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By C.D. Denmon
The Fundamentals of Quality Deer Management
Every year hunters head for the woods with hopes of tagging one big whitetail to put on their wall. Most of these hunters however, settle for the first buck that comes by them, but lately this trend has been diminishing by leaps and bounds. Why? It's because of the practice of Quality Deer Management that has caught the attention of sportsmen all over the country.
The philosophy of QDM is to allow younger bucks to live to reach a more mature age and to level the ratio of bucks to does. This is a practice that began in the Southeast United States and Texas.
It was once believed that you needed to own large tracts of land to be successful at QDM, but as of lately this has been proven to be false. While practicing QDM on large parcels of property will certainly make it more successful and easier, it isn't necessary. It is possible to help establish a quality deer herd on as little as 100 acres.
Even sportsmen that own only a few acres are getting co-operatives going by getting adjoining landowners to work together and restrict what deer they harvest and how many. This is a practice that has really taken off through out the country and has shown great results.
In an area that I hunt there is such a co-operative working right now. Between several landowners and hunting clubs there is approximately 3000 acres under a quality deer management program.
The program entails having a minimum antler restriction, harvesting mature does, and planting quality food plots for deer to forage on. Several years ago before this was practiced the average buck was a 1-1/2 year old spike. Now the average buck is carrying 6 or 7 points with several deer ranging in size from 8 to 13 points. This year alone I observed three 8 point bucks on the property that ranged between 120-140 class Boone & Crockett while others had the opportunity to observe a 10 point and the13 pointer. Not bad for Pennsylvania.
Once you have a property established to practice QDM, what does it take make it successful? The answer is dedicated hunters. Without having hunters who are willing to pass up smaller bucks when the moment of truth has arrived, the program will never work. Everyone must restrict their harvest and trust the others to do the same.
For many areas practicing QDM, the minimum antler size must be a 6 point with a 12 inch spread. These restrictions allow for most of the 1-1/2 year old bucks to be passed by. Another important factor is to harvest only mature does. This allows for more of the younger does to breed and reduces the chance of button bucks being killed mistakenly for young does. This allows a greater number of bucks to make it to the following year.
Once a young buck has been allowed to survive past his 1- 1/2 and 2-1/2-year-old mark, there is an excellent chance he will age even longer since he was allowed to smarten up a little. This is where an antler-spread restriction is helpful. It is very possible and in many instances there are 1-1/2 year old 6 point bucks but their antlers are somewhat narrow. As they become older the antler spread will increase so by having a spread restriction in addition a point restriction the chances of a larger racked 1-1/2 year old deer making it to the following year will also increase greatly.
Can QDM work on public ground? The answer is yes. In areas such as Dooly County, Georgia quality deer management practices have been in place for quit some time and has had some exceptional results. Dooly County's minimum antler size of a 15-inch spread began in 1992 after nearly a decade of debate.
As predicted, the first year of enforced antler restrictions, buck harvest dropped nearly 25%, but that number rebounded the following year. On the third study year there were 29 bucks taken that were 2-1/2 years old and 64 that were 3-1/2 years old or older. These numbers compared to a total of 124 bucks taken prior to the restrictions explains the success of Dooly County. Studies also concluded that harvested bucks that were 2-1/2 years old or older increased by 50% under these new guidelines.
Before the County's new laws were in place 2 out of 3 hunters agreed with the idea of an antler restriction. At the end of the study 9 out of 10 hunters wanted the antler restrictions to remain in place.
Dooly County also increased the length of their doe season in addition to the buck antler restrictions. At the end of the study the doe harvest was slightly lower than prior to the study. What did change after those three years was the fact that nearly 50% of the doe harvest consisted of does that were 3-1/2 years old or older. While the yearling kills were reduced by nearly 50% as compared to pre-study years.
Also, in a few State Forests in Pennsylvania DCNR has established Quality Deer management programs and are seeing a substantial increase in the harvesting of bucks ranging from 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 years old. These older bucks are not only older but have exceptional racks to go with them. These programs also include an increase in the antlerless harvest. These special regulation areas are seeing a similar result that Dooly County had several years ago.
There are three things deer need to reach a trophy status. Age, Food and Genetics. Organizations like the Quality Deer Management Association emphasize on these three essentials to have quality bucks.
Age of course is the most important. If a deer is not allowed to reach maturity or near maturity his potential will never be known. Allowing those younger bucks to go by will give that buck another chance to reach that potential.
Food is the next most important. Without high protein foods, deer can never maximize their body weights or antler size. In addition to protein, bucks especially need calcium and phosphorous to aid in antler growth.
One important thing to remember is that as a buck grows older a certain percentage of his diet will go into increasing his bodies bulk while the rest will go into antler development. Once a buck reaches maturity and his body has reached its peak weight, those additional nutrients will go into his antler development and hence the buck will produce more antler mass.
The last is genetics. It was once believed that "once a spike always a spike". However, many studies through out the country have proven that this is not necessarily the case. A few extra years with good feed could turn that little spike into a wall hanger. Even if a spike buck bred a doe it is not necessarily true that the offspring would have inferior genetics and be a spike like that of the sire. Even if the father never becomes much more than a spike, the offspring may still have the potential to reach trophy class relatively early in life. Studies have indicated that the doe carries 50% of the genetics that will determine the buck's antler potential.
So if the doe was an offspring from a Boone And Crockett buck, those genes can still be passed down. Just like in humans when certain physical traits skip a generation and then re-appear later. The same thing also happens in whitetails.
In coming years these same types of proposals will come to the Pennsylvania hunter as well. What is being discussed right now is an antler restriction and an October doe season to replace the December Doe season.
Most sportsmen understand the fundamentals behind the antler restriction but why a doe season in October? Yes, one of the reasons is to harvest more does earlier in the year. This will in turn intensify the rut and allow does to be bred closer together and earlier in the year.
The reasons for making does breed closer together and earlier are quite simple. The earlier a doe is bred, the earlier it will give birth. This will allow more time for the fawns to reach peak weights before entering their first winter. With the nutritional stress being reduced off the young bucks they will produce larger antlers their first full year of antler growth.
The Idea behind having most of the fawns being born close together is a tool against predation. The longer the period is that fawns are being born in, the more opportunities that predators have to kill these young fawns. If the fawns are born close together there would be too many fawns at one time for predators to reach and more fawns would be able to reach the speed and stamina levels to outrun such predators as coyotes.
For some reason the idea of quality deer management has been slow moving in this region of the country. Nearly every other part of the country is practicing QDM and all are having successful results. Maybe it's because old traditions and habits are hard to break or perhaps some hunters fear any change at all.
One thing to remember with any quality deer management program is that the first year or two will be hard on the hunter and he may not fill his tag at all. But, the rewards later on can be phenomenal. With the feed and genetics that are present in Pennsylvania, there would be no need for hunters to travel to far away states in search of trophy bucks. There would be plenty right here in Penn's woods.
Following Up On Your Shot
By C.D. Denmon
In nearly every hunting magazine on the market today, there are articles giving details on how to take a deer, but few lend any advice on how to find the deer once the shot has been made.
Most sportsmen today have no trouble in finding deer and most of those hunters are successful at taking a deer. Hopefully the shot was perfect, but what if the shot was less than perfect? Do you have the knowledge and capability to track an animal for long distances successfully? Most hunters would say yes, but unfortunately their sense of pride may override their actual ability to track an animal successfully.
Questions Like, "How long do I wait to begin tracking? How can I determine where I hit the animal?" and "What signs do I look for to help me find my deer?" All are valid questions that many hunters have today. The idea of loosing a deer because of a poor shot is a scenario we all fear and strive not to live through, but unfortunately things happen. So here are few tips to help you find your deer if something bad happens in stand this year.
1. Always wait in your stand. Never push an animal too soon. Give them ample time to bleed out. Note the direction the deer headed and where you saw it last.
2. First go to where the deer was standing when you shot it and look for an arrow, blood and hair. Study the types of blood and hair you find and this will help indicate where the animal was hit.
3. If you know the animal was gut shot, wait 6-8 hours before tracking. A deer hit in this area of anatomy has the ability to run for miles and will often times die as a result of poisoning from the digestive fluids than from actual blood loss.
4. Always move very slowly and quietly when tracking wounded game.
5. Always follow to one side of the blood trail and mark where you find blood so you can return to it later if you loose the trail.
6. Check the sides of trees, bushes and high grasses for signs of blood, (this will also tell you the height of the wound on the animal).
7. Check which way the blood is splattered to determine which way the deer is traveling. This is a good clue if the deer doubles back on its own trail.
8. Look for abnormal scuffmarks and overturned stones where perhaps the deer may have stumbled.
9. If you loose the blood trail, mark the last spot you found blood and begin a circular search pattern. Begin with a small circle and continue to increase the size of the circle until you find blood again.
10. If there is no blood where you shot the deer, move in the direction where you saw him last. If there is still no blood begin a circular search pattern.
11. Just because you haven't found blood doesn't mean the deer hasn't been hit. The bleeding may be internal and if the shot was high it may take a while for the chest cavity to fill before it begins to leave a blood trail.
12. A vitally wounded deer will most often run down hill when possible. Although there are exceptions to this rule.
13. A gut shot deer will most often seek out water.
14. Wounded deer will head for heavier cover to bed down.
15. A wounded deer will most often run with its tail down.
16. Keep help to a minimum. The help of more than one or two hunters should be avoided. To many people trudging through the woods can deter finding the deer by destroying valuable sign.
17. Use such tools as lanterns and spotlights to help find blood and hair. The use of trailing aids like game finders and products that make blood fizz or glow in the dark are also great ways to help find your deer.
18. Never give up until you feel you have exhausted every effort to recover the deer.
Lung hit: Blood that appears frothy with bubbles.
Liver or Kidney: Very dark blood.
Gut or intestinal: Blood that has particles of vegetation.
Heart and arteries: Blood will appear a dark maroon color (like the liver or kidney).
Flesh wound: Blood will appear a light red.
Side and neck: Hair is short and fine (1-3/4 inches) brown with black tips and gray near the bottom.
Brisket: Hair is curly, up to 2 inches long, stiff and are whitish-gray with black tips.
Shoulder: Hair is wavy up to 2-1/2 inches long with two bands of black near the tips and brown through the rest.
Heart: Long and fine usually 3-1/2 to 4 inches in length, black tipped, tan below and the rest gray.
Stomach: Hair is slightly wavy, coarse and up to 2-1/2 inches long and will usually be all white.
Hindquarter: Wavy hair usually 1-1/2 inches long with brown and black tips, gray below that and gray at the bottom.
Chest: Hair is fine and wavy, usually about 1-1/2 inches long. They are black tipped with black or tan, followed by a tan and a grayish-white at the base.
Linda' s Column
By Linda Burch, FireTacks
To FireTacks Site
And the Bears Laughed
Stupid Bears. On second thought, since I had spent so many hours this year hunting bears who clearly had me patterned better than I had them, I'm probably the dumb one for hanging in there after getting skunked for so long. I hate to lose. When I want something, I intensely pursue it, using every ounce of brain matter I can muster. With each defeat, I pop back up swinging with a repertoire of new strategies, together with a renewed attitude. It's a good thing I'm undaunted by failure or Id be a nut case. It had become evident that the rascally bears had won again.
I am sitting here in a ground blind, typing on my laptop on this penultimate day of Minnesota bear hunting season. It rained all day for baiting, moving stands and working around camp, and only let up when I got settled in my blind. This ground blind is the last in a series of tactics I've tried to outwit bruins who seem to be more clever than I am. Besides the ground blind, I brought both my rifle and my bow, and I'm hunting over a "dummy bait". This wee bait is the haute cuisine of what I know these bears like, with barbeque beef, venison, a mallard, hot dogs, butter, honey & breads The dummy bait is 100 yards from my main bait and situated on the bears approach trail. My Mom, always the biggest fan of my critter hunting, sent along a concoction of grease and ham drippings which burns in the distance. I did a bacon honey burn while setting up the baits and blind, as a dinner bell to announce the chow, since its been four days since I was able to hunt last. I think I've become the worlds first bear hunting expert who never actually killed a bear. I certainly must be the most tenacious and creative bear hunter. I'm secretly thinking I might even be the stupidest for continuing on with what seems to have become a comically hopeless mission. Besides being a great wind block, the ground blind allows me to move around without being detected. The version I have is one of those "up in five seconds" jobbies, but the manufacturer could give warning that the blind snaps open and startles the new user like one of those spring snakes in a can. A brisk wind can send them flying too, with the hapless hunter giving chase, tripping over logs and briars to catch the blind before it launches like a camo weather balloon. And best not to use the three legged stool that comes with the blind unless you like tipping over and getting folded up in the thing. Besides a deer snorting at the sudden appearance of my camo teepee, the woods was again devoid of bears tonight. Tomorrow there is snow in the forecast.
Baiting began August 10th and tomorrow, October 14th, the season closes and with it I will have logged over 150 hours of stand time. Perhaps I should have quit long ago, when the reality of nocturnal bears was a certainty. However, I have a couple of very large bears on my infrared camera and just knowing they were there spurred me on. Also, were back to that "hate to lose" thing again.
The nearly two months of bear hunting in Minnesota cover an amazing span of climatic conditions. Baiting begins at the hottest time of year, our dog days of August. The woods is lush and thick, tropical, mosquito infested, and very green. Staying scent free is a challenge but it is easy for a hunter to disappear into the landscape of a thick woods. By Labor Day, summer screeches to an brupt halt and the chill of Fall snaps at our fingers and toes while on stand. By October, the trees have shed their leaves and the forest takes on that stark pre-winter look that makes tree stand and hunter stick out like a sore thumb.
This year I figured I did everything right and hence felt confident I would shoot a bear for sure. After all, last year I did everything wrong and saw a bear the second week. Talent and ingenuity are great, but if the bear isn't there, you can't kill it. This year, I did bacon burns, honey burns, and burns of various other concoctions. I tried no burns, thinking the bears associated burns with my presence. I hung small scent rags with various bear and deer lures. I hung deer sausage from the trees. I used a radio or one of my stinky t-shirts at night to tempt the bears to come out during the day. I tried every combination of molasses, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, restaurant grease, powdered sugar, fruit loops, gummy bears, red licorice, anise, vanilla, liquid smoke, pastries, donuts, bread, donut holes, watermelon, canned apples, my homemade applesauce, tomatoes from my garden, venison and mallards from last years hunts, scrap from my deer kills this year, french fries, corn on the cob, soy sauce, bacon, dog food and beggin strips, peanut butter... and that's all I can remember off the top of my head. I tried moving the bait, moving my stand three times, and making a portable bait crib out of logs. I tried the two man fake where someone dropped me at my bait and drove back to camp on my ATV. I tried hunting from early, mid and late afternoon, always staying until I could not see to shoot. I used scent free shampoo, body wash, clothing and rubber boots. I tried fox urine on the boots. I tried leafy wear and various other camo patterns. I always tried to enter and exit my stand in silence so they would not detect me.
On week three of hunting, and after baiting four days before, I anxiously wheeled my ATV up the muddy north trail to my bear bait site while the diminishing rain pattered on my hat brim and yellow rain suit. As expected, the logs over my bait pit were strewn about like tinker toys and several inches of water stood in two foot deep hole. I shoveled out the water, replaced the bait platform, and filled the hole with donuts and sweets. Replacing the logs was precarious in the mud, but once done I decided to trace the bears approach trail in hopes of locating another stand near his staging area. After twenty paces, I heard a low sustained guttural growl 30 yards ahead in the thick swampy cover. I stopped in my tracks, my hair standing on end as I stifled the urge to wet my pants. I had no gun, no knife...what was I thinking? I have no fear in the woods, but realized I had been just plain stupid to not know that this bear had claimed ownership of my bait pit and would certainly be bedded nearby. I backed away slowly, did a hasty about face and tried to walk normally back to my ATV. In my mind, I wanted to run like one of those cartoon characters with the whirling legs. Beads of sweat began to form on my neck, and once aboard my ATV, I hauled back to camp to get ready for the afternoon hunt. My rifle looked much more comforting than my compound bow after getting growled at by my intended prey. The rain picked up again, so I donned rain gear and began my 1/4 mile stealth approach to my stand. The final 200 yards took me 15 minutes to traverse in absolute silence. Once settled in my tree, the rain became torrential. There is something strangely comforting and peaceful about sitting in a tree stand in pouring rain. The rain let up and gave way to a few rays of sunlight and hoards of voracious mosquitoes. As the woods grew dark, I called it a day and walked without a flashlight back to camp. I imagined at one point that my bear was following me, so took the safety off my rifle and poised the firearm for a quick dispatch if the need arose.
Hunting continued into weeks four, five and six. But you know, when those big old bears are nocturnal, its darn near impossible to coax them into coming out during the day. I am the poster child for that fact, and I have the healthiest well-fed bears in Kanebec County to prove it. They had me pegged and would stage in the swamp and wait for me to leave. I had become a zookeeper.
"Dare To Be Stupid"
By Linda Burch
Thankfully I was hunting alone this particular weekend so there were no witnesses. I couldn't go to sleep the night before because I was so excited about the following mornings archery hunt. Reaching to smack the snooze button on my alarm clock, I got an unexpected adrenaline rush when I instead connected with an inverted trail marking tack. Stupid tacks. After the bleeding stopped, I scurried about like a red squirrel to get into my cammies on and gear loaded for the morning archery deer hunt, only slamming my shin once. Rain the night before had turned to mist and the walk to my stand was silent, close and very dark. Once into the deep woods, my trail tacks had virtually disappeared from the moisture, with only a couple of my FireTacks being visible. I returned to the FireTacks many times to get my bearings, but after 45 minutes of wandering around lost in the dark unable to find my stand, every deer for miles undoubtedly knew there was a fool in the woods. As dawn brought clarity, I found the stand I had placed a month before, near a funnel along a thick tag alder swamp. I got in quietly and was determined that my luck would change. Once settled, I promptly sliced my thumb on a broadhead, the first time ever. Bleeding like a stuck pig, I sat there sucking my filleted digit till the sun came up, wondering if there was any truth to the rumor that female blood worked as a scent lure for whitetails. My question was soon answered as several curious (and I'm sure laughing) deer downwind of me wheezed and bolted. Of course I forgot band-aids, so after wrapping the lacerated appendage in toilet paper, I sat and mused at the dead silence of the woods, wrought by my numerous and audible blunderings.
My own blood and I are good buddies but fortunately, a high pain threshold keeps things in perspective. One benefit of being deep in the woods when a tree drops on your leg, a hammer connects with your thumb, or a limb whacks you in the head, is the unbridled freedom to express the pain via primal screaming. Plus, the hyperventilation of a good sustained howl quickens the endorphin rush that numbs the pain. More than once, my local adopted grandpas who own land near me, have come tearing up my road on a tractor or ATV to be sure my death cries weren't real. I don't cuss and swear, but hollering to high heaven is therapeutic for pain much like the Bradley method is to childbirth. I have the same patterns of cuts and bruises on my shins at age 49 as I did when I was 10 years old. My dear non-hunting husband just shakes his head and chuckles when I come back from up north and do a cat walk to show off my latest contusions.
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