Interpreting the Rut

By GrowingDeer,

It is 70+ degrees with blue skies again today.  Although I’m seeing active scrapes and rubs I haven’t observed much rut behavior from the tree.  Oftentimes hunters assume that the rut changes date because they don’t observe rut behavior at the same time from year to year.  After reviewing literally hundreds, if not thousands, of conception dates from harvested whitetail does it is obvious that the actual timing of breeding doesn’t change drastically from year to year. However, the amount of daytime activity is based on several conditions including weather, specifically daytime temperatures.

Imagine running a long race for a very valuable prize when it is hot and you are forced to wear a winter coat.  That is an illustration of mature bucks during these pre-rut days when daytime temperatures are above normal.  Temperatures seem to be a bit less of a determinate of daytime buck activity during the rut because the prize is very obvious to them.  However, during the pre-rut there may not be enough excitement to cause the bucks to be cruising during the daytime with their winter coat on.

These conditions can change at any time.  This is a huge advantage for home turf hunters and a good reason for suitcase hunters to schedule as many days as possible for their trip, allowing time for weather conditions to be favorable.  Understanding a deer’s reaction to specific weather conditions is a key to harvesting mature bucks on a sustained basis.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

20 degrees cooler!!

By GrowingDeer,

I’m trying to finish some projects so I can go hunting this afternoon!  The temperatures are approximately 20 degrees cooler this afternoon than they’ve been in weeks!  I believe decreases in temperature of this magnitude prompt increased activity of mature bucks during daylight hours.

I and several other scientists have attempted to determine the weather conditions that prompt deer to move during daylight.  We’ve analyzed huge datasets of deer movement collected by personal observations, radio telemetry collars, GPS collars, trail camera images, etc.  Unfortunately, no reliable trends have been reported.  That’s not to say that some patterns don’t exist.  The deer are just keeping them a secret.

It’s probably because we scientists haven’t analyzed the appropriate combination of factors yet.  It becomes a very complicated analysis to consider deer activity data compared to multiple factors simultaneously.  It would be simple if when the barometric pressure dropped two percent, deer activity increased 20 percent.  However, using barometric pressure as a single factor rarely yields predictable results.  When barometric pressure, temperature, the difference of temperature from normal, the change of temperature during the past 24 hours, cloud cover, moon phase, moon declination, precipitation, etc., etc., etc., are combined the data and results often are a useless mass of charts.

It’s very difficult to have a large enough data set to ensure the results of the analysis are meaningful.  For example, I’m working with a grad student at the University of Georgia to analyze 11 years of observation data from one of my research projects.  The observers that collected data for this project were trained and consistent throughout the project.  We logged more than 1,000 hours of observations annually for each of the 11 years.  We harvested more than 1,000 deer as part of that project.

Deer are champions at surviving.  They not only respond to changes in the weather, they also respond to predators and other threats.  It’s tough to sort out why deer are moving because the researcher never knows all the factors wild, free-ranging deer are analyzing and responding to.

It’s frustrating!  However, the ongoing research is fun!  In fact, I’m ready to go collect some more data this afternoon!

Growing (and studying) Deer together,

Grant

Pursuing Mature Bucks

By GrowingDeer,

For those of you who attended Field Day you may remember the remarkable shed that Terry brought along that day.  Andrew McKean, of Outdoor Life, has seen the shed and is currently hunting the property that it was found on.  I spoke with him about the Three If’s you should consider when finding a shed and wished him hunting success on his quest for the Giant in the Mist.

Right now I’m seeing more rut sign during mid-October than most years.  Last week I observed a mature buck chasing a doe.  I also watched a fellow hunter rattle in three bucks, and another hunter on the same property rattled in a fourth.  It’s time to use those aggressive calling and rattling techniques throughout most of the whitetails’ range!

I doubt many does are currently receptive.  However, the bucks are ready to dance in many portions of the whitetails’ range.  I suspect that calling is much more effective than most hunters realize.  Mature bucks probably respond to calls a higher percentage of the time than hunters realize, but they detect the hunter’s scent before the hunter sees the buck.

If you’re serious about pursuing mature bucks I encourage you to:

  1. Control your scent as much as possible with good hygiene and clean clothes.
  2. Select stand locations that can be accessed without your scent alerting deer that are currently in the area or will be traveling through the area to approach near the hunter’s stand.
  3. Remain vigilant on the stand.

To consistently harvest mature bucks, hunters need access to property where mature bucks are present.  In addition, hunters need to realize that mature bucks are in survival mode most of the time.  That’s why they are so fun to pursue.  It’s the challenge of the hunt, not the kill that keeps me motivated.  Harvesting mature bucks consistently certainly provides a significant challenge.  I’ll be taking that challenge again this weekend.  I’m sure I’ll learn something new.  Mature bucks are excellent teachers if the student pays attention.

Growing Deer (and learning) together,

Grant

Hunting in Kansas

By GrowingDeer,

I had the privilege of hunting in eastern Kansas recently.  For this hunt I sat north of a fallow field and used Nikon optics to scout long distance looking into the wind.  I observed two mature bucks crossing a fallow field from approximately 125 yards.  The wind remained out of the south.  I felt very confident I knew where the deer were bedding and where they are feeding.  The landowner had created a bedding area/sanctuary not far south and east of the fallow field.  There was an 8 acre feeding plot planted with soybeans and wheat to the northwest of the stand.  Adjoining the fallow field to the east is a stand for mature oaks that were dropping acorns.  I felt strongly that if we could place a stand in those hardwoods and approach them in the morning with a northwest wind, we’d have a good chance of harvesting one of those two bucks.  I snuck into the hardwoods that were between the fallow field and the hardwoods after lunch and hung a stand.  However, the wind remained out of the south for a couple more days so I scouted another portion of the farm and observed the fallow field.  We observed the mainframe 9 just before dark again crossing the field.  That night a cold front passed and I decided it was time to move and attempt to harvest the mainframe 9.  Grant's 2010 KS BuckI arrived early the next morning and was in the stand well before daylight.  I used extra caution to limit touching vegetation while approaching the stand and remained very quiet through the first hour of daylight.  Four does and fawns passed behind the stand.  The wind had picked up enough that it was shaking large oaks.  Just a tad after 9 am I spotted the mainframe 9 about sixty yards away.  He was consuming acorns and moving in my general direction very slowly.  It took several minutes for him to get within range.  I drew my Mathews Z7 when he was about 25 yards out, but he quickly moved behind the canopy of a tree.  I opted to let the Z7 down and wait for a better shot.  He finally approached to within eight yards of our stands facing them head-on.  I came to full draw again when he reached for an acorn on the ground.  He remained facing the base of my tree for several more minutes.  He finally took a step and exposed his vitals.  My arrow was true and it was grip and grin time!! I estimated the buck to be four years old and his green gross score was 151”.

I enjoy the stats, but the memories of how that hunt unfolded are more enjoyable to me!  I’m confident I was able to harvest that deer because I was patient, spent more time scouting than hunting, and waited for good conditions for the situation.  I felt certain the buck was traveling through that patch of oaks regularly.  However, mature bucks rarely continue a pattern once they detect a hunter in an area they use frequently.  The results were well worth the wait for me.  I really enjoy patterning mature bucks.  The pre and post rut is the time to pattern a mature buck.  I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy a similar experience.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Scent Reduction

By GrowingDeer,

It’s a beautiful day at The Proving Grounds today!  The temperature as I write this is 64 degrees.  There is a 9 MPH wind from the northwest and the relative humidity is 49%.  It’s what my folks called a “Bluebird day.”  It’s a great day for a task necessary for hunters that enjoy getting close to game.  These are perfect conditions to reduce the scent in hunting clothes!  I literally just spent an hour washing some of my hunting clothes on the back porch.  I have a plastic tub that I use in the process of hand washing my hunting clothes.  The washing machine in my house no doubt gives off the odors associated with gads of different soaps, softeners, etc.  It’s probably a nightmare for hunters that wish to reduce the amount of scent on their hunting clothes.

I use a soap that is reported to be unscented and has no UV brighteners.  I’m not at all worried about stains.  Those simply add to the camo pattern.  I am very focused on reducing the scent as much as possible.  After washing, I rinse the clothes with a water hose, and hang them outside to dry.  When they are dry, I treat them with an unscented odor killer spray.  When that is dry, I store them in airtight storage bags (that I’ve previously cleaned).  Finally, I usually change into my hunting clothes in the field.

I expend a lot of work in attempting to reduce and keep off scent that is foreign to a mature buck from in my clothes.  I expend these efforts because I really enjoy watching deer up close.  The winds commonly swirl due to the mountainous topography at The Proving Grounds.  It only takes one swirl to carry scent to a mature buck approaching the stand.  Not only is the buck alerted to the hunter’s presence that day, he’s probably alerted to that general area as a portion of his range to avoid due to danger during the daylight hours.

Some areas, like western Kansas, very rarely are plagued with constantly swirling winds.  I really enjoy hunting those areas!  However, that’s not the case where I hunt.

No one knows exactly how good a buck’s sense of smell is.  Obviously their sense of smell is good enough to avoid enough predators (two and four-legged) to survive for hundreds of years.  Sense of smell is their number one predator defense tool.

I don’t believe any amount of scent control will keep a mature deer from detecting a threat if the deer detects a full load of the hunter’s scent.  The unanswered question is how much scent reduction is necessary to not alert a deer.  I’ll be using some different products and making observations this fall in an effort to find a satisfactory answer to that question.  I’m open for your thoughts; if you are serious about scent control, please share your techniques with me.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Disney Got it Wrong

By GrowingDeer,

I often take a walk just after sunrise.  I spend this time listening to the Creator, thinking about my day, and getting exercise.  I often walk from my house down a mountain that drops 400’ in elevation to a creek crossing.  There is a food plot we call Barn Field just across the creek.  This morning as I approached the creek, I noticed a dead deer in the Barn Field food plot.  I quickly examined the deer for signs that it was killed by a poacher.  There was no blood obvious on the deer, the surrounding ground, or near the nostrils, which is common for deer that have been shot anywhere in the chest cavity.

I didn’t notice any boot marks, ATV tracks, etc.  I walked back up the mountain and called my local conservation officer to notify him.  I then changed clothes, grabbed a knife, camera, etc., and went back down the mountain to do a necropsy (examination of a non-human body after death) on the yearling buck.  Brad and I examined the deer closely as it was lying, then turned it over and instantly noticed a hole between the last two ribs.  There was no exit wound and the hole didn’t look like it was made by a broadhead or bullet.  I felt the wound channel, but nothing felt abnormal.

I began the necropsy by removing the skin from the opposite side of the buck.  There was no sign of an exit wound or trauma.  I then opened the chest cavity and the lungs and heart were in good condition.  There was no excess blood in the chest cavity.

I removed the skin from around the wound area and noticed there was significant bruising just below the wound entrance.  I then exposed the liver and noticed a lobe of the liver where the wound hole had been torn and excessive blood had pooled.  The conservation officer, Mr. Quenten Fronterhouse, used a metal detector to confirm that there was no projectile (bullet or broadhead) in the deer.  We placed a bullet in the deer to test the unit (I always like confirmation that tools are working) and it detected it without any problems.

The final diagnosis was cause of death by an antler gore – this yearling buck was killed as a result of a fight!  I don’t know where the fight occurred.  It was not in that plot as we didn’t locate any scuff marks.  It doesn’t matter.  Life for a deer is not like what Disney portrayed in the movie Bambi.  To the contrary, it is full of danger.

There were other valuable lessons learned this morning.  I took the opportunity to inspect the buck’s stomach content and it was full of soybean leaves, some green soybean pods, a few kernels of corn (probably from the adjacent food plot which has corn), and some pokeberry fruit.  There were no acorns.  Knowing what deer are currently eating is a major scouting tool.

Natural mortality is a common event for all wild critters that often goes unnoticed to human observers.  This buck just happened to die where I normally walk.  Talk a walk soon.  You never know what you might find.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Certified Seed!

By GrowingDeer,

I was taught many years ago the principle of “the price of non-conformance.”  Basically it means that it almost always costs less to do a task right the first time, even if it takes more time.  Rushing tasks and compromising on quality usually results in low quality results that cost as much or more than conforming to certain standards and “doing it right.”

After a very long and severe drought, a tropical storm changed directions and was predicted to produce rain at The Proving Grounds.  I rushed to purchase wheat seed.  I found some uncertified seed at a local dealer that was convenient and less expensive that the local source of certified seed.  I don’t like to plant uncertified seed.  I realize it cost more to purchase certified seed than a brown bag special that some seed dealers offer.  I’m sure much of the brown bag specials are good seed.  However, I like knowing that someone did, or should have, tested the seed for the germination rate and weed seed content.  However in my rush, I opted to save time and money and purchase the brown bag special.  We hustled to plant, it rained long and steady!  We broadcast that seed and used a no-till drill to plant some wheat I had purchased a few weeks ago from the National Wild Turkey Federation.  All seemed well!!  I should also mention that I didn’t test the germination of the uncertified seed.  (Germination rates can be simply checked by placing some seed on a plate, adding some warm most water, then waiting a few days and determining the ratio of seeds that germinated versus seeds that didn’t.)

I inspected the fields yesterday.  The fields that were planted with the wheat from the NWTF and using the no-till drill looked great!  The fields that were planted by broadcasting the brown bag variety are mostly bare.  Today I suffered the expense of purchasing certified seed, and replanting 13 acres.  The time, funds, wear and tear on equipment, etc., is a significant cost.

Further, because I didn’t do a germination test, I don’t know if the failure was due to the seed quality, mixing the seed with the Antler Dirt too long before I planted, or something else.  I can’t learn from this mistake because I didn’t heed the lesson of the price of non-conformance I learned years ago.

Do as I say and don’t do as I do, always purchase quality seed and perform a germination test.

Growing Deer (and learning) together,

Grant

Opening Day Stand Selection

By GrowingDeer,

Archery season opens tomorrow in Missouri!!  The temperature tomorrow morning is predicted to be 63 degrees with south winds that will be 5 – 13 mph.  It rained about 1/4“ this morning.  There are very few white oak acorns this year and not many more red oak acorns.  There is likely a white oak or two dropping acorns somewhere on The Proving Grounds, but I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to locate these trees.  Such efforts can lead to fast action, or can spook gads of deer before locating a stand location that is approachable without alerting deer.

I’ll probably hunt a stand on a ridge top where wheat was planted last week.  The wheat is already germinating, but is still less than 2” tall.  It’s not a food source yet.  However, this ridge is a known travel route that deer frequently use.  My Reconyx trail camera images have confirmed that some bucks on my 2010 Hit List have been using this ridge as a travel route between a feeding and bedding area.  Most of the images of mature bucks have been at night.  During the past two weeks, the trail cameras in that portion of The Proving Grounds have captured some mature bucks during daylight hours.  The bucks tend to be traveling from a larger field north of my stand location to a bedding area just south and west of the stand location.  I need to approach from the north also.  I will need to approach well before light and count on the thermals carrying my scent south (down the valley).  If I approach too late in the day the sun will heat the earth’s surface and the thermals will change direction and shift to the north.  In the early morning, I’m counting on a cross wind to carry my scent about 20 degrees away from the route I anticipate a mature buck will approach this stand.  20 degrees isn’t much, especially if the wind swirls.  However, in hilly/steep topography, it’s about as much as I can expect.  That’s my plan, unless the forecast changes.

If the wind shifts significantly during the hunt, I’ll exit early so I don’t condition the deer to avoid that location during daylight hours.  I’ll keep you posted.

Growing (and hunting) Deer together,

Grant