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>> GRANT: Deer hunting strategies during the late season are often much different than the early season or during the rut.
>> GRANT: There’s a lot of reasons that hunting strategies need to change. Maybe expectations need to change because there’s been a big harvest in your area, and there’s simply not as many deer out there available to hunt.
>> GRANT: Here in Missouri, the vast majority of deer harvested are harvested during our rifle season which occurs during early and mid-November.
>> GRANT: Another reduction in the deer herd, especially bucks, is simply injuries. Sometimes bucks fighting can cause an injury that can put that deer down for a while or even be fatal. So, there’s just fewer deer come the late season for several reasons – car accidents, predators, all those reasons combined.
>> GRANT: When you give that, sign becomes a little bit more relevant because there’s not as many deer making the sign.
>> GRANT: Let’s switch sides and talk about the biology of does this time of year.
>> GRANT: Now in most areas throughout the whitetail range, the peak of rutting behavior has passed. Most does have been bred and they’re on a food/cover, food/cover pattern.
>> GRANT: There will be some adult does that weren’t bred. Maybe they were injured or something prevented them from being bred, and they’ll cycle again about 28 days later and then again – they’ll cycle up to two, three, four times. Research has clearly shown that.
>> GRANT: Often, the bigger pulse of breeding behavior during the late season is fawns – female fawns – becoming receptive.
>> GRANT: Depending on where you are and the average body size in that area, when female fawns reach about 60 to 70 pounds during this time of year, they will reach puberty and become receptive.
>> GRANT: That’s certainly the case here at The Proving Grounds. We have high-quality food plots and high-quality native vegetation, and we often get trail camera images, or see while we’re hunting, mature bucks nudging obvious female fawns around the area.
>> GRANT: Based on this simple biology, you may wonder why deer don’t breed year around. Some of those female fawns, they won’t achieve that weight to reach puberty until June, July, August – something like that – depending on the habitat quality. Well, it’s a fair question and there’s an easy biological answer.
>> GRANT: Let’s start on the male side.
>> GRANT: One of the primary hormones is testosterone. And it’s low during those summer months and then coming into the fall and day length, the amount of sunshine each day, is starting to decrease a little bit. Well gosh, they’re gonna shed velvet of their antlers, and their necks are gonna swell, and they’re gonna start scraping and rubbing and fighting. A lot of that is driven by the testosterone level. And it’s gonna go up and down daily. Maybe they get in a fight or lose a fight or sense a receptive doe but it’s not dropping below a certain threshold.
>> GRANT: Once it drops below that threshold, there’s a lot of changes in the body of a deer – hormone speaking. And one of those changes is they will shed their antlers pretty quickly after that testosterone drops below that threshold.
>> GRANT: Once the antlers are shed, well, bucks can still breed successfully. They’re still producing viable semen. But that drive certainly decreases once that testosterone level starts hitting towards the bottom of the trough.
>> GRANT: One the female side, their reproduction is also strongly influenced by hormone production. And there’s gonna be a certain timeframe where viable eggs are produced, and then they’re gonna pass out of that and they’re gonna go in either nursing fawns, if they had a fawn, or just feeding and surviving.
>> GRANT: So, there’s a natural rhythm, typically based on the amount of sunshine each day or the lack thereof, that controls those cycles.
>> GRANT: Taking all this biology into account, we know that when we get towards the later season, there’s fewer bucks, fewer does that are gonna be receptive, and all of them are focused on food to survive the winter. Therefore, knowing the best food sources in the area where you hunt is central to your hunting strategy.
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>> GRANT: It sounds like hunting this time of year is like shooting fish in a barrel – find the food, find the deer. But with deer there’s always factors that make it more difficult.
>> GRANT: One of the primary factors this time of year is there’s simply not as many minutes of daylight each day. You know, winter solstice a few weeks before, few weeks after – those days are really short and it’s easy for deer to move under the cover of darkness.
>> GRANT: Another complicating factor can be they’re built to take cold temperature relative to wherever they are. Deer store body fat – more in some places, less in others. They grow really long hair – longer in some places, shorter in other places – but they’re dressed for it to be cold relative to that area.
>> GRANT: And when it’s warmer than normal, it’s uncomfortable out there moving. It would be like me. It’s a warm day today. I don’t have a big, heavy coat on. I would be uncomfortable if I was wearing a heavy coat, and when that’s the case, it’s just more comfortable for deer to move when it’s dark and cooler than out in the sunshine.
>> GRANT: Moreso than in humans – at least myself – that change in temperature and the environmental factors also determines what deer eat. Now, I can eat ice cream 365 days out of the year. Even when it’s cold, I enjoy a nice dish of ice cream. Deer not so much. Right? They can’t adjust the thermostat. They can’t control that environment like we do.
>> GRANT: So, when it’s really cold outside, they certainly seek high-energy foods so they’ll have more energy, develop more body heat. That may be grain, corn, soybeans, if there’s still acorns present. When it’s really warm – I mean warmer than normal – they want greens. Like we might have a nice salad during a warm day, but they’re again, can’t control their environment, and it’s more important for them not to build as much body heat because it takes energy to dissipate that body heat.
>> GRANT: Knowing that, I do change where I’m hunting this time of year based on the food sources I believe are most attractive to deer day by day based on the temperature.
>> GRANT: Now if you’re in an area where there’s nothing to eat but one thing, they’re coming there no matter the temperature. But it may be at dark when they get there.
>> GRANT: As I mentioned, the bulk of their breeding activity has been completed throughout much of the whitetails’ range now. Deer are focused on survival, and that means being very efficient.
>> GRANT: You know during the pre-rut or rut, oftentimes we talk about hunting travel corridors or knowing places where deer are going from one big block of woods to another. But they don’t need to travel all that time looking for a date during this season – food/cover. So, I’m looking for bottlenecks or travel corridors that link those two resources – not linking bigger resources like going from that farm to this farm.
>> GRANT: Hunters gotta be on their game this time of year because we’re late in the hunting season. Deer have been hunted for quite some time, and they’re very alert. Those old heads are up; they’re periscoping; their nose is going all the time.
>> GRANT: Early season you can probably get away with a bit more. Late season, young and old deer have been pursued now for quite some time – two-legged and four-legged predators. You gotta be on your game. You gotta make sure that approach, hunt, and exit is not alerting the deer in the area you’re planning to hunt. And that exit can be really difficult this time of year.
>> GRANT: Let’s say you’re hunting this food plot and right at dark you’re just packing up your stuff, some deer pour off the ridge here and get in the plot. How do you get out of there without alerting deer and saying, “Oh we gotta wait till later to come here tomorrow; we need to avoid that area at that time of day.”
>> GRANT: Our favorite tactic is having someone come pick us up. That’s not always possible. Then we default to howling like a coyote, maybe snorting really loud. We want the deer to associate the noise with something besides humans.
>> GRANT: The final strategy I want to share is one I’ve used successfully many times throughout my career.
>> GRANT: We all talk about weather fronts, so I’m very keyed into the weather. Most people talk about “the front’s coming, the front’s coming.” I’m just as concerned as when the front passes, especially if it’s a way cold – a really cold front that hit.
>> GRANT: Let’s say the temperatures get 20, 30 percent colder than normal. Not 30 degrees – 30 percent colder than normal. Man, that’s cold, and deer just huddled up, and sometimes it takes more energy to get up and go feed. These are heat vents under their legs, and when they stick those out, well, that’s really exposing a portion of skin that doesn’t have much hair on it. You’ve seen that when you dress deer. So, you lose a lot of heat. Sometimes they’re just gonna lay bundled up – kinda like, “Oh, I don’t wanna get out of the covers here. I’m nice and warm. And let that front pass.”
>> GRANT: And as soon as it warms up on the backside, there will be a massive feeding frenzy; and I find there’s a pretty good relationship. The more it is below normal temperatures for that day – literally that day – and the longer that period lasts, the heavier that feeding frenzy will be on the backside of the front.
>> GRANT: It’s important to consider deer biology throughout the entire season and actually throughout the entire year if you’re managing the habitat.
>> GRANT: But during the late season, boy, things are narrowed down – you can’t make many mistakes – and using deer biology to help plan your hunting strategy can be a huge key to getting some venison in your freezer.
>> GRANT: Short days make it a little bit more challenging to get outside and enjoy Creation, but they sure are great moments when you do because you’re cooped up inside the rest of the time.
>> GRANT: I hope you have a chance to get outside and enjoy Creation and, more importantly, take time everyday to be quiet and listen to the Creator and His will for your life.
>> GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.