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>>GRANT: Hunting is a great way to get outside and enjoy Creation and to provide some great tasting venison for your family. And as part of that, well, harvesting does can be a tool that’s necessary to improve both the herd and habitat quality and provide that great source of protein.

>>GRANT: Unfortunately, doe harvest has dropped off throughout much of the whitetails’ range and some of these drops are very significant – down 10, 20% and that has resulted in degrading habitat.

>>GRANT: Not just food plots being browsed to the dirt, but also degrading the forest habitat where they’re eating the preferred food and allow junk stuff, like sweetgums, to grow.

>>GRANT: This is what we call the browse line. They’re browsing this level.

>>GRANT: This is probably the most obvious on some public lands where there’s no forest management, there’s a closed canopy forest and that deer herd has been allowed to increase a little bit and it’s just, basically, wiped out all the valuable or palatable species.

>>GRANT: Where on private lands where people haven’t done any forest management, or maybe it’s a lease and they can’t do any forest management, and they’re planting the same amount of food plots that they have for years and used to those plots were productive. But now a few weeks after they’re planted, they’re browsed to the ground.

>>GRANT: This may be most obvious during the two stress periods – late summer and late winter. Of course, late summer, deer are kind of changing from vegetation. A lot of it has been browsed. They’re going for carbohydrates. They’re going for acorns or grains.

>>GRANT: And late winter the native vegetation has hardened off. It’s not that palatable and they’re focused on those planted crops, and they can just wipe them out.

>>GRANT: And when they do during the late summer or late winter, that deer’s body condition can decrease rapidly.

>>GRANT: Now is a good time to take a look around. If your food plots are browsed to the ground, it’s probably going to be a long winter for the deer and there’s no chance they’re going to go through the whole winter and express their full potential because they’re short of groceries. They are not getting enough nutrition and that results in a lower body condition and that damage, or that decreased condition, can last for years.

>>GRANT: In those situations, and where it’s possible, folks need to consider creating more acres of food plots and maybe changing how they manage those food plots, doing some timber stand improvement, harvesting more does, or – my favorite – do a combination of all three.

>>GRANT: The question we receive frequently is how many does should I harvest per unit area, per square mile or every hundred acres or something like that. But we can’t answer that without more information, more site-specific information.

>>GRANT: For example, is the primary native vegetation species, the ones that are most preferred by deer, are they browsed heavily, or the food plot is browsed heavily all throughout the year, not just during that late summer/late winter stress period? Or are the average body weights declining?

>>GRANT: Let us say your whole doe body weights – where it used to be 100 or 120 pounds. And now that average is down to 90 pounds. That means there’s too many deer for the amount of groceries where you hunt.

>>GRANT: Another consideration is you may have been on a pretty steady program of harvesting does, but none of your neighbors are harvesting does. And deer home ranges usually overlap property boundaries, so, you may have to increase the harvest to compensate for your neighbors not harvesting enough does.

>>GRANT: She’s down.

>>GRANT: I want to be clear. This isn’t a message to say, “Everyone go harvest enough does.” But if the herd quality and/or habitat quality where you hunt is low, or seems to be declining, it’s going to be necessary to harvest some does.

>>GRANT: There are many considerations here, but one I don’t think many hunters consider is parasites. Most parasites have a cycle where they go in through the deer when the deer is browsing on food. And they repopulate in the gut or the digestive track and come out in feces and the cycle repeats.

>>GRANT: Well, these parasites only go so high up the vegetation. So, if deer are hungry and they’re basically browsing your food plots or the native vegetation to the ground, what I call lip high. It’s about as close to the ground as a deer’s lips can get. They’re getting a mouthful, literally, of parasites. And those parasites have a negative impact on the deer’s health.

>>GRANT: As a matter of fact, it’s pretty well accepted and shown by some research out of Texas that if you significantly reduce the amount of parasites in a deer, that’s an easy 15% gain in antler size. And we talk about antler size, but that also means fawn health, milk production and everything. So, if deer are browsing everything down lip-high, you just need to assume those deer are full of parasites.

>>GRANT: So, let’s assume that’s a solid case for the need for a lot of us to harvest does. But then I hear resistance because folks say, “Well, Grant, I’m afraid I’ll harvest too many does.” And I understand that. Man, I love deer; everybody loves deer. We don’t want them to go away, but there are many real, tangible, factual examples.

>>GRANT: For here, during 2012, there was a massive EHD outbreak. We were doing a bunch of camera survey work at the time, and it appears about 1/3 of our deer herd died in a four- or five-month period. I mean, our deer herd just decreased by 1/3 in one season, and that was painful.

>>GRANT: And certainly, that next fall, we didn’t take any does. And then the following fall, two years later, we just took a few for the freezer. But by that third year, after we had lost 1/3 of our deer herd, both bucks and does, they were back to where they were before EHD and we had to get hurried up on the bus, get out there and start tagging some does to preserve that habitat quality.

>>GRANT: Another point I’ll make when I’m talking about EHD – and this happens over and over. A couple years after a really bad EHD outbreak, typically, some of the largest bucks harvested in the area occur.

>>GRANT: And that’s because that deer population got set back a good bit and there were plenty of food for the survivors and they were allowed to express their full genetic potential.

>>GRANT: You know a good example here is a buck I tagged a few years ago we called Handy. Big, beautiful buck here in the Ozark Mountains – way bigger than average for the Ozarks. It was a few years after that 2012 EHD outbreak here at The Proving Grounds.

>>GRANT: Now, we’re growing some great deer still. But we do a lot of work to improve our habitat. Without that, there wouldn’t be any chance of seeing more Handys running around here.

>>GRANT: A reason people often give for not wanting to harvest does during the early season is they’re afraid the fawns will still be nursing. And, in fact, that may or may not be true. Some of the late-born fawns, really late-born fawns, likely are still nursing. Remember, fawn birth – the dates when fawns are born are on a U-shaped curve. There will be some really early – in the northern latitude, so early that they don’t survive the cold. And then there’s the bulk of them in the middle. And a few will be really late.

>>GRANT: And if you see a really small fawn, don’t try to tag that doe. But the rest of them, they may try to nurse, but their functional ruminants, they’re making a living off of vegetation. They’re just spoiled from getting that free meal.

>>GRANT: And the states know this. The states are setting doe harvest season based on when it’s safe to harvest does and those fawns survive.

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>>GRANT: I’ve worked with a pile of private properties and hunting clubs during the past decades, and I will tell you from watching this over and over and over. If you need to harvest does to improve the habitat where you hunt, you need to start on opening day. If you wait much later, there’s a really good chance you won’t meet your doe harvest objective.

>>GRANT: And if we could see a show of hands, I would bet the vast majority would say, “You know what? We rarely harvest the amount of does that our club or this property or whatever it is set out to harvest that year.”

>>GRANT: People wait for many reasons and then they fail to harvest enough does as necessary and the habitat quality and herd health quality continues to decline.

>>GRANT: There’s a whole bucket of excuses for people to not harvest does and another one is, “Well, I don’t want to harvest a doe until I’ve harvested a buck. I’m afraid I’ll harvest a doe and that big buck’s just getting ready to come around the corner.” Or “I don’t want to harvest does and then the bucks go, ‘Well, there’s no does here, or not enough. I’m going to go the neighboring property to chase does during the rut’.”

>>GRANT: Both of those are false. We’ve shared many hunts here where we harvested a doe that morning or early during the afternoon hunt, in an effort to get our doe harvest objective, and an hour or so later we harvested a good, mature buck.

>>GRANT: I’ll share with you from my observations, a harvested doe laying there in sight of the hunter is probably the best attractant any time of season to bring a buck in.

>>GRANT: Deer don’t think about death like humans do. They’re just smelling a doe that still smells pretty fresh and, even not in the rut, they’re going to kind of come check it out, nudge, it, look at it.

>>GRANT: The other half of that debate is about, “Boy, I need a bunch of does to circle around to bring the bucks in.” I think you’re thinking like a human instead of a deer there. You know, you hear, if you’re young and still chasing – I’ve been married a long time. And man, there’s a big, ole party over here and I’m going to go over there and see if I can’t, you know, get a date or something like that.

>>GRANT: Deer don’t think that way. They’re thinking about safety. That’s probably why they do a lot better than humans do in a lot of cases.

>>GRANT: Deer have great fidelity to their home range. Even bucks during the rut. Now, don’t confuse that. Their home range is what they do throughout the entire year.

>>GRANT: They probably live in a smaller core area outside the rut. But during the rut, they’re going to expand that and try to cross trails with receptive does. But they’re not going out of their home range because they’re very fearful. They don’t know where the coyotes are or the roads are, the stands are, the blinds are. And the number one motivation for a deer is survival, not the rut.

>>GRANT: In fact, just the opposites are true. If the doe population is extremely high and there’s not that many bucks, especially mature bucks, what’s going to happen is, during that pre-rut or rut, there’s going to be so many does receptive at one time, a buck is going to pair off with that receptive doe, tend her, not move very much, get up from that a day or two later, find another receptive doe, spend time tending her.

>>GRANT: If you’ve got a pretty balanced adult sex ratio, a buck is going to find a receptive doe, tend her, then have to move more to find a doe that’s receptive. And in those situations where the deer herd is close to being balanced – the adult sex ratio is close to being balanced – that’s where I have my best pre-rut and rut hunts. That’s an area where grunting, decoys rattling, those techniques work very well because there’s some competition for the does.

>>GRANT: Another excuse in the bucket carried by those folks that don’t want to harvest does is, “I don’t want to harvest them early. I’m afraid they might be nursing, or I’d ruin my hunting. And I don’t want to harvest them late because they may have been bred.”

>>GRANT: Unless you’re a way better deer biologist than me, I can’t just look at a group of does out there in the food plot during the mid or late season and tell you which one’s been bred, or which one hasn’t. You can’t work around that. That’s just part of hunting at that time of year.

>>GRANT: And the goal is to balance the amount of deer, the deer population, with the habitat’s ability to provide quality forage. If not enough does are removed, even if a doe has a fawn, it may not survive due to low-quality groceries or if it does survive, it will never express its full genetic potential. Research has shown this time and time again.

>>GRANT: Really good conservationists, good deer managers work to balance the number of deer in an area with the habitat’s ability to provide quality groceries.

>>GRANT: Especially now this year, when I look at the price of meat at the grocery store and all the concerns about food products and insecticides and all these things going on, I consider it a privilege to be able to harvest does to feed my family.

>>GRANT: Of course, I’m excited to chase bucks. Man, I’ve got a good buck on the property this year – several – that I’m out there chasing and trying to pattern. But I’m going to fill the Woods’ family freezer and help some of my neighbors with some venison from mature does.

>>GRANT: Of course, we’re going to consume that buck when he’s harvested, if he’s harvested. But does are a big part of offsetting the cost of our groceries.

>>GRANT: I want to share one last thought that’s not based on deer biology or improving habitat management. But I think it’s critically important for hunters – there’s a lot of new hunters out there today. And I want to tell you, if you’re just waiting for a buck, you might get bored. But even more importantly, when you’re harvesting does to improve the habitat and provide some high-quality venison for your family, you’re doing something that’s not talked about a lot.

>>GRANT: You’re getting repetitions or practice. You’re getting calm. You’re – you’re knowing how to stay calm and move when you should and not move when you shouldn’t. You’re settling that pin or crosshairs just right. You’re completing the whole harvest process.

>>GRANT: And the more you do that, the calmer you will be when that buck of a lifetime walks out. If that buck of a lifetime walks out, and you’ve never fired that shot before, if you’re like me, man, I was so nervous, I was bouncing in the stand.

>>GRANT: Providing that fresh venison and helping improve the herd and habitat quality also is great practice for when you get to punch that buck tag.

>>GRANT: [Whispering] I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited.

>>GRANT: We’ll be sharing our hunting techniques whether we’re chasing some venison for the freezer or a big, ole buck throughout the fall. And if you’d like to learn our techniques week by week, based on weather conditions and food resources, stage of the rut, please keep watching GrowingDeer.

>>GRANT: Managing habitat, hunting and even processing and consuming the venison, is a great way to enjoy Creation. But more importantly, I hope you will do what I do and take time every day to be quiet and seek the Creator’s will for your life.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.