It remains extremely dry at The Proving Grounds. No rain is predicted in the seven day forecast. I’m amazed at how well the Eagle Seed Beans are holding up. I attribute this to the hardiness of Eagle Seed Beans and the organic content of the Antler Dirt that is apparently holding moisture from the last rain event. There is a food plot that borders one end of my yard. My yard is totally brown while the soybeans are green and erect. Perfect – I like working with food plots and dislike mowing the yard!
However, the beans are beginning to wilt during the hot afternoons. I’m sure the palatability and quality of the forage is decreasing as the drought progresses. I’m thankful the drought is occurring now versus at the beginning of the antler growth. Their survival or growth potential is strongly related to the quality of forage and level of stress they experience during the early summer months.
A serious drought during hunting season can provide some advantages to hunters. The obvious advantage is that water is a limited resource that deer require daily. There is very limited water in plants during a drought so deer are dependent on standing water. Standing water is usually very rare during droughts so scouting should be easy! That doesn’t mean that hunting will be easy.
Because water is limited, predators and prey are forced to frequent the same water sources. It seems mature bucks are always alert when approaching a limited resource where predators and other competitors frequent. I’ve started placing some cameras to monitor the few ponds that are still holding water at The Proving Grounds. I’ll check them next week, and if the activity merits I’ll begin placing stands/blinds near the water sources.
There’s usually a bright side to every situation. Currently, the bright side is the rare reflection of water.
Growing Deer together,
Archery season in Missouri begins September 15th. I’m practicing with my bow almost daily and thinking about stand locations. In fact, I think about stand locations year around. I consider what has worked and hasn’t worked in years past, and what stand locations should I select for future hunts. I believe and attempt to practice the advice of “don’t do the same thing and expect different results.” Hence, if a stand location hasn’t produced the desired results in the past, then I need to change something. The “change” may or may not be the location. It may be how I approach the stand, the time of day, time of season, etc.
I’m also a huge fan of using M.R.I. (Most Recent Information). Currently the most obvious MRI at The Proving Grounds is the drought. Most of the creek that runs through The Proving Grounds is dry. Several of the ponds are dry. Water is a resource that deer currently must have daily that is in limited supply. There’s no doubt in my mind that a stand location at or near water that can be approached without alerting deer is currently a great location. The question is will it rain enough to fill other ponds, to allow some springs to yield water, etc., or will the locations with water continue to be visited often by mature bucks during the opening of archery season?
I’m going to place some stands/blinds near water now, and also hope that it rains! I’d rather the deer and habitat have the benefit of rain! However, I’m a predator and will pattern deer using that limited resource if the opportunity occurs. As a predator with good observation skills, I’m most successful when I use those skills to identify limited resources and plan my hunts accordingly.
Growing (and hunting) Deer together,
Today we moved the Reconyx units from the camera survey sites to scouting sites for the opening of archery season! We’ve collected literally tens of thousands of images to analyze for our herd survey during the past three weeks. Brad has been doing most of the analyses and will have some estimates of the number of deer, number of bucks, number of bucks on our 2010 hit list, etc, late next week. This is always an exciting time.
Just as exciting is switching into scouting mode as archery season in Missouri begins September 15th. At this time, the summer bachelor groups have begun busting up and mature bucks are typically changing their patterns from a food-cover, food-cover routine to a bit of overt dominance hierarchy sorting out.
This means that some bucks will shift to using other parts of their home range to avoid frequent conflict. Their movement and behavior patterns are changing rapidly during this time of year, which means that M.R.I. (Most Recent Information) is critical, but difficult to obtain. Information a week old can be out of date this time of year. This makes selecting stand/blind sites tough.
In an effort to stack the odds in my favor I use a combination of M.R.I., past history, and knowledge of food preference when deciding where to place my stands/blinds. For example, a recent Reconyx image (within few days) of a buck on my hit list, combined with knowledge that a mature buck has used that area in the past, and knowing what the current preferred food sources are during the first week of archery season is enough data for me to select and hunt a specific location.
Harvesting a mature buck year after year on the same property is like solving a really tough puzzle. To solve a puzzle, one must have all the pieces. Do you have all the pieces?
Growing Deer together,
It would be so nice to for farmers to know the weather months in advance. They could certainly increase the yield of their crops by timing, maintaining, and harvesting their crops if they could accurately predict the weather in advance. All of us would love to be able to schedule our vacation when the weather would be perfect. However, farmers, vacationers and gads of others simply must put the odds in their favor and take their best shot.
The same is true for deer managers. We need to plant our food plots at optimal times because weather prediction science is such that the five day forecast is rarely reliable, let alone the three month forecast. The pendulum swings both ways, sometimes the weather is better than predicted, and sometimes it’s worse.
Monday of this week the weather forecast for The Proving Grounds called for a solid week of 100+ degree heat. There was no rain in sight. Yesterday, we were blessed to receive 1.5” of rain!!! That rain may have added a few more inches of antler to a few bucks, more bushels of beans produced in some of my food plots, and a few more pounds to some fawns preparing for winter. It was a huge blessing. My parents live thirty miles away and they only received 0.2” of rain.
Resources for deer at my place would be very limited if the local population was higher. The average stress level for each deer would be significantly more, and therefore the quality of each deer significantly less. Weather is an uncontrollable factor in deer herd management. Not only is it uncontrollable for free-ranging deer herds, it can be a limiting factor. Given this, it’s always best to maintain the deer population at less than maximum capacity during good conditions. That way, the herd will maintain or prosper even during unfavorable conditions. Preparing for the uncontrollable factors is part of the art of deer hunting and deer management.
Growing Deer (in all conditions) together,
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,