Winter Deer Management: Shed Antlers, Food, Cover, Trapping (Episode 481 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

DANIEL: It’s a busy time of the year for the GrowingDeer Team. Last weekend, Grant spoke at a church in Kansas and today he’s traveling to Pennsylvania to speak at the Great American Outdoor Show. Tyler and I are here at The Proving Grounds holding down the fort.

DANIEL: We’ve got a lot of projects going on right now at The Proving Grounds and one of the things that we’re really looking forward to and getting ready for is Spring Field Days. It’s gonna be March 29th and 30th.

DANIEL: We’ll have speakers talking about trapping, turkey calling techniques; we’ll be sharing the Buffalo System, hunting strategies and much more. Registration is limited to 100 folks. If you haven’t done so yet and you plan on attending the Spring Field Days, I suggest you register today because spots are filling up fast.

DANIEL: Throughout the whitetail’s range, there is a lot of folks hitting the woods looking for shed antlers.

DANIEL: We recently posted a Reconyx image of a half rack buck on our social media pages. There were a lot of comments about people already finding sheds.

DANIEL: We receive a lot of questions each year of folks asking when it’s time to start looking for sheds. The time of year when antlers are hitting the ground is something we pay really close attention to because everyone here at the GrowingDeer Team enjoys looking for shed antlers.

DANIEL: The time of shedding is greatly influenced by a buck’s hormones. When a buck’s testosterone levels drop past a certain level, shedding can occur.

DANIEL: A buck’s testosterone levels are actually influenced by the photoperiod – or the number of daylight hours in a day. There are also other factors that may influence when a buck will shed.

DANIEL: These include stress caused by an injury or a low-quality diet.

DANIEL: Last year, here at The Proving Grounds, we had a very dry growing season followed by a small acorn crop. These factors greatly reduced the amount of quality food available to deer.

DANIEL: Last December one of the hit list bucks we call Herman shed his antler between the night of December 16th and the afternoon of the 17th. The evening of December 16th, Herman showed up on a Reconyx camera and he had both sides of his antlers.

DANIEL: The following afternoon, Grant and Clay were hunting at BPP and they had an encounter with Herman, but he only had one side.

DANIEL: By mid-January last year our Reconyx cameras were picking up a lot of bucks that had already shed one side or both sides of their antlers. Bucks were shedding early because they were physically stressed due to minimal food and harsh winter conditions.

DANIEL: Last season we found a lot of sheds in our food plots or near them. That’s because bucks were focusing their time on those food sources.

DANIEL: This year it was a different story. We had a large acorn crop here at The Proving Grounds. This made hunting very difficult because much of our property is dominated by oaks.

DANIEL: However, our food plot saw minimal browse pressure and there is quality forage throughout most of the property here at The Proving Grounds.

DANIEL: Due to the amount of quality forage that we have, most of our bucks look healthy and are still holding both sides of antlers.

DANIEL: Healthier bucks usually hold their antlers longer compared to bucks that have poor body conditions.

DANIEL: Even though we enjoy finding sheds, we’re glad that our bucks are still holding antlers. That means stress is low and bucks are healthy.

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DANIEL: There are areas within the whitetail’s range where bucks are nutritionally stressed and have already shed.

DANIEL: Grant and Tyler recently traveled to northern Missouri to tour four farms. They helped the landowner design wildlife management and hunting plans for his properties.

DANIEL: It was wicked cold there and I was glad I was at The Proving Grounds because the National Weather Service said the wind chill was forecasted to be negative 30.

DANIEL: This area had already experienced tough winter conditions. The properties were composed mainly of low-quality timber and ag production fields.

DANIEL: These properties had a low percentage of timber present and the acorn crop wasn’t good in this area this year. With little acorn production and knowing that combines are very efficient, leaving little grain on the ground, it was obvious that food was a limiting resource on these properties.

DANIEL: As Grant and Tyler toured the farm, they saw that the timber was closed canopy. And that meant there was little native browse or cover for deer and turkey.

GRANT: Once you look through here, there’s no cover in there. The wind’s whipping right through there right now.

DUANE: Right

GRANT: The only cover they have right now is topography – get over here out of the wind somewhere.

DUANE: Right.

GRANT: You know, you think about spending all night out here.

DANIEL: The previous tenants had left some corn standing for wildlife. However, here it was the end of January and it was already picked clean. There are still several months of tough winter conditions ahead.

DANIEL: The harvested corn and bean fields had tracks all through ‘em, which told Grant and Tyler that deer were hungry and searching hard for food.

DANIEL: Deer that are stressed during the winter months will often not express their full antler development or fawn potential the following year.

DANIEL: The amount of potential that is reduced by poor body conditions is a sliding scale based on how long they’re stressed and to what extent.

DANIEL: In ag country where crops are harvested and cover crops aren’t used, it’s common for deer not to express their full potential as the winter habitat is void of quality cover and food.

DANIEL: The healthiest deer are produced where there is quality forage and cover throughout the entire year.

DANIEL: When we tour properties in ag country, we often recommend that landowners find a way to provide quality food for their deer during the winter months. This may mean leaving a portion of agriculture crops standing for wildlife to feed on, incorporating cover crops or creating a food plot program.

DANIEL: The best option for deer herd and soil health is the use of a good cover crop system.

DANIEL: We’ll be touring more properties in the next few weeks and there is gonna be different habitats and different ways to achieve the wildlife and hunting goals.

DANIEL: The GrowingDeer Team has been working hard this winter setting Duke traps trying to balance the predator/prey ratios here at The Proving Grounds.

DANIEL: Tyler and Owen caught a bunch of critters during the early portion of trapping season using the Duke box trap.

DANIEL: During the late portion of the season, we set out Duke dog proofs.

DANIEL: The dog proof traps do a great job at targeting raccoons.

DANIEL: Running the trap line this morning and really excited because we’ve got our 74th predator here at The Proving Grounds.

DANIEL: It was actually pretty cold last night. We’ve got an arctic blast moving through the Midwest. We’re not as cold as some folks here in southern Missouri. But last night, the temperatures dipped down in the single digits and this ‘coon was probably looking for energy-rich food sources.

DANIEL: We’re using a meaty, smelly bait and it did the trick to get this raccoon in a Duke dog proof.

DANIEL: We’re actually going to be shutting down our traps tomorrow ‘cause trapping season is going to end. But we are super excited because we’ve removed a lot of predators. In fact, I think this is one of our best years here at The Proving Grounds during trapping season.

DANIEL: Tyler and Owen have been working hard every day here at The Proving Grounds running the trap line. But they’re not just checking traps every day. What they’re really doing is wildlife management.

DANIEL: You know, the fur off these predators is a great, renewable, natural resource and they’re also helping balance the number of predators for the number of prey species here at The Proving Grounds.

DANIEL: When you do the math and you add up the number of acres that we have here at The Proving Grounds and the number of predators we’ve removed, we’ve removed about a predator every 30 acres.

DANIEL: Just think of how dense of a predator population we would have of running the Ozark Mountains here at The Proving Grounds if we hadn’t been trapping throughout the entire season.

DANIEL: We know by our Reconyx cameras there’s still predators running around The Proving Grounds. We haven’t removed them all; we’re not just trying to get rid of all the predators here. Our neighbors aren’t trapping as intensively and there’s gonna be predators that disperse onto The Proving Grounds throughout the rest of the year.

DANIEL: The goal is not to remove all the predators. The goal of trapping here at The Proving Grounds is to balance the predators to the prey species so both can thrive.

DANIEL: I’m going to dispatch this raccoon and we’re going to head on down the line.

DANIEL: We continued down the trap line that morning and caught two more raccoons. And that put our final total for the year at 76 predators.

DANIEL: Turkey hens often lay one egg a day for ten or plus days. They then stay on the nest for about 28 days; and then the hens and the poults remain on the ground for 14 days before the poults can fly into the roost. Imagine being a hen with eggs or poults on the ground for 52 days with lots of hungry predators looking for a meal. The chances of poult and egg survival are very low.

DANIEL: Even with quality nesting habitat, hens with eggs or songbirds that nest near to the ground have a very low chance of survival when there’s lots of predators in the area.

DANIEL: To add to this, wet hens produce a very strong odor which makes finding them and their nest very easy for predators. It almost always rains a few days during 52 springtime days.

DANIEL: Studies have shown that where it’s legal, it’s best to trap right before or during fawning and nesting season. That way, predator numbers are reduced right when fawns and poults are the most vulnerable to predation.

DANIEL: Here in Missouri, we’re only allowed to trap during mid-November to the end of January. But during that time, we’re working very hard to reduce the number of predators here at The Proving Grounds.

DANIEL: Our hope by reducing the number of predators is that turkeys and other ground nesting birds have eggs and chicks that then survive and maintain their populations.

DANIEL: There are few trappers left due to the low fur prices. It’s often left up to sportsmen and landowners to trap and help balance the predator to prey ratio.

DANIEL: We always enjoy seeing the fruits of our labor and that means every spring we get to hear and chase toms in the Ozark Mountains.

UNKNOWN: Holy smokes.

DANIEL: What a hunt that was. Man.

DANIEL: When more antlers start hitting the ground here at The Proving Grounds, we’re gonna be sharing tons of shed hunting tips.

DANIEL: If you want to keep up to date on what we’re doing to find sheds, please subscribe to our GrowingDeer newsletter.

DANIEL: Whether you’re trying to improve the food sources and habitat on your property or you’re getting out and looking for sheds, it’s a great time of year to get out and enjoy Creation. But I hope you slow down every day and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

DANIEL: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.