Last week I shared the importance of allowing bucks to mature so they can express their antler growth potential (read The First Rule Of Deer Management here). By allowing more bucks to mature, there will be more bucks in the area which usually equates to better hunting.
However, there are lots of areas with a relatively high density of mature bucks, but very few bucks with good antler development. Where does this occur? It is often in areas where no habitat management activities occur. For bucks to express their genetic antler development potential, they must:
- be allowed to mature
- have access to quality forage throughout the year
Big bucks are usually seen where the combines roam. Soybean country. Compare the following maps.
The first shows the distribution of soybeans grown throughout the US and the second shows the distribution of Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young bucks harvested. The correlation is not perfect, but it’s close enough to make the point.
The good news is that soil can be improved anywhere – even if the land you hunt is not shaded on the soybean map. Notice that it’s a long way to any color on the map from where I live (Stone and Taney counties, MO). Even so, I grow great soybeans during the summer and cool season crops during hunting season. This combination has produced some great bucks on my mountainous, rocky property.
Good forage serves two purposes:
- allowing deer to express their potential
- serving as an attractant so mature bucks can be patterned
Ensuring quality forage is available year round is #2 on my top 10 list of managing land to yield mature, huntable bucks.
Growing Deer together,
It’s important to consider how to make a property “huntable” or hunter friendly for mature bucks. For a property to be huntable for mature bucks there are several factors that must be considered.
Have realistic expectations. This is the first step to hunting satisfaction. It is important to understand that having huntable, mature bucks doesn’t mean there will be a Boone & Crockett class buck behind every tree. A buck is mature to me when they are four years old or older. This is because most of their skeletal development is complete and they can use most of their excess resources to produce bigger antlers. Few free-ranging bucks express their genetic potential due to limitations in habitat quality.
Have more mature bucks. To get more mature bucks, immature bucks must be passed and allowed to grow. Dead deer don’t grow. It sounds simple, but some hunters still don’t understand. They harvest a good looking two year old buck and then complain that they never harvest a “monster buck.” They’ve probably harvested several monster bucks. They just shot them before they matured and produced large antlers!
Bucks typically produce larger antlers as they age. Research shows that two and three year old bucks produce, on average, about 50 and 75% of their antler growth potential. It’s not until bucks mature to four years old or older that they express, on average, about 94% of their antler growth potential. To have an opportunity to harvest mature bucks, you must hunt where bucks are allowed to mature. The more bucks that are allowed to live to 4+ years of age, the easier it will be to harvest a mature buck.
Trigger finger management is the least expensive form of deer management. It simply costs less to pass immature bucks than any other form of management for establishing a hunter friendly population of mature bucks.
If you want to tag a mature buck, be prepared to pass immature bucks. Yes, others in your area may kill immature bucks. But, the trend must start somewhere and it is most likely to start with you. Share the education with other hunters in your area. You don’t have to convince all of them, but you won’t convince any of them when gathered around an immature buck you just harvested.
Remember, the first rule of deer management, “Dead Deer Don’t Grow.”
Sadly, Missouri’s turkey season recently ended. However, we feel much better knowing antlers are growing and fawns are dropping! Before long, it will be deer season. With deer season in sight, it’s important that all of our Trophy Rock stations are refreshed and ready for the upcoming growing season.
We keep many of our Trophy Rock sites out all year. Why? Because deer need minerals all year. We want does to be healthy in the winter when fawns are only a few weeks into development. We want to help bucks make it through the rut and the harsh winter conditions. However, deer tend to require larger amounts of mineral during the antler development, fawning and milk producing season (late spring and summer). During this time, it is especially important that all our Trophy Rock stations are full and there is plenty of mineral available to deer.
We prefer Trophy Rock because it has 60+ natural micro and macro nutrients! Deer may only need very small amounts of some of these minerals. However, if these trace minerals are not available to deer, it can keep bucks, does, and fawns from reaching their potential. If you want your deer herd to be healthy and reach their maximum potential this growing season, Trophy Rock is a great start!
I hope you are able to get Trophy Rock out on your property and begin monitoring the results with trail cameras. It won’t be long before it’s time to pattern deer and create the 2017 hit list.
Ever wonder how to pattern and hunt late season deer? Watch how management, strategy, and trail cameras come together for late season success!
Ever walked up to a deer and been shocked at what you find? Watch more behind the scenes video from Rae’s recent hunt that ended with a big surprise!
New Weekly Blog:
Did deer not eat from your newer food plots? Find out what may be the cause and why you should try again this year.
Tip of the Week:
Storing your trapping boots in a Scent Crusher Ozone Gear Bag can help reduce human scent at the trap site.
Watch as Daniel from Oklahoma joins the Kentucky crew. He has to pay the “dues” before having the opportunity to tag one of their hit list bucks! Plus, enjoy the excitement as young Trace Harker pulls the hammer on an Ozark Mountain country buck.
Pops talks at the skinning shed about his hunt! Check it out as he tells the story only as Pops can!
New Weekly Blog: Trigger Finger Management
Check out Daniel’s blog about one of the primary reasons we had such a successful season at The Proving Grounds.
Tip of the Week:
Get ready – cold and snow will drive deer to food plots!
It's never too early to be working on doe management. Watch to see the latest bow hunting success from the Summit treestands. Plus, the habitat management doesn't stop because it's deer season. See how we are boosting our bedding areas for better whitetail habitat.
New Weekly Video Blog: New Developments!
There are new developments in Handy's movements. We may soon make our move to intercept this mature buck. Find out more here!
Tip of the Week:
Weather Watch! Closely watch for passing cold fronts. This is a great time to be in the woods!
Bow season has now been closed here in Missouri for a week. Adam was able to harvest a doe on the last evening, ending the season on a high note. Although it’s only been one week without deer season the preparations for next year have already begun.
Our Reconyx cameras stay out all year long. We are now in the process of taking an inventory of what bucks survived the hunting season and in what condition they are entering winter stress period. This information is valuable for multiple reasons. First and foremost we want to be able to monitor their movements and identify their core areas. This is especially true for the 3.5 year old bucks who will make the hit list for the upcoming season. We didn’t spend our time this fall trying to understand those deer and their patterns of movement. However, now as we prepare for next season we will we use this information to go back and look at trends in movement from those individual bucks that were recorded this past fall. This prepares us for the following seasons as deer are creatures of habit. A buck may move under similar conditions within the same areas from year after year. If we have this information already recorded and analyzed then we can confidently go into our Summit stands the following season.
In addition to keeping our cameras running all year long, we also keep our Trophy Rock Four65 locations supplied throughout the year. Deer need a supply of mineral year round especially during the winter stress period. Setting our Reconyx cameras on these locations allows us to gather the information we are looking for at this time of the year.
Although we cannot chase whitetails during the next few months we are going to actively prepare ourselves for the next opportunity. Make sure you keep your cameras running through the winter. The information gathered from the pictures will allow you to learn more about each individual deer. That information serves a greater purpose in the coming months!
Growing Deer together,
Deer season is almost upon us! One thing I enjoy most while anticipating deer season is checking the Reconyx cameras and seeing what bucks are using the property. Doing this year after year, you begin to recognize bucks from prior years and observe their antler growth or decline. A buck we call, “Handy” has definitely been an eye catcher this year!
Although we can‘t be absolutely certain it’s the same buck we feel very confident it is. Last year he showed up as a main frame 8 point with a couple of small sticker points and we estimated this buck to be 3.5 years old, which means he would get a pass if anyone laid eyes on him while hunting. Handy was very active last fall on our Reconyx cameras. I even had a nice encounter with him during the Missouri rifle season, but rules are rules, so I let him walk.
Fast Forward to this Summer –
July of 2015 was upon us and we were looking through the Reconyx cards to see who we recognized from last year. We were ecstatic when we found a buck that resembled Handy from the previous year. There are several reasons why we believe it’s the same buck. The sticker points are back on the same tines only bigger, the buck is living in the same area he was living last summer and overall the antler symmetry is very similar.
After seeing the amount of growth that Handy has put on in one year, I’m so happy I gave him a pass last fall. It’s not every day we are blessed enough to pass a buck, only to watch him turn into something significantly bigger. Hopefully we’ll get another look at him the coming weeks!
Daydreaming of whitetails,
Deer often take the path of least resistance. They may seem to meander aimlessly when they are browsing, feeding on acorns, etc. However, when they travel from feeding to bedding areas they almost always take the path of least resistance that they don’t associate with danger.
In some areas such as farm country where cover is limited it’s easy to find existing deer trails. Hunters in these areas often place stands along these trails.
In areas where the landscape is primarily covered by timber deer tend to walk in general areas because cover is often similar over large areas. In timber stands that are about the same age there isn’t an obvious path of least resistance.
This scenario can work in a hunter’s favor because it is easy to create a path of least resistance where it’s an advantage to hunters! By using a handsaw, weed eater, backpack blower, and/or a garden rake it’s easy to create a path of least resistance! I’m amazed at how fast deer will adapt to trails created using this simple technique.
Keep in mind deer aren’t going to travel hundreds of yards simply to use such a trail. However, if deer pass within 100 yards or so of an area (but not on a specific trail) they will often adapt and bottleneck down to using a path created as described above.
If you are frustrated because deer seem to wander in general areas rather than use a trail try creating a path of least resistance. It’s a great technique that can help add venison to your freezer!
If deer tend to produce smaller antlers and body sizes where you hunt, Ph.D. student, Eric. S. Michel has some great news for you! Eric presents his research and results and I encourage you to share them with other hunters! Plus, we have some cool buck footage from one of our Reconyx UltraFire cameras!
Tip of the Week:
Make noise now, not later! Time to make your entry points deadly silent. Use gas powered blowers or rakes to clear important paths.