Tag Archives: management

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

Prescribed Burning for Better Wildlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now What?

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

Timely projects include, but certainly are not limited to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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