Have you ever wondered exactly when the peak of the breeding season occurs on your very own hunting grounds? Are the hunting magazine articles too general and not specific enough for you? Have you read the TPWD brochure showing the eco-region peak breeding dates? All of these offer great information but some folks desire much more specifics for their own ranches. Continue reading for more information and details to help you determine the peak of the breeding season on your very own ranch.
Back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, deer researchers began developing a method to understand the exact dates of breeding activity. This technique involves aging a fetus based on its size and then backdating to determine conception dates. The technique has proven extremely accurate and valuable to land managers and hunters in order to better understand their specific herd dynamics and when to make specific management decisions.
The method involves removing the fetus from a harvested doe carcass and using a fetus scale specifically created for such tasks. The scale not only measures the length of the fetus, but also uses the Julian calendar to backdate in order to determine the specific conception date. It also provides the ability to foredate to estimate the date it would have been born. This information is important for managers to detect changes in breeding dates with respect to adult sex ratio and herd management programs.
Here is a typical crown-to-rump measurement example:
For this exercise, let’s say the doe was harvested on December 28. The fetus in this photo is 64 days old. The Julian date for December 28 is 362. This number minus the fetal age in days (64) is 298. The Julian date of 298 occurs on October 25 and this is the date of conception.
The number of days to parturition (birth) was 134, see scale. This number, added to the Julian date of the harvest (362) is 496. The Julian date of 496 occurs on May 11 and that is the projected date of birth. So the doe was bred on October 25 and would have fawned on May 11, great information you would have never known without this exercise.
I harvested this northern San Saba County doe two years ago on December 28 so this tells me that the rut was on the last week of October and that the first wave of newborn fawns hit the ground on or about May 11 that year. This information is valuable and helps me to decide if I want to have cattle in that particular pasture at that time, decide when to harvest a crop or perhaps use heavy equipment in my pastures at that time. Perhaps I will defer grazing in that pasture for a few extra weeks to allow maximum fawning cover to remain or maybe I can use the local trappers or helicopter to help me lower the predator population in the weeks leading up to the peak birthing dates. This information also tells me I need to be enrolled in the MLDP program so that I can harvest bucks with undesirable antler traits before they breed instead of waiting on traditional November rifle dates to remove those bucks. This data also tells me approximately when the secondary rut will be (28 days after the primary rut) so that I may expect more mature buck activity.
So you can see how useful and practical this information can be. Some folks cringe at the facts and others like to claim never to shoot does late in the season because they may be pregnant. This technique and exercise proves that if you shoot a doe in San Saba County in the month of November, you are indeed harvesting pregnant does.
Take this information to your hunting camp and see what you learn. I suspect you can win a few bets and impress your buddies around the campfire with it.
“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.by
Food plots are planted primarily for two reasons: 1) to provide a nutritional supplement to deer during times of nutritional stress or when native browse is low in quality or availability, and 2) to attract or concentrate deer for viewing or hunting purposes. This concept is similar to using protein pellets for a nutritional supplement and corn as an attractant. A food plot by itself is not a cure-all or magic fix for any problem in deer management, just as feeding protein or corn is not a silver bullet for what ails your deer herd. These are all just tools to be used in conjunction with others–parts to the whole of a well-rounded plan.
The idea of a nutritional food plot is to provide additional feed during times when the deer need it, not when conditions are right for growing lots of native forage. One of the prime times that deer need that supplement is during the winter and early spring. This is the time when much of the native browse has defoliated for the winter, soils are too cold to grow forbs from winter rains, the native forage that is available is nutritionally low, bucks are in poor shape from the rut and does are facing higher nutritional demands for developing fetuses. This time of year is a perfect storm of conditions conducive to thinning your deer herd for you. If you’ve done your job as a deer manager correctly, you have already reduced your density to where it should be and culled the proper bucks. Now is not the time to let Mother Nature pull even more deer from your herd and kill off those bucks that you decided to let walk. A properly planted food plot can help provide that supplement, as long as it is part of a bigger management plan.
Nutritional food plots can be either fall-planted or spring-planted. Just about anything you plant in the fall can be considered a nutritional supplement, though some are more beneficial than others. Cereal grains such as wheat, oats, rye and triticale will grow through the spring and so are available during the critical times they are needed. Even though they are not especially high in nutritive values and decline in palatability through late winter and spring they still provide some additional nutritive forage when most needed. Turnips and winter peas are more nutritious, but typically have a smaller window of use during the season. Alfalfa, clovers and medics are very beneficial during the critical periods where they can be grown. These species are planted in the fall and grow through the spring and remain very palatable and nutritious into the spring. Since they are legumes, they are high in protein and are an excellent source of supplemental nutrition for deer. While the main area of adaptation is north and east of the Hill Country and South Texas, there are some of these legumes that can be planted with success in these areas. The key is choosing the right one for your soil type and planting it on a site that has better soils. Although weather conditions in these areas may prevent some of these legumes from coming back every year as they would in wetter climates, they still can be a valuable nutritional supplement with at least average rainfall.
Spring-planted nutritional plots are generally intended to provide a supplement to bucks growing antlers and does carrying and delivering fawns. This is usually in the form of legumes, especially peas and beans. Iron & Clay cowpeas, lablab, blackeye cowpeas and other cowpea and vining bean varieties are used extensively for this purpose. They are easy to grow, very high in protein, have good regrowth and are very palatable. Other non-legume plants can be planted in the spring with these, though they do not have the same high level of nutritional quality. Grain sorghum, or milo, is one of these. Deer will browse the young plant but will then leave it alone until it makes a seed head and then eat the grain, which is a good source of carbohydrates. As milo is drought-hardy and can last into the summer, this grain is sometimes all that is left in a food plot and so becomes important as a supplement. Combinations of legumes and sorghums in spring nutritional plots work very well together.
Food plots planted for attraction of deer are typically only fall-planted, in order to use them for counting/surveying, observation and hunting purposes. Any plot planted in the spring could be considered as an attractant, especially for observation of fawn numbers, body condition and antler growth, but are generally not planted specifically for that reason.
Cereal grains, such as oats, wheat, rye and triticale, are used most often and in the biggest percentage of fall food plots. Even though they are not very nutritious, these grains are relatively cheap, easy to grow, regrow well and are very palatable to deer late into the winter. Since most of the time spent in the deer blind is from fall into the winter, these grains are very useful for attracting deer during this period. There are many other things that can be planted in conjunction with these small grains, though their windows of use by deer may be smaller or not at the same time that the grains are preferred. Purple-top turnips are often used as they also grow well and seem to be palatable after the first frost of the year.
Food plots, when done correctly, are very valuable in any deer management program. Not all food plots are created equally and they are used for various reasons. Make sure you are planting the right crop at the right time and for the right reasons in order to maximize your money and energy. Food plots do work.
All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.by
Blind placement is one of the most overlooked segments of deer hunting I regularly encounter. When selecting a suitable location, don’t think like a human, but like that of a deer. Oftentimes, placing the blind for convenience is much different than placing it where it may offer the best chance for success. Deer, particularly mature bucks, use travel corridors — edges, drainages, creeks, tree lines and other screening covers to get from one place to the next. Outside of the rut and the accompanying brief lapse of intelligence, mature bucks stick close to these landscape features to offer maximum concealment as they travel. A well placed blind will be able to observe these corridors, perhaps more than one simultaneously, at a safe enough distance to avoid detection by the quarry yet offering a high percentage shot distance.
Placing the blind too close to travel or feeding locations such as feeders or food plots will disrupt the animal’s daily routine and minimize success significantly. Feeders should offer protective cover as animals travel to and from them as well. Feeders in the wide open offer no such protection and create deer activity only under the cover of darkness.
Obviously, prevailing wind direction must also be taken into consideration. Cross or down wind from travel and feeding areas will ensure the best chance of success and such locations must only be hunted when the winds are favorable. Hunting these locations when the winds are “not right” will only educate the animals and make them more wary of the area. Outside of the rut, most mature bucks will approach a feeding location downwind to scent-check the area for danger and for hot does before exposing themselves. If your blind is too close to the feeder, the buck will approach downwind of your location as well as the feeder and you will be busted. If your blind is too far, you may be unable to make an accurate shot. Since “how far is too far” is highly variable, try to take into account your actual abilities and place the blind at as far away from the feeder as you can confidently make the shot.
An often overlooked part of deer blinds is anchoring them to the ground. The winds are not always calm in Texas, so making sure your blind will be there next hunting season is a must. Tie-downs, anchors, guy wires, concrete posts and t-posts are required to not only keep your blind upright, they will also help keep the blind steady when the moment of truth arrives and you have to make the shot.
There is an unwritten rule among ethical hunters and landowners that states that no hunting blinds will be placed along property lines. The appropriate distance requires common sense based on topography, habitat, line-of-sight and shooting direction. The same holds true for feeder placement. No neighboring landowner should be able to see your feeders or blinds and you should not be able to see theirs. If your property is small and irregular shaped, hunt only the center and perhaps a tower blind is not for you. If your property is large, concentrate on travel corridors away from the boundary line and out of sight of the neighbors. Common sense and blind location not only makes hunting a safer and more enjoyable sport, but makes for much better neighbors as well.
Other helpful hints when selecting blind locations:
- Sunrise and sunset facing blinds are obviously limiting, so place blinds to look north or south or realize hunting such sun-facing locations may only be hunted when the sun is at your back (and the wind is right).
- Take into account human traffic such as highways, walking/hiking trails, fishing areas, farmhouses and other high-use areas that may be dangerous to shoot towards. Deer may or may not be scared of these areas, but hunters must be cognizant of the bullet’s flight path at all times.
- How will you access your hunting blind? Walking past the feeder or through the food plot is not wise. You need to enter the blind into the wind and with the least amount of disturbance as possible.
- Placing the blind below the crest of the hill, not on top, will keep you from being silhouetted while traveling to and from the blind.
- Sit in the back or corner of the blind and do not allow yourself to be silhouetted against the sky behind you. Sit in front of the latched door, use dark curtains, or completely cover the window behind you.
- Use comfortable seats that are the correct height to shoot out of the windows.
- Staying quiet and still only increases your chances of success.
- The windows should be only tall enough to get your scoped rifle easily through without banging the frame. Large windows allow for your movement to be seen from the outside and allows for more scent to escape.
- Make the blinds large enough to safely and comfortable hold all the hunters and their gear. If youth or guiding hunters are planned, bigger is always better. Cramped quarters create more noise and less comfort.
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!by
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.by
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.
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.by
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.