Starting a Trail Camera Survey

By GrowingDeer,

Brad and I are moving some of our trail cameras from food plots where we’ve been using the time-lapse feature on the Reconyx units to monitor the entire plot.  We are moving units because today is the first official day of our annual pre-season trail camera survey.  The first step is twofold, determining the number of cameras needed and site selection.

A good trail camera survey site has several characteristics that include:

  1. Being easy to access.
    1. I realize that if the location is within a few steps of a road or trail, it’s probably an area that deer use primarily at night.  However, the mission is to survey the herd and learn the age and size of bucks available for harvest.  The mission of a camera survey is not to pattern bucks as most will shift their habitat usage pattern between now and hunting season.
  2. No obstruction between the camera and deer and a solid background behind the deer.
    1. Think of an image of a buck’s rack as his fingerprint.  A good image provides the ability to make a positive identification of that buck.  Limbs and other items that can block or be confused with part of the antlers limit the ability to make a positive identification of the buck.  The same is true for the background.  If there are numerous objects that are about the same size as a buck’s antler tines, it can be very difficult to differentiate a limb from a tine.  I like a wide open area that is backed by a dense stand of cedars or some vegetation that rarely looks like antler tines in the dark (when most of the images will be captured).
  3. Where deer travel naturally.
    1. I attempt to create a trail camera station per 100 acres, pending on the habitat type.  In better habitat, it may require fewer acres per camera to achieve the desired level of accuracy.  The opposite is true in poor quality habitat as deer need to move more to access the required resources (food, cover, and water).  Either way, within each grid I attempt to locate the camera station in an area where deer frequently use.  This will yield more success than simply placing the camera station in the center of the grid.

The work today, setting up the trail camera survey, is the easy work.  Identifying all the bucks, and counting all the does and fawns in each of the literally 10’s of 1,000’s of images is the hard work. When that’s completed, the calculations only take a few minutes.  The information gained will allow me to hunt and manage the herd significantly better.  Camera surveys are simple, fun, and a fabulous tool for hunters and deer managers!

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Time to Learn

By GrowingDeer,

In just a few minutes some gents from Michigan will be joining me for a tour at The Proving Grounds.  I really enjoy the opportunity to visit with other deer managers.  I always pick up a tip or two and hopefully my guests gain some helpful information as well.  I’m a huge believer in the Solomon’s statement found in Ecclesiastes 1:9,

“What was will be again,
what happened will happen again.
There's nothing new on this earth.”

However, I do believe there are improvements of how we deal with problems such as weed control.  For example, my family had a very large vegetable garden when I was a child.  My sisters, parents, and I spent days hoeing and pulling weeds by hand.  I don’t think I knew the word herbicide.  Very, very few folks thought about passing a legal buck, and harvesting a doe wasn’t even legal where we hunted.

I enjoy learning and I want to be a better deer manager and more efficient with my time and resources.  I would like to see more of the mature bucks that live on my property.  If my only source of knowledge comes from my personal observations and experiences, I won’t come close to expressing my potential or realizing my dreams.  That’s why I really like sharing with other deer managers.  I’ll gladly give information in hopes of gaining some back.  The gents from Michigan are probably facing the same hurdles as I am, but may have learned a better way to cross them.  It’s time for the tour.  It’s time to learn.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Camera survey time!

By GrowingDeer,

Brad and I will begin a camera survey at The Proving Grounds next week.  We checked out some of our traditional camera survey sites today, shifted some cameras from monitoring plots to our camera survey sites, etc.  I really enjoy all aspects of the survey.  I enjoy the field work, learning how many bucks are using the property, and all the great information that a properly designed and implemented camera survey yields.

Some deer managers shy away from doing a camera survey because they believe it is too “scientific.”  To make implementing a camera survey easier for our viewers, I’ve posted a step by step guide to setting up a camera survey and analyzing the data.  Camera surveys can be a lot of work, pending on the size of the property and the site-specific deer density.  However, I’ve always found the herd management and buck movement information obtained more than justify the effort.

I will caution that herd surveys are like any other measurement.  If the measurement is wrong, the resulting assumptions and herd management prescriptions will be wrong.  However, by following the simple steps in my outline, you can proceed with confidence that you will know much more about managing and hunting your property!

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Habitat Diversity and Drought

By GrowingDeer,

It rained a tad more than one inch at The Proving Grounds last week.  It had been very, very dry locally.  I’m always amazed at how rapidly quality forage can respond to a much needed addition of water.  The Eagle Seed beans have been surviving very well considering the temperatures were higher than normal and the amount of rain was behind normal for the month of June.

June is a critical month for antler and fawn development.  Both would have suffered growth if the overall habitat wasn’t as diverse at The Proving Grounds.  During periods of stress is when having a diverse habitat really pays dividends.  Some of our ponds went dry during the drought.  However, the creek always had ample pools of water.  Some of the native vegetation in our cover area is extremely drought resistant.  We have food plots in bottoms and east facing slopes so the summer sun doesn’t cause as much evaporation of soil moisture.  The western facing plots do best when there is too much water (which almost never happens on the rocky soils at The Proving Grounds).

If we had only one species of cover crop, or one location for forage crops, or one source of water the herd’s quality would have suffered during the previous month.  I’m thankful for the rain and the diversity of the habitat that buffered the local herd from the stress of the drought during June 2010.  How’s the habitat diversity where you hunt?

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Good Property Management Requires Practice and Training

By Grant Woods,

I returned from working in New York at a property where the family that owns it has worked very hard with great skill to improve the habitat and herd.  Then this morning I had a guest come to tour The Proving Grounds.  I always enjoy such tours as usually the guest and I learn from each other.  This guest was a professional photographer. He provided me some great hints about using light and other aspects of his trade.  We toured many of the food plots, past prescribed fires, ponds, etc., at The Proving Grounds as I shared with him tips and techniques to use on his Proving Grounds in Oklahoma.

While touring, I was also able to see which food plots are doing well, which ones are showing too much browse for this time of year, etc.  This allows me plan where to concentrate doe harvest efforts, plan for future food plot expansion projects, etc.  It’s always obvious when touring other properties if the folks care about the property year round or only during deer season.  Most properties require year round work to express their full potential.  Yes, properties have potential just like bucks have potential.  It requires skill and application to bring out the potential in a property so the local herd can express its potential.  There are a few properties that naturally produce quality deer year after year.  However, they are about as rare as a top performing athlete that doesn’t require practice or training.  I enjoy owning a property that requires practice and training.  I find it very rewarding to learn and see progress as a result of my efforts.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Timely Rain

By GrowingDeer,

The Proving Grounds was blessed to receive ¾“ of rain on Sunday.  The amount of rain a property receives is a huge factor in antler and fawn growth.  This is especially true for late spring and summer months.  Too much rain may cause soil nutrients to leach deep out of the reach of most forage plants.  Too little rain and plants can’t transfer available nutrients in the soil to and throughout the plant.

Unless you irrigate, when and how much it rains is an uncontrollable factor in your deer management program.  It’s one reason why deer herds should be managed below the habitat’s carrying capacity.  By holding the deer herd’s density at the maximum capacity for the habitat to produce quality browse when ample rain is occurring means the herd will be overpopulated and damage the native vegetation at some point, because a drought will occur.  It’s simply a matter of when.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Summer Stress on Whitetails

By GrowingDeer,

Webster’s Dictionary defines stress as a constraining force or influence.  The deer at The Proving Grounds are suffering from a constraining force or influence.  Actually there are two sources of stress:  heat and drought.  The heat index has been over 100 degrees most days lately.  Although it has rained in the area, we haven’t received enough to measure in my gauges.  Some of our ponds are dry.  The creek is dry except for occasional pools.   This is evidenced by the hardening off of most native forage species.  This in turn puts more browse pressure on the planted crops.

Trail camera images indicate that antler and fawn development to date are OK!  This is due to the high quality habitat at The Proving Grounds.  We planted forage soybeans early in an effort to get as much growth as possible before the hot days of summer.  We’ve developed several ponds in various locations in an effort to ensure critters have enough water even during periods of drought.

We’ve managed to the extent of our budget and skill to offset periods of stress.  It’s important for all managers to realize that periods of stress during the summer can be just as damaging to deer and other wildlife species as harsh winter conditions.  This is one reason why it’s critical to maintain the herd’s density below the habitat’s capacity to provide quality forage, water, and cover.  If the herd at The Proving Grounds had been allowed to expand to the capacity of the habitat during good conditions, the herd would really suffer during this period of stress.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Avoid Stress on Your Deer Herd

By GrowingDeer,

The heat index throughout much of the Midwest and South is predicted to be over 100 degrees today.  There are warnings posted for folks that work outside, the young, the elderly, etc.  Clearly heat can cause huge amounts of stress on humans.

Drought can also cause stress on plants, especially new, young plants.  Drought and heat stress are two of the primary reasons crops should be planted early.  A soybean plant with roots a foot or more deep can survive these tough conditions much better than a soybean seedling that only has established roots a few inches deep.

Planting any forage or grain crop as soon as weather conditions are appropriate during the spring almost always results in a more vigorous plant that is more resistant to drought stress, etc.  The end result will be a larger yield of forage and or grain.

The same is true for fawns.  A heat and drought combination is very rare during the normal fawning season throughout most of the whitetail’s range.  However, droughts can cause significant mortality among late born fawns.  Droughts directly affect plant growth and nutritional quality, which impacts the quantity and quality of milk produced by does, etc.  Drought can reduce the population of prey species which concentrates predation on the surviving prey species, etc.  Fawns born during the normal time-frame have a much better chance of surviving the harsh conditions of a summertime drought.  This is just one of many reasons responsible deer managers should ensure a herd’s adult sex ratio is in balance.

Like planting crops during the appropriate time, ensure fawns are born during the appropriate time by planning a deer harvest that results in a balanced adult sex ratio.  The yield of the resulting fawn crop will be better.

Growing Deer together,

Grant