler mass and tine length, stimulates the immune system, reduces sterility, and aids in bone formation.

 

As you can tell, antlerogenesis is an incredibly detailed process. Antlers are, basically, grown year around from a nutritional perspective and it would do managers well to keep that in the front of their minds. Habitat and herd management all have direct and lasting nutritional impacts and those impacts will affect future antler growth.

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Deer Survey–A Basic Requirement

Deer surveys come in many forms, but it is up to the individual manager to decide which method is best suited for the particular property and needs. Habitat type, topography, expense, and vegetation density are primary factors influencing the decision as to the type of census one should use.

A deer census is a necessity if improving the quality of your deer herd is a goal. It is a basic concept: you must inventory what you currently have in order for you to apply any management techniques that will aid you in ultimately reaching your goals and objectives.

Census techniques commonly used in Texas include Hahn walking line, driving/cruising census, spotlight count, deer track counts, and aerial helicopter census. Some of these methods are specialized for different regions, and all have their limitations. No survey method available today will yield 100% accurate data. Working with animals as mobile and secretive as deer, a manager should understand the limitations of any census method. Data collected from a deer census is an estimate of herd composition, and should be treated as such.

Deer surveys most commonly used in Central and South Texas include the spotlight count and aerial helicopter census. Spotlight counts involve three people-one driver and two observers- driving on a preselected route through a given area that is representative of the property. Deer encountered within the spotlight’s range are identified along the entire route. Acres of visibility are also taken at give intervals while driving. The deer encountered and acres observed represent only a portion of the total acreage, therefore the data must be extrapolated to the entire property. Because of the variability of the method, it is recommended that the spotlight count be performed a minimum of three separate times and the numbers averaged together. The spotlight count method is considered cheaper economically, but more labor intensive than the aerial helicopter method.

The aerial helicopter census provides the most accurate survey data, especially for low brush areas such as south, north and western Texas counties. Although this method is not totally accurate (research has shown it to range from 25 to 75 percent accurate) research has also shown it is the most accurate and consistent of the above mentioned methods.

Helicopter surveys are flown in transects. Total counts are considered the best when conditions allow. Total counts involve flying in a systematic transect that allows the entire property to be completely observed. On larger properties, individual pastures are flown separately and usually treated as individual management units. Due to the versatility of the helicopter, observers can learn more about an area in a shorter period of time than by any other census method. This method provides better sex ratio data and fawn survival estimates because it allows the observer to see a large number of animals in a short period of time. The helicopter survey method is considered the most expensive method economically, but is less labor and time restrictive than the spotlight count method.
With new technology come new ideas. There are now motion-detection and infrared-triggered cameras and video cameras available on the market to help survey a deer herd. These cameras are mounted near a feeding, watering, or traveling area and each time an animal enters the proximity or breaks the infrared beam, a flash photo or video footage is produced of that animal. Research is currently underway to establish if such devices can be accurately utilized to survey wild game animals. The information gathered proves very useful to observe individual animals and to gather ratio information. You will also need multiple units in order to get a fair assessment of your acreage.

As mentioned earlier, all census methods have advantages and disadvantages, and as yet, no method has a 100% success rate. Any census is an estimate of the true population. Whatever census method is chosen, in order to maintain year-to-year comparability of estimates, it is important to perform the census in the same way each time. Since the census is a sample–an estimate of the true population, the accuracy of the estimate can be improved by repeating the survey several times and averaging the resulting observations.

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Whitetail Domains Shutting Down

Thanks for the kind works guys, greatly appreciated!

The decision to shut the door on this project was not easy and immeasurably painful. Walt and I gave more than eight years of our lives to this project and countless hours to it. It required alot of money and coordination that can’t be explained here either but that is not a complaint at all, just the facts.

Our stats, or Google analytics as they are called, are off the chart good in so many ways. We beat the majority of the industry competitors if you prefer to look at it in such a way. Our site was extremely “sticky” meaning you guys were so loyal and dedicated and spent hours upon hours on the site looking, reading, sharing, learning, etc and Walt and I will forever and ever be grateful for your time and energies. We tried to offer what other sites could not and I think, and I pray, we were successful in doing so. We both feel like we are letting our users down and please know that decision weighed on us more than you will ever know.

The decision we made was based on our available time required to keep the aging programming updated and operational, our ability to gather and form advertiser relationships and the always-present administrative tasks at hand to keep such a detailed site operational. Simply put, we felt we could no longer keep the mark where we wanted it to be and we did NOT want to wither on the vine. We set our sights high and we feel confident we met those marks. We kept pushing and trying until it was simply and painfully obvious we could no longer keep going at such a high level.

The hunting industry is undergoing stress and turmoil like I have never seen before. I have watched this market since I learned to read and I have paid close attention to all the gory details involved. I have never witnessed such divisiveness, in-fighting and self-destruction ever before. As an industry, we should be working together, supporting one another and propping each other up, not tearing each other apart about how high the fence is you hunt behind, not if you shoot a laser sight or open sights, not if you want to bait or not bait and throwing punches at each other trying to mandate each others’ morals and ethics. I feel sad to be leaving at this stage in the game because we need to be holding hands and forming a defensive line to guard our goal line because so many others don’t understand our industry and want to put us down.

As I type this I am spending much of my time and energy at the state capitol in Texas fighting for our rights as hunters and landowners. Our military have fought and died for our freedoms and I am fighting to preserve them. I am not a military veteran and I have never bled on a battlefield or fought for my country, but I promise you one thing, I am fighting for our hunting industry rights and priviledges now. We must pull our collective heads out of the sand, grab the hand next to you and get seriously organized if we plan to survive intact. Shutting this site down now is not good timing from that perspective so I am asking our loyal and dedicated members to consider the alternatives should we continue to battle within and aid our enemies. We must, without fail, join together and quit in-fighting if we have even a slight chance of survival.

This site is shutting down but this doesn’t mean I am dead and gone. I will be around, likely in the brush or in the air counting or catching deer somewhere. I will focus my attention even moreso now on more landowners, more deer hunters and more habitat management. My dream is still laser-sharp and directed so know I will still be plugging along and doing what I am meant to do and certainly enjoying every minute of it. I do hope our paths cross again and I hope to keep in touch with as many of you as I can. Feel free to “like” my Spring Creek Outdoors Facebook page to keep in touch and follow my travels if you like.
Walt will be splitting his time between the hunting lease, his new deer breeding operation, his lake house and college baseball games I am sure.

As the eblast letter said, Walt and I are blown away by your loyalty and dedication. We feel happy to have met so many great individuals and to have left a positive impact on so many lives. Our hope is we left many deer herds in much better shape and we hope you are able to take a monster bucks in the near future because of it.

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