Tag Archives: harvest

Harvest Data: Why Is It Needed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doe Harvest Strategies Examined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

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.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

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.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

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.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

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.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

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.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

Coyote Management & Recommendations

Canis latrans are members of the dog family, with adults weighing 20-40 pounds.  They prey on a wide variety of animals including rodents, rabbits, deer, game birds and livestock.  They also consume vegetation such as prickly pear apples, mesquite beans and persimmons; and readily consume corn and protein feed meant for deer.

Coyotes are monogamous and breed during February and March. After a gestation period of about sixty-three days, the female gives birth to an average litter size of five to seven pups, but larger litters are not uncommon.  Large litters tend to occur in areas of low coyote density or where food is abundant.

Dens may be located in steep banks, rock crevices, thick underbrush, or relatively open areas. Both parents share in raising the litter. Pups remain in or near the den until they are about two months old, when they may accompany the parents on short trips. Adults and pups usually remain together until late summer when the pups tend to disperse.  Annual mortality rates average about 60 percent for young coyotes, and average life expectancy is six to eight years. People cause the majority of coyote deaths, but they are also susceptible to most canine diseases and parasites.

Coyotes form packs that are based around a mated pair, which are the only breeding individuals in the pack. The other pack members may be non-breeding offspring from the previous year, pups from the current year, and non-related individuals. The coyote’s society consists of two kinds of individuals: territorial and transient animals. Territorial coyotes tend to be mature breeding animals, while transients are typically yearlings or very old individuals. In South Texas, about two-thirds of the population are territorial and the rest are transients. Coyotes establish and maintain territories through direct means (aggressive encounters with intruders) and indirect means (howling, scent posts).  For the most part, coyotes hunt in pairs or alone but pack hunting occurs occasionally in late winter.

Coyotes are creatures of habit, establishing regular travel routes in the area in which they live. These routes are usually along ranch roads, livestock trails, canyons, ridges, or any other place that offers good visibility and easy travel.  They are most active at night and in the early morning and late evening hours.  They bed in areas of tall grass or brush and do not use dens except for raising young.

Their acute sense of smell and keen eyesight are relied upon for hunting prey and avoiding possible danger.  Coyotes are perhaps the wariest and most intelligent animals found on Texas rangelands. They are difficult to trap, a tribute to their intelligence and keen sense of smell. They may become educated or “trap-shy” by unsuccessful attempts at control.

Oftentimes, coyotes maim deer by attacking the hindquarters, flanks, and head, and rarely kill as cleanly as mountain lions.  It is important to look for additional evidence such as tracks/scat to confirm identification of the predator but coyote kills are very messy and usually involved a large struggle scene.  Deer observed without tails are usually those that narrowly escaped a coyote attack.

Coyotes hunt more actively during the early summer because the demands of rearing pups increase the parents’ food needs and because more fawns are available during this season.  Another period of high predation is during mid to late winter when bucks are physically weakened from rutting activity and present a vulnerable target.  Researchers at Sul Ross State University found that coyote diet studies indicated 37% of their summer diets are deer fawns, 26% are rabbits and 22% are livestock.  In the winter months, those figures changed to 28% vegetation, 36% rabbit, 34% livestock and 2% big game.

Several research studies pertaining to coyote population densities reflects that South Texas has the highest density of coyotes in the United States at four (4) per square mile. Actual aggressive coyote control work in South Texas reflects that there are at least nine (9) coyotes per square mile in some areas and this is a 125 percent higher population of coyotes per square mile than what has historically been published.

An experimental coyote removal study on the famed King Ranch in South Texas compared extensive predator control efforts on 5,400 acres and a separate 5,400 acre research area with no predator control. The 5,400 acres which did not receive extensive predator control reflected a 74 percent higher loss of deer fawns versus the 5,400 acre area which did receive extensive predator control. The following year, the same study reflected a 61 percent greater loss of deer fawns on the 5,400 acre plot where no predator control measures were conducted.

In 1977, Fred Guthery and Sam Beasom removed 132 coyotes from a 3,830 acre study area in Zavala County during 1975 and 1976. They also compared to another control area where fewer coyotes were removed. Fawn/Doe ratios did not differ on the two areas during the study, but numbers of fawns produced per unit area were 70 percent and 43 percent greater where coyotes were reduced during 1975 and 1976, respectively.

Several other research studies have reflected that approximately 70 – 90 percent of all bobwhite quail chicks and wild turkey poults do not survive to adulthood because of wildlife predation and coyotes make up a large percentage of the problem.

Given their status as a top-level predator and their ability to adapt to changing conditions, coyote populations can quickly begin to negatively affect deer numbers.  Lethal control methods are the only effective solutions to keeping coyote numbers in check.  Through trapping, snaring and shooting, constant control efforts must be made on a year-round basis in order to achieve and maintain adequate control.

Trapping:

A number three or four double-spring leghold trap with offset jaws is one of the most effective trapping tools for controlling coyotes.  Live traps (cage-type traps which catch the animal unharmed) are ineffective.

As with any successful trapping endeavor, you must first locate travel routes in order to make trapping efforts pay off.  Coyotes establish regular travel routes along livestock trails, ranch roads, canyons, ridges or any path that offers easy travel and good visibility. A trapper can find these travel routes by looking for coyote signs such as tracks or droppings. Coyote tracks can be distinguished from dog tracks by the shape and impressions of claws. Coyote tracks are usually longer than they are wide, while dog tracks are usually as wide are they are long.  Dog tracks are round with the toes spread apart and are usually larger than coyote tracks.  In most situations only the front two middle claw marks are visible on coyote tracks, as opposed to all four claw marks on dog tracks.  Also, coyote tracks appear more in a straight line, while those of a dog are somewhat staggered.

Coyote droppings, also called scat, contain animal hair and bone fragments; and sometimes feathers, plant material and seeds.  Fresh coyote scats are about the diameter of a cigar and black in color, but turn gray or white as they weather.

Coyotes establish scent posts by urinating at various locations along their travel routes. These scent post locations may be tufts of grass, small bushes, animal carcasses, skeletons or other objects. Often there are scratch marks near a scent post which help identify it. Natural scent posts or ones created by a trapper are good locations for trap sets. A scent post set is most effective when placed near a highly visible object along a trail, such as a skeletal bone, tree stump or lone tuft of grass. Coyotes are very curious animals and the trapper should take advantage of this trait when choosing sites for trap sets.

A dirt hole set must also be close to the coyote’s path, and placed so that the wind will carry the scent of the bait to the approaching coyote.  To make a dirt hole set, dig a slanting hole 3 to 5 inches wide and approximately 8 inches deep at the base of a grass clump or embankment. The trap should be placed 6 to 8 inches in front of the hole.  A fetid bait is placed in the hole and lightly covered with dirt or grass.

 The blind or trail set is useful where coyotes are crawling under a fence, regularly traveling a certain trail, or have become wary of scent sets.  No scent or bait is used with the trail set. An excellent place for a trail set is where coyotes step over a rock, stick or any other object on the trail. A disadvantage of the trail set is the livestock and other wildlife using the trail may interfere with the trap.

Coyotes, along with other animals, often feed on fresh carcasses. Traps set in the area of a carcass are effective. To avoid trapping non-target animals such as vultures, opossums, skunks, etc., the trap sets should be located along trails leading to the carcass but a short distance away.

Snares:

A snare consists of a wire loop with a locking device that tightens around the animal’s body as it passes through the loop.  Snares are usually set where coyotes crawl under a fence, but they can also be set in trails in the brush, or at a den entrance.  In areas with netwire fencing, the use of snares is a common and very effective means of control.

Snares are easily set and maintained and do not require the same level of user skill as steel traps. But, fencing must be in good condition (that is, there should be only a limited number of holes that allow passage through or under the fence) in order for snaring to be most effective.

Snares made of 5/64” or 3/32” diameter flexible cable 30-36” long work well. The 5/64” cable is much faster and slides more easily, resulting in less “refusals”, or missed catches.

To set a snare on a hole under a wire fence, loop the anchor end around the bottom wire of the fence, passing the entire snare through it.  This makes a loop that ties itself to the fence.  Open an eight inch loop in the other end of the snare wire and suspend it with a bobby pin (girls’ hair pin) from the bottom fence wire so the loop hangs down in the hole.  An eight inch loop will usually prevent other larger, non-targets from getting caught and fit perfectly around the coyote’s head and neck.

The key to a good snare is for it to slide quickly and easily before the target animal knows something is wrong.  A bobby pin can be used to hold the top of the snare onto the fence wire, while the rest of the snare loop hangs freely in the hole.  The pins are light, quick and the snare pulls through and off the net wire easily. The animal is caught before it feels the wire tension.  If you hook or tie the snare top onto the fence, the snag or tug pressure will cause a slow-moving predator to stop and possibly back out of the hole, ending in a missed capture and educated animal.  The bobby pin clips easily onto the net fence wire, takes about two seconds to install and is very cheap and effective.  Even a trapper with minimal experience can set up a good snare under a fence with only the snare and a bobby pin in about thirty seconds.   And that equates to less time on site, less handling, and less human scent left behind, also resulting in a higher percentage of catches, especially on trap-wise coyotes.

It is best to check snares on a daily basis.  After a coyote has been caught, a new snare should be used at the trap site. Once caught a coyote usually will bend and twist the cable and the snare so that it cannot be used again.

A good, short, simple snare with fast action, opened in an eight inch loop, with bobby pin for hanging loop from fence. 

 

NEVER set a snare on a hole this size:

The above trail is too wide.  Everything uses this trail—coyotes, bobcats, badgers, javelina, feral hogs, and maybe even deer.  Never set a snare like this one on a hole like this one or you will be shocked at what all you can and will catch.  Also, if your snares continue to be knocked down and to the side, it is usually by larger animals and the crawl hole needs to be narrowed down.

Instead, reduce the larger hole down, like this one above, in order to avoid snaring non-target animals.  If you have questions about what animals are using this crawl, use cut pieces of cattle/hog panels on both sides of the hole to choke it down so that only a coyote or bobcat can fit.  Choke the hole down but don’t set a snare on it.  Come back one week later and set the snare and you will catch only the coyotes and bobcats using it with no chance of catching other non-targets.

 

A closer look:  Note the bobby pin holding the snare loop to the bottom fence wire, and the snare passed through its own loop on the anchor end, hold it to the bottom fence wire. 


Shooting:

Coyotes can be called into range and shot, or pursued and dispatched from aircraft.  While calling can be effective in some areas, coyotes tend to become “call-shy” in areas where calling is frequently used or used improperly.  Also, calling coyotes within shooting range requires a lot of time, skills and experience to be effective.

Helicopters are commonly used in the open brush areas of Texas for controlling coyotes, as well as feral hogs.  It is a very effective method for reducing coyote numbers quickly, especially those that have become trap-shy or otherwise educated to control efforts.  But it is regulated by state and federal authorities, and a permit must be obtained from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Coyote control works only with prolonged effort.  One year’s effort to remove coyotes is simply exercise and a good use of a few bullets.  It does little, or nothing, for the local deer herd in the long term.  To be most effective and efficient, efforts need to be maintained over time to keep the coyote population low and unstable.  Keeping their hierarchy, dominance, home range, and territory completely unsettled forces them to spend more time settling their dominance and territorial issues than predating

Coyotes are, by nature, opportunistic feeders.  Wildlife managers are much more specific and deliberate in their approach to holistic management so any coyote you can remove will only benefit a wide range of wildlife species on your land.

Macy Ledbetter

Wildlife Biologist

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