Drought at The Proving GroundsAugust 3rd, 2010 by Grant Woods
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,