Finding Skulls vs. Sheds
Filed under: Hunting Blog, White-tailed Deer
The 2nd Annual Shed Hunt at The Proving Grounds occurred last weekend. We had identified 96 bucks using Reconyx cameras during the 2010-11 season. To date this spring we have found 60 antlers, including seven skulls. That’s almost a third of the antlers that could be on the property! I think that is a huge success considering:
- Some of the bucks are still carrying their antlers based on recent trail camera images.
- Some of the bucks were harvested on neighboring properties.
- Some of the bucks most likely shed on neighboring properties.
- Coyotes and other critters have probably moved or consumed some sheds.
The shed hunt attendees all understood these factors and joined us in celebrating the success of our hunt!! However, there were questions about the number of skulls (7) found. All of the carcasses we found were totally decomposed or consumed. There were only skeletal remains and most of the smaller bones like ribs had been consumed by predators. Therefore there was no evidence as to the cause of death.
There are gads of causes of mortality for deer. In most areas, the most common cause of death is hunting. Predation by coyotes is a close second (and maybe the primary cause of death) in some areas. Deer also are commonly killed by vehicles (not a common cause of death at The Proving Grounds as there is very little road frontage). Deer die as a result of injuries from fighting. Often wounds they receive from fighting become infected. Deer are wounded by hunters and are not recovered.
The bottom line is that non-hunting mortality is a huge factor in deer management. The rate varies from property to property. Good managers learn to account for the non-hunting mortality at their properties and adjust the hunter harvest accordingly. We found 60 total antlers this year at The Proving Grounds, 14 attached to skulls. That means there were 46 sheds (a minimum of 23 bucks, but not all the sheds we found were matches). Taking into account the single sheds we found, it appears we had a 20% non-hunting mortality rate. I expect that is a bit high. Remember, skulls are easier to find than sheds because they are larger and simply easier to observe.
Research from Mississippi State indicated that in the herd they were studying there was about 10% non-hunting mortality annually. That number is probably higher now given that coyote populations are much higher in many portions of the whitetails’ range. So, don’t be surprised if you find about 10% or more skulls. Shed hunting is just another fun tool managers can use to monitor a deer herd.
Growing Deer together,