A question I frequently receive this time of year is if does should be harvested. Like a lot of deer management subjects, doe management isn’t a one size fits all.
Biologically speaking, deer herds should be managed on a local or site-specific basis. This allows hunters/managers to adjust doe harvest to match local habitat quality against landowners/hunters’ goals.
For example, there could be a landowner that has production soybeans where the deer in that area are much more productive than deer just a few miles away where the habitat is composed of pasture and timber.
If the state management agency allows enough flexibility for landowners to adjust doe harvest as needed, hunters should next consider the quality of the local habitat during the two common stress periods of late summer and late winter.
In most areas there usually isn’t a lot of precipitation during the late summer and during late winter deer are dependent on the forage that was produced during the preceding months. Now is not a good time to judge the amount of deer related to the habitat's capacity to produce quality forage. Fall is harvest season and there should be an abundance of food now. There will likely be a huge difference in the amount of quality native and planted food now compared to late winter.
The most common mistake I see landowners make is allowing the deer herd to increase past the habitat's potential to produce quality forage. Healthy deer herds can increase 20-30% annually. If doe harvest is postponed until the herd exceeds the habitat's potential to produce enough quality browse, it will be too late and the herd won't likely be reduced fast enough to prevent habitat damage.
It’s much better for the herd and habitat to monitor both the herd and habitat’s ability to produce quality forage and make small adjustments to the number of does harvested each year than to allow herds to exceed the habitat’s capacity to produce quality forage and both the herd and habitat are reduced in quality for years.
To improve or maintain herd quality, it’s important to manage the number of deer on a local level to match the habitat’s capacity to produce and maintain quality forage year-round.
That’s what we’ll be doing here on The Proving Grounds: managing the number of deer to match the habitat’s capacity. We’ve already started on this project, see Tyler take a doe in this video.
You could probably bait me with a pile of Snickers bars or some ice cream. I admit, I have a sweet tooth! I’m not alone, deer also have a sweet tooth. In fact, I believe deer like sweets more than white oak acorns and that’s saying something.
I use this knowledge when I’m scouting each fall. There are many varieties of sweets throughout the whitetail’s range that may be available during the fall. These include fruits such as apples, pears, pawpaw, etc. Often pears, apples, and other types of fruit trees are found near old homesteads. I’ve found such homesteads with fruit trees nearby on public and private land. When the fruit is ripe, deer and other critters are likely to be feeding there.
It makes sense that one of the fruit trees with the largest distribution that deer like is a native. I’m talking about persimmons!
A persimmon tree varies in size and shape based on the growing conditions and soil quality. There is a wide range of when persimmon fruit will be ripe and it seems to vary tree by tree as well as location. In general, the fruit ripens from September through November, pending on the individual tree. One oddity about persimmon trees is that most of them are single sex: either male or female but not both. The male trees can’t produce fruit. This is important to hunters because it’s important to ensure when scouting that the persimmon tree or trees you plan to hunt produce fruit.
Biting into a persimmon fruit before it is ripe will cause an instant puckering! Deer ignore persimmons until they are ripe. However, once the fruit is ripe deer, raccoons, foxes, and more all commonly eat them.
Given this, I scout for large persimmon trees that can produce a lot of fruit. I may even hang a stand or place a blind nearby. However, I don’t hunt in areas where a persimmon is the main attraction until the fruit is ripe. Once it’s ripe, it’s common for deer and other critters to frequent the tree daily. I’ve tagged several deer near persimmon trees and have already scouted some this year to ensure they produced fruit.
I’m confident I can tag one deer (or more) near persimmon trees this year. I may even eat a few ripe persimmons on the way to the stand.
You can watch a hunt where I tagged some does by a few persimmon trees in this video from last fall.
Throughout most of the whitetail’s range the peak of the rut (biggest percentage of does receptive at one time) doesn’t occur during early October. That may sound like bad news. It’s not. It does mean hunters need to use different techniques than appropriate during the rut. During early October, bucks are focused on food and determining the dominance hierarchy.
Hunters can use this knowledge to create successful strategies to tag bucks. Bucks are genetically programmed to gain weight/develop fat to prepare for the post-rut winter stress period. If your goal is to gain weight you focus on consuming carbs. Deer are the same. During this time of year deer seek grains and acorns – both loaded with carbs.
In production corn and soybean areas deer commonly frequent standing or recently harvested grain fields. These fields tend to be large and difficult to pattern where deer enter and exit. It’s often a better strategy to scout for travel corridors from cover to these fields. Once a travel corridor is found, look for a point along the corridor that bottlenecks deer to a small area and can be approached, hunted, and exited without alerting deer.
In areas that are primarily covered with timber, especially oaks, deer can be difficult to pattern when the acorn crop is widespread. When this occurs, more scouting may be necessary to find fresh sign and good stand/blind locations. In addition, more frequent scouting may be necessary as the location of the currently preferred acorns can change frequently because the timing of acorn drop varies by species, weather conditions, etc.
In addition to seeking carbs, bucks are using direct contact, scrapes, and multi-year rubs to determine the constantly changing hierarchy. This behavior means mocks scrapes can be a great tool to pattern bucks and/or create bottlenecks. I’ve shared how to create mock scrapes in this video: Deer Hunting Strategy: How To Make A Mock Scrape.
I often combine these two dominate behaviors to tag bucks during October. I create a mock scrape in or near a source of quality food. Bucks will be in or near sources of quality food during their need to gain calories. While seeking quality food, bucks will be attracted to scent communication points such as scrapes. If there’s not a natural scrape near the ideal stand or blind location I create a mock scrape within my effective shot range. You can see a successful use of this technique here.
Understanding the behavior of deer throughout the hunting season will increase the odds of tagging a buck and putting fresh venison in the freezer.
The acorns are dropping here at The Proving Grounds. This means that deer that have been on a food to cover pattern for the last couple of months will be more difficult to hunt. All of a sudden there is a new, attractive food source that will pull them off the food plots they’ve been frequenting.
Why? Because deer are seeking carbohydrates. Acorns are high in energy but low in protein. They are a big attraction this time of year. You can have a buck patterned then literally within two days it can change that pattern when a white oak off the ridge starts to drop acorns.
We’re seeing some of those changes here. We had some bucks patterned – Slingshot and Swoops – coming to a food plot. That pattern has started to break-up.
Scouting for acorns is a good technique whether you hunt 40 or 4,000 acres. We start scouting for acorns as early as July. (Read more about our recent scouting at this link.)
Ideal deer hunting can occur when oak trees are few and far between. This usually occurs when agriculture or other land use practices that limit the amount of habitat that is forested.
Another situation that produces great hunting is when only a few oaks in an area produce acorns. When these conditions exist, patterning deer may be as simple as locating the trees that produced acorns and hunting near them without spooking deer.
However, if oaks are common where you hunt, it can be extremely difficult to see deer during years when all the oak trees produce acorns. This is because deer can eat and bed within an extremely small area. Hunters simply can’t approach these areas without alerting deer! It’s tough to get between the feeding and bedding area when they are literally just a few yards apart.
Knowing which types of acorns deer prefer during the early (from the white oak family) versus late (from the red oak family) season can be a key to hanging stands in locations that fit your hunting schedule.
We’ll be sharing our early season bow hunts soon, so stay tuned to see how the different locations and strategies are paying off for the GrowingDeer Team!
Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the mid-Atlantic as I write this. My thoughts and prayers are with all those that potentially could be affected by the winds and floods.
If you’ve been watching the weather reports, you know there is a big high pressure system sitting on top of the central part of America. That high will slow Florence down and prevent the rains from making it all the way here.
The great thing about that high pressure sitting over us is that the wind will be pretty constant. Deer season opens here Saturday. With the wind blowing consistently in one direction it will make it easier to approach, hunt and exit a stand without alerting deer.
In the early season I prefer to hunt in the mornings. However, the main access road through our hunting property is right in the middle, down a valley. These Ozark Mountains have strong thermals in the mornings. It is virtually impossible to get out for a morning hunt without alerting deer. So even though I’m a morning person, we hunt only in the afternoons in the early season. By doing this, we will be more efficient with our time and tag more deer.
If you’re on a property where hunting in the morning is feasible, I recommend placing a stand and hunting in a transition area between a feeding area and a bedding area. The deer are probably already in the plot feeding. You need to be able to approach the stand without alerting those deer.
We have stands set up on food plots right now. Even though there are acorns beginning to fall, we have enough deer on a pattern coming to food plots to hunt those stands. We usually head out to hunt about 2 hours before sunset – when it’s still hot and the deer are in their beds. The deer have time to calm down from any disturbance then they can move to us.
That’s our strategy for early season. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
I hope that you are able to get out soon to scout, hunt and enjoy Creation.
How many years did you solo deer hunt before you shot your first deer? For Owen Zimmer, the newest member of the GrowingDeer Team, it was 2 years. He was 16 years old. He said it was just a few minutes after daylight when two does walked in front of his treestand and gave him a bow shot of 26 yards. He chose the bigger doe and made a clean shot.
Owen has been hunting since the age of 11 in the area around his hometown of Waterford, PA. He is passionate about the outdoors, hunting and fishing. He asked to join the GrowingDeer Team as a long-term intern instead of taking the usual college/career path because he wants to one day be a land manager for a hunting property. He is more of a hands-on learner. Owen would rather be learning in the field than sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture.
Owen brings a unique skill set to the team. In high school he learned welding and precision machining. He has operated excavating equipment since he was a young boy by working in his family’s business. His favorite piece of equipment to drive is a skidsteer. We'll be teaching Owen about managing a property for wildlife while he teaches us a thing or two about equipment!
Along with hunting and fishing, Owen enjoys dirt track racing of vintage modified cars. He has been a driver for the last 2 years. Growing up, he had always watched races at the Lernerville track. It was a special day for him when he had the opportunity to race on that track. To make it even better — he won! He's looking forward to visiting some of the dirt tracks here in Missouri and the surrounding states on his off time.
When asked what drives him he said, “You should get up and do something.” We look forward to seeing what he gets up to while here at The Proving Grounds!
For the GrowingDeer Team
The forecast for Thursday included a good chance of rain after lunch. I waited just long enough to see evidence the forecast was likely to be accurate then Tyler, Owen and I went to quickly plant a hidey hole plot using a hand seeder.
The plot we planted was about 1/10th of an acre and extremely rocky! In fact, when most folks see this plot during one of our Field Events they can’t believe anything grows in that rocky soil.
Organic matter is very nutrient rich and does a great job of holding soil moisture. That’s exactly what’s needed to convert this rocky spot into a productive food plot. To further this process, we planted Eagle Seed’s experimental soil builder blend in that plot during July.
July is not the “normal” time to plant crops in this area. However, with the heavy browse pressure on the food plot we had the opportunity to experiment. The purpose of the experimental blend was to not only feed deer, but to add organic matter both above and below the soil’s surface. The biomass above the soil is obvious to anyone looking at the plot. However, most folks don’t consider the roots that will decompose and become quality organic matter below the soil’s surface.
Just because the soil in your food plots doesn’t look like an Iowa crop field, a productive food plot can still be established by using cover crops that are designed to improve the soil quality while providing tons of forage that attract and feed deer.
By the time we arrived at the plot it was just starting to sprinkle with thunder in the distance. With that distant thunder as a motivation, it only took us a few minutes to broadcast Eagle Seed’s Fall Buffalo Blend. I can’t wait to hunt near this plot! For folks that doubt this rocky spot will produce quality forage, stay tuned! We’ll share pictures of this plot in a month or so, and likely film hunts there.
A common problem with food plots (any crops) is a lack of soil moisture. All forage crops need adequate soil moisture to produce lots of quality forage. Without moisture plants can’t grow or transfer nutrients. To compound this problem, food plots are often located in areas that don’t have great soils and therefore they don’t hold moisture.
Even if a decent amount of rain occurs, soil moisture can be rapidly lost if the soil is bare. A primary factor of how much moisture is lost is the soil’s surface temperature. Following are some results from recent research about soil moisture loss.
• At 70 degrees soil temperature, 100 percent of the soil moisture is used for plant growth.
• From 95 to 113 degrees, 15 percent of soil moisture is used for plant growth and 85 percent lost through evapotranspiration.
• At 130 degrees, 100 percent of soil moisture is lost through evapotranspiration.
It’s impractical to irrigate most food plots. However, it’s fairly easy to conserve soil moisture. In fact, many farmers in the north central plains are now producing huge yields of corn and soybeans without the expense of irrigating! They do it by simply using shade and wind protection to reduce soil moisture evapotranspiration. These farmers simply ensure that at all times there’s a living crop covering the soil and/or a thick layer of mulch created from the remains of past crops.
They do this by planting blends of cover crops that produce a lot of tonnage sometime during their annual crop rotation. The standing crop shades and usually conserves more soil moisture than it uses. They then plant their cash crop using the previous cover crop remains (biomass/mulch) to take advantage of the soil moisture!
I’ve been using this system to conserve soil moisture in the rocky, drought-prone soils of the Ozark Mountains. This system is actually easier in food plots because deer are used to harvest the crop. Unlike a combine used to harvest a farmer’s crops, deer don’t care if there’s a blend or plants of differing heights.
We experienced a wicked drought at The Proving Grounds this summer. During July we planted an experimental blend developed in partnership with Eagle Seeds. The design of this blend was to provide some quality forage for deer and improve the soil by adding tons of biomass that will be converted to mulch and then high-quality soil. The blend was also designed to shade the soil and conserve the very limited soil moisture.
The experiment was literally a huge success. It provided way more quality browse than a normal drought-stricken plot could and provided tons of biomass. We are now using a Genesis drill to plant Eagle Seeds Fall Buffalo Blend directly into the terminated summer crop.
It’s raining now but the forecast calls for the temperatures to return to the 90s with limited chances of rain. The ground cover from the terminated, experimental summer blend (which included seven different crop varieties) will do an excellent job of conserving soil moisture, shading the soil, and providing almost 100% erosion and weed control. This is a very easy win-win-win!
In addition, the decomposing vegetation from the experimental summer blend (which I call the Buffalo Summer Soil Builder Blend) will be very high-quality fertilizer for the fall crop.
Another advantage is the terminated crop is excellent food for earthworms and other beneficial soil life. Gosh – it’s easy to see why I haven’t needed to add any lime or fertilizer in five years and have greatly reduced the amount of herbicide needed!
If you’d like more information about The Buffalo System to produce better forage for less cost, check out this link to videos at GrowingDeer.com.
After a long and wicked drought, it’s rained more than 3” recently at The Proving Grounds! This is very unusual for mid-August. The rain is a huge blessing because it’s time to plant the cool season (fall) food plots!
Most cool season food plot forage varieties do best when they are planted 45-60 days before the first average frost date during fall. It’s easy to find the average first frost date where you live by simply searching online. The source I use for Missouri is: http://climate.missouri.edu/news/arc/sep2009.php.
So, 60 days back from October 15th is August 15th. In addition to the number of days before the average first frost day of the fall, soil moisture is another factor that determines when conditions are best to plant. Seeds require soil moisture to germinate and get off to a good start. Seeds and seedlings that germinate when there’s barely enough soil moisture are stressed and research shows many such seedlings never express their full growth or quality potential.
After August 15th, I wait until there’s adequate soil moisture before planting. We use the Buffalo System to establish and maintain food plots. One of the principles of this soil health improvement system is to ensure the ground is always covered with both living and decaying and vegetation (mulch from previous crops). We never disc/plow and have minimal soil disturbance. This system conserves much more soil moisture than systems that include discing and/or plowing the soil. Therefore, using the Buffalo System requires much less precipitation to be productive! It’s like irrigating but much less expensive!
If there is adequate soil moisture, seeds will do great even when planted relatively shallow. We’ll be primarily planting Eagle Seeds Fall Buffalo Blend. This blend includes forage varieties with larger seeds and some with very small seeds. We’ll plant most of our plots with a Genesis no-till drill. The Genesis handles planting blends with all different sized seeds with no problems.
Since there’s currently a good amount of soil moisture, we’ll set the drill to plant the Fall Buffalo Blend about ¼” deep or just barely covered with soil. Given the amount of soil moisture and soil temperature, the seeds will germinate in just a few days and start putting down roots to find the best sources of moisture and nutrients.
If the conditions were drier, but there was adequate soil moisture a bit deeper we’d plant the Fall Buffalo Blend a tad deeper (1/2” to a max of 3/4″) so the young seedling roots would find moisture quicker. The larger seeds with more stored energy will bust through soil and allow the smaller seeds (with less stored energy) to emerge. This is possible because we plant at a higher seed density. We plant the Fall Buffalo Blend at 70 lbs per acre.
If the soil is dry and only small seeds are planted, such as clover, then some or all of the seeds might germinate and die before they break through the soil surface. If the plants can’t break through the soil surface, make leaves and start interacting with the sun (photosynthesizing) they will die.
Placing seeds too deep for the conditions is one of the most common planting mistakes I see. Whether you use a no-till drill, disc, or broadcast and cover, monitoring seed depth is one of the most important steps in establishing a new food plot crop.
This time of year, we are often asked questions about where to place stands and blinds. I only have one rule about placing stands and blinds: the hunter must be able to approach, hunt, and exit without alerting deer!
This means considering the wind and thermal direction during the time of day when a hunter will likely approach, hunt, and exit the stand. Notice I said “during the time of day.” This seems to be an often-overlooked consideration.
First, I’ll define “thermals” to ensure we are on the same page: thermals are local wind currents caused by temperature differences. Cold air moves to lower elevations and warm air rises. Usually the steeper the topography the stronger the thermals. However, even in relatively flat country, thermal directions are often more important than wind direction, especially during the early morning and late afternoon.
There are several stands and blinds at The Proving Grounds that are best hunted during either the morning or afternoon due to thermals – but not both. For example, there’s a stand where I tagged a doe and passed a buck we call HighRiser last fall. It’s located on the lower slope of a steep ridge.
During a cool or cold morning, the thermals are moving downhill because the stand is mid slope. The stand is 20 yards down the slope from a very mature white oak. We approach this stand from the downhill side before daylight and tag deer from it every year. We keep from alerting deer by only hunting it during cool or cold mornings when the thermals will be flowing down the slope. Depending on the temperature and cloud cover, we usually need to exit this stand by 9:30 +- am. By then the air has usually warmed to a point it’s now flowing uphill – directly to the normal path of travel and food source for deer.
We only hunt this stand during the mornings because during the afternoons it’s usually warm enough that the thermals are rising and we’d alert deer while approaching the stand. HighRiser, the buck I passed from this stand last year, is still alive and is now on our hit list. Because he wasn’t alerted from this stand last year there’s no need to believe he’ll avoid the area this fall!
Hunting deer that have recently been alerted rarely results in success. To avoid this, consider how to approach, hunt, and exit stands and blinds without alerting deer. If deer don’t know a predator (hunter) frequents the area, they tend to spend much more time there!
Enjoy Creation (and use thermals to your advantage),