State Lines…

By GrowingDeer,

Monday I was working for a landowner that has properties along the Kansas and Missouri border in both states. It was a cold day with another storm predicted. I saw several deer, turkeys, and coyotes (15+) while on his properties. Several of the coyotes I observed on the Kansas property were in or around warm season native grass fields that were established specifically to provide sanctuaries for deer and other game species. However, when I inspected these sanctuaries there was very little deer sign. I didn’t see any other forms of cover on the neighboring properties.

I was puzzled as it was very cold and 8+ inches of snow had accumulated. The native grass appeared to be the best thermal cover in the neighborhood. The remainder was composed of open hardwoods, harvested corn and soybean fields, and cattle pasture.

I then toured his property in Missouri which is just a few miles away. It also has some very large native warm season grass fields, and so do the neighboring properties. I was shocked that on the same day, same amount of snow, same weather conditions, etc., there were gads of deer sign in the native warm season grasses.

I was very puzzled about this observation. During the ride back to the landowner’s house, we discussed this observation. The only plausible theory we formulated is that the coyotes on the Kansas property are intensively hunting the native warm season grass stands as they are the only cover on that farm. Those stands most likely have the highest rodent population for 100’s of acres. Therefore the “sanctuaries” are hunted so much by coyotes that the deer avoid them. However, on the Missouri farm there are “sanctuaries” in many directions. The hunting efforts of coyotes are likely more dispersed there.

It’s just a theory that probably won’t be tested (it easier to remove several of the coyotes from the Kansas farm). However, if it’s correct, then the theory I was taught years ago that if quality cover is present, predators are not a concern is wrong. I’ve recommended establishing stands of native warm season grasses to be used as sanctuaries for deer in many states and have never known one to be avoided by deer. However, coyote populations were not as high years ago as they are now throughout most of the whitetails’ range.

Have you ever known deer to avoid an established native warm season grass stand during the winter?

Growing Deer (and learning) together,

Grant

Stress

By GrowingDeer,

I’m looking out my window at snow that has been on the ground for days.  The same scene is visible today throughout much of the whitetails’ range.  Snow alone is not necessarily that stressful to deer in the Northeast, Midwest, and West.  However, extended periods of snow, ice, and below normal temperatures do cause extreme stress on deer and other forms of wildlife.  Like us, deer generate their own heat.  Their winter coat was created with the ability to make their hair erect to trap air as insulation when they are cold or lay flat and let warm air escape when they are warm.  However, this system works best when deer are generating heat so it can be trapped.

Digesting high quality food is one way how deer generate body heat.  Having access to a high quality diet is why cattle in feed yards can withstand extremely cold temperatures and still gain weight.  For deer to express their full potential, it’s important for them to lose minimal weight during the winter, or even better to maintain or gain weight.  This is only possible if they have access to a very high quality diet.

When snow and ice cover most of the food resources, deer must expend lots of energy to locate and access good quality food.  This is when standing grain such as corn or soybeans really pays huge dividends to deer and other forms of wildlife!  Corn grain provides very high amounts of digestible energy and soybean grain provides high amounts of digestible protein and better than average amounts of energy.  The oil in soybean grain is very digestible and very high in energy.

Deer are currently facing very stressful conditions throughout much of their range.  This will likely impact the antler and fawn production of many herds during 2011.  However, the deer that have access to standing grain will most likely experience much less stress and express much more of their antler and fawn production potential during 2011.

What are the deer where you hunt and/or manage eating today?

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Harvesting Mature Bucks

By GrowingDeer,

I have a few Reconyx images of bucks at The Proving Grounds that have already shed their antlers.  Typically, the better the health of the buck the longer into winter they will hold their antlers, so I like seeing mature bucks in February and March still with antlers.  Trail camera images from this time of year provide a simple index of deer herd health from year to year when comparing the dates when most bucks have shed their antlers.  That’s the management side of those images.

The pure hunter side of me asked why wasn’t I able to see those bucks on the hoof during season?   What do I need to change about my hunting techniques to observe and harvest these mature bucks during the fall archery and/or firearms season?  Looking back, it’s extremely obvious to me that it’s easier to produce mature bucks than it is to harvest mature bucks.  This is true on my land, and most of my clients’ properties.

So how can I improve mine and my clients’ opportunities to observe and harvest mature bucks?  First mature bucks must be present.  Second, after studying my habitats and the habitats of other hunters, I’m convinced one of the most overlooked techniques for harvesting mature bucks on a regular basis is simply making the commitment to approach the stand, blind, etc., in a way that doesn’t alert deer in the area to the presence of the hunter.  This may be the least glamorous and most difficult task of the hunt.  Stalking the stand while controlling scent as much as possible and hunting during a favorable wind yielded my cameraman and me three mature bucks this year.

I’ll be writing more about harvesting mature bucks during 2011 and displaying those techniques this fall. Most folks can produce mature bucks.   However, there’s still a huge gap between the amount of folks producing and those harvesting mature bucks on a consistent basis.  I want to be counted amount those that regularly harvest mature bucks.  How about you?

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Will Deer Hunting Opportunities be Reduced in Your Neighborhood?

By GrowingDeer,

There are currently debates among scientists about the impact coyotes can have on deer populations.  Deer managers have picked up on this debate and are seeking information about the potential impacts of coyotes on deer.  Fortunately there are multiple recent, high quality research projects that address this question.  These studies show that coyotes can significantly reduce fawn survival.  One research project in Alabama showed an increase in fawn survival of more than 140% after intensive trapping of coyotes on a 2,000 acre private property.  Another research project based in South Carolina placed transmitters in the birth canal of dozens of does to be expelled upon fawns birthing.  They found that more than half of the fawns were consumed by coyotes within hours of their birth.

As fawn recruitment and deer densities decrease over portions of their range, it is forcing state agencies to reconsider their harvest limits.  Many biologists think that coyotes can’t be controlled, so the only solution is limiting hunter harvest of deer.  Every hunter in the field is a deer manager. Hunters can discriminate for age and sex classes before harvesting a deer.  Coyotes do not discriminate and will take down a mature buck, doe or fawn in order to fill their stomachs.

The approach of reducing hunter opportunity by lowering the doe/buck harvest will have ramifications for years to come.  Hunter retention and hunter numbers have been on a downward trend for several years.  Hunters and the fees they pay impact a huge number of conservation programs in each state.  Hunter dollars drive many local economies that would not survive if it weren’t for the business of hunters during deer season.  Reducing hunter opportunities could easily have an economic impact felt by the non-hunting community.

Reducing coyote populations requires effort (manpower) and resources (dollars).  I know that most state agencies don’t have the budget to remove coyotes on a statewide basis.  Private landowners can, however, bring resources to bear against coyotes.  Hunters, landowners and state agencies need to work together to control coyote predation.

Private landowners were crucial to the restocking efforts that restored the current deer herds throughout the whitetail’s range.  They protected deer, created habitat for deer, and allowed deer to be trapped and moved so others could enjoy this wonderful natural resource.  I’m confident many landowners will want to protect their current deer herds from being significantly decreased in numbers, despite the fact that they’ve been told coyote populations can’t be controlled.

We all make choices every day.  We favor flowers and our food plants by removing weeds either actively or by purchasing these products.  We eat beef from pastures where weeds are controlled to ensure there’s enough grass.  The US government successfully removes coyotes to protect farmers’ livestock.  Why then can’t enough coyotes be removed to protect deer herds?

I agree that it is almost impossible to eliminate coyotes from a property.  However, I’m 100% confident, based on experience, that coyote populations can be significantly reduced.  I’m also very confident that many landowners, co-ops, lease holders, and other wildlife managers, will spend their resources reducing coyotes.  They simply need the permission along with appropriate seasons and tools to pursue coyotes at the correct time of year.  Coyotes removed just before or during fawning/nesting season will save more fawns and turkey poults than coyotes removed during the traditional winter trapping season.

Some states currently allow these tools and others don’t.  In either case, I encourage hunters to work with state agencies to ensure whitetail populations don’t follow the trend of elk populations.  Wolves have significantly reduced elk populations, the opportunities for families to interact with elk and the revenue generated by elk viewing and hunting.

I encourage state wildlife management agencies to allow deer managers to use all ethical tools to remove coyotes.  The resources required to remove coyotes will certainly be self-limiting in most cases.  Choosing not to manage coyotes where they are a problem is simply saying you refuse to manage deer and other game species.

I don’t dislike coyotes – in the right balance.  To achieve that balance the coyote population must be reduced in many areas of the United States.  However, many folks are not able to manage coyotes on their properties under the current regulations to sustain current deer harvest objectives.  New guidelines need to be initiated in order to preserve the deer herds that my predecessors worked hard to restore.

This is a simple subject.  I hope it is not complicated by politics before it’s too late.  I really dislike hearing that the only option to coyote management is to reduce hunter opportunities because coyotes can’t be controlled and are destroying deer populations.  If coyotes aren’t controlled, deer densities will decrease and so will the number of hunters and the dollars they generate to conserve and protect all species of wildlife and wild places.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Trapping Raccoons to Protect Turkey Nests

By GrowingDeer,

I really enjoy wild turkeys.  I enjoy seeing and hearing them.  I enjoy calling to them.  I enjoy eating them!   I like seeing a raccoon, but I get more excited when I see a wild turkey.

Several years ago raccoon pelts sold for $40-$50 each!!  Folks hunted and trapped raccoons as it was possible to make a few hundred dollars or more a week!  That was a great addition to the average income in those days so many, many folks pursued raccoons!  To my knowledge, raccoons were never over harvested, but their numbers were certainly lower than they are now.  There’s not much of an incentive to hunt or trap raccoons for their fur as the current prices are generally $10 or less per pelt.  Given the current prices of fuel, traps, etc., folks are not financially motivated to harvest raccoons.

There are a few locations where disease has reduced the raccoon population, but in general their populations are high and uncontrolled throughout their range.  Raccoons are very effective turkey predators.  They will kill adult turkeys, but typically take their largest toll on turkey populations by consuming the eggs.  Raccoons have a very good sense of smell.  Hen turkeys return to their nest site to lay an egg daily for approximately 10 days (more or less), and then remain on the nest to incubate the eggs for another 28 days.

Raccoon in TrapHens smell very strong if they get wet.  Even I can smell them!  If it rains and the hen gets wet, it’s very easy for predators such as raccoons to smell the hen or where the hen has walked and trail her to her nest.  Once the nest is found by a raccoon, the hen is unable to defend it against a raccoon and all eggs are destroyed.  Sometimes the hen is killed while attempting to defend her nest and other times she flees.

I enjoy trapping and my family really likes pelts!!  So it’s a double benefit to engage my family in trapping predators while limiting turkey nest predation by controlling the raccoon population.  Trapping can be a great way for the family to enjoy the outdoors together.  A few traps can be purchased and used as a learning experience or a more serious approach can be taken in an effort to manage raccoons.

Either way, it’s important for us to be responsible stewards of our natural resources.  This means making choices and I choose to favor turkeys rather than raccoons.  What’s your choice?

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Late December Strategy

By GrowingDeer,

Female fawns generally reach puberty when they attain a body weight of approximately 70 pounds. In areas where the rut occurs during November and there is ample quality forage, female fawns generally reach puberty during December of their first year. That’s valuable information for folks that like to hunt mature bucks!

By December, deer throughout most of the whitetails range have had enough encounters with hunters to be in a state of constant high alert. Hence, mature bucks rarely visit areas where they are likely to encounter hunters during daylight hours. This means mature bucks typically avoid food plots, ag fields, and other locations hunters frequent during daylight hours.

There is one common exception. Mature bucks will follow receptive female fawns during daylight hours into areas that are frequently hunted. Knowing this, I commonly use this strategy during mid to late December in areas where the rut occurs during November and there is ample quality forage available to support rapid fawn development.

I like hunting large openings such as food plots, ag fields, etc., as they can usually be approached from downwind, using Minimal Disturbance Entry (M.D.E.) tactics. In fact, I used this strategy last Saturday. I was hunting a property near Dorena, Missouri which is an area with lots of agricultural crops and limited cover. The property where I was hunting was the exception in that area as it has gads of cover surrounding a large agricultural field.

Grant with 8 pointI expected several does and fawns to enter a staging area for that field before dark. I didn’t expect many mature bucks to enter the field unless drawn there by a female fawn that was receptive. During a day with a northwest wind I entered the field from the east and hung a Muddy ladder and hang-on stand during lunch for my cameraman, Adam, and myself. I selected a site that would allow me to watch an area of the field where the sign indicated several deer with smaller tracks had been entering. About 30 minutes before dark several doe/fawn groups began entering the field. After another 20 minutes went by, a buck I estimated to be 4.5 years old followed a female fawn into the field. After the cameraman assured me he was filming and had a clear view, I took some time to enjoy the moment and then let the muzzleloader’s hammer fall.

If the herd/habitat conditions I’ve described match those where you hunt, consider patterning fawns as a strategy to harvest a mature buck during the late season. The more fawns you pattern during the late season, the more likely one of them will be receptive and be followed by a mature buck. This may not be a onetime hunt like keying in on a bedding area, etc. However, each day there’s a chance another female fawn will become the ultimate attractant. It’s critical to not alert the deer to your presence as then the does and fawns will begin avoiding the area. Always approach stands with M.D.E. tactics and enjoy watching the fawns. One of them may be followed by a mature buck.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Late season hunting

By GrowingDeer,

I enjoy late season hunting.  I like hunting when the temperatures are cold.  I like hunting when the leaves are off.  But most of all, I like being able to easily identify limited resources that deer need.  As the temperatures drop, deer require more food to maintain their body temperatures so they need to eat.  In most areas of the whitetails’ range quality food is limited in distribution during the late season.  Most acorns have been consumed.  The crops in agricultural fields usually have been harvested.  The food in smaller, unprotected food plots has usually been consumed.

Because of the limited food sources, hunters can identify where deer are feeding.  However, that doesn’t mean seeing mature bucks will be easy!  Mature bucks are masters at surviving – that’s why they reached maturity.  So, it usually requires more skill than simply locating food sources to harvest mature bucks during the late season.  Mature bucks often react to the smallest amount of pressure and avoid locations during daylight where they’ve encountered hunters recently.  Since it is late season, most food plots have been hunted many times and are areas mature bucks avoid during daylight hours.

I take a different approach.  I use the time lapse feature of Reconyx trail cameras to scout preferred food sources during the late season.  This allows me to gain M.R.I. (Most Recent Information) about the age of bucks using a food source, predictability of bucks using that food source, when they are using the food source, and how they approach/leave the food source.  Using this information, I can, if necessary, hang stands during periods when deer are least likely to be at or near the food source.

Late season mature bucks have usually been heavily pressured.  They are very alert and conditioned to avoid all forms of predation.  However, by using tactics to avoid letting them know you are in the area, the late season can be the best time to pattern a mature buck because of his dependence on food!  I really enjoy hunting the late season!

Growing Deer together,

Grant