It’s hot at The Proving Grounds! The forecast calls for 100+ degree heat through Wednesday, and not much relief after that. There is literally no rain in sight. This is stressful for deer and deer managers. This is a great time for managers to take notes about their habitat and what can be improved to help the herd avoid stress during future droughts.
The stress caused by above normal heat combined with drought isn’t just a singular hardship on deer that are attempting to stay cool. The food they consume isn’t as nutritious as plants growing during better conditions. Deer probably move less during periods of above normal temperatures, so their selection of plants to consume is limited. Plants can’t move, so they reduce functions to conserve resources, primarily water. The foliage of plants that are not actively growing is usually not as nutritious as compared to plants that are putting on new leaves and enlarging existing leaves.
Combining the stress of heat with lower quality food limits a whitetail’s ability to express their genetic potential. Folks frequently mention to me that deer in their neighborhood do or don’t have good genetics. I’ve rarely found genetics to be a limiting factor. It seems many folks forget that deer in almost all areas of their range produce great antlers and plenty of fawns if quality resources are available. The limiting factors for producing great deer are the habitat and herd management, not the genetic make-up! There are many examples of folks producing Iowa type bucks 1,000 miles away from Iowa (or the ag belt). The occasional drought or two doesn’t change the local herd’s genetics; it changes the herd’s ability to express their genetic potential.
Whatever the antler growth and fawn production ends up being at The Proving Grounds this year, I won’t be worried about the herd’s genetics. I will learn some lessons about how deep my ponds need to be to maintain a good source of water through a serious drought. I will learn about my habitat’s potential to provide quality forage in all areas of my property. These are habitat characteristics I can improve. I wish to focus on characteristics of my deer herd and habitat that I can improve. Genetics, especially drought survival, is not one of them.
Growing Deer (in all conditions) together,
Brad and I are in the first week of prebaiting for our annual camera survey. “Prebaiting” simply means we place an attractant (we use Trophy Rock and shelled corn where legal) to attract deer to a specific location that will allow quality images of deer to be captured. It’s critical to do the prebaiting stage of a camera survey to ensure the locations will be readily used by deer, that the images collected will allow each individual buck to be identified (no obstructions, glare, etc.) and that each camera is working properly. We like to begin the prebaiting no later than the last part of July so the 14 day survey can be concluded by August 15th (with exceptions in South Florida) so the bucks are still in bachelor groups and daily activity patterns are very routine.
By timing the survey during this stage of bucks’ annual behavior cycle, bucks are very tolerant of each other and don’t actively attempt to exclude each other from the bait site. In addition, the regularity of their travel patterns allows for bucks to be easily recognized as they tend to use only one or two bait stations compared to a trend of using multiple bait stations once their hormones change and they express aggression toward other bucks.
Timing of a camera survey probably impacts the accuracy as much as any other aspect of the survey. If it is started too early, the antlers may not be developed enough to allow for individual bucks to be easily identified. If the survey is started to late, the bucks are traveling more which makes it harder to repeatedly identify individual bucks. Remember that location data from a camera survey may or may not provide good stand location information. It provides the age and size of bucks in the neighborhood, not which part of the neighborhood they will be using come deer season.
Growing Deer together,
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:
- Being easy to access.
- 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.
- No obstruction between the camera and deer and a solid background behind the deer.
- 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).
- Where deer travel naturally.
- 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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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,