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T.R.' Tips: White-tailed Deer Management

September Deer Management

By T.R. Michels

In the northern and mid-latitude states September is the Pre-Rut/Rubbing Phase and Transition Phase. All of the deer are bulking up for the rut and winter; feeding on alfalfa, clover, green forbes (wild flowers), ripening soybeans and corn in some areas, and mast (acorns, beechnuts). Put out mineral licks and deer attractants in areas where you want deer to come to during the hunting season.

Early in the month the bucks should be shedding velvet, and creating rubs and scrapes near late summer nighttime food sources. They may be still traveling together, and may begin sparring at this time. Later in the month both the bucks and does may move to fall home ranges. With their testosterone levels rising the bucks are less tolerant of each other, fighting may begin, and the buck groups break up as the bucks begin to establish breeding ranges. Scout to find out where the deer currently are; watch food sources for feeding deer and sparring bucks to determine what the bucks look like. Continue clearing deer trails, and shooting lanes. Hang portable stands for the archery season and build permanent stands for the gun season.

Age and Antler Size

If you want to see more large racked bucks in your area the first thing you have to do is use a little restraint. You must let the young bucks go so they can grow. I often hear hunters complain that they see nothing but small racked bucks in their area. These hunters often wait patiently through the season for a big racked buck to appear. Then, instead of going home empty handed they end up taking a small racked buck. If this pattern continues year after year those hunters will see nothing but young, small racked bucks, because the young deer never live long enough to grow large racks.

Deer experts used to believe it took 4 1/2 years for a whitetail buck to develop a trophy rack. It is now believed that a whitetail doesn't achieve full body size until it is about 7 1/2 years old. Until then much of the food and mineral a buck takes in is used to develop bone and muscle mass. Once the buck is fully mature excess food and mineral can be used to develop antler mass, and many hunters equate antler mass with a high score. A close look at any scoring chart will reveal that it is the number and length of tines that makes up the majority of inches needed for the rack to score high enough to enter the record books. The difference between a massive rack and a thin rack might only add 10 inches, which is 1/14 of a 140 class buck, not enough to really matter.

Milo Hanson's world record whitetail has several tines with extremely long points and main beams, with a good spread, but it is not massive. The length of the tines is what made it the new world record. Game officials aged the buck at 4 1/2. Obviously it had superior genetics, and it lived until it was 4 1/2 years old. It is conceivable that a 3 1/2 year old buck could make the archery record book but most trophy bucks are over 4 1/2 years of age. In many areas bucks don't make it past their first year, and the chances of a 2 1/2 year old buck making the book are slim. If you want to see more trophy bucks you have to let the 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 year old bucks go, so they can grow. By letting the young bucks grow, and taking does, you not only keep the herd below carrying capacity, you increase the buck to doe ratio in favor of bucks. Eventually you will have more older bucks, which may translate into more trophy deer.

This article is an excerpt from T.R. Michels' Deer Manager's Manual available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more White-tailed Deer Hunting Tips. 

 

August Deer Management

During August the bucks may be traveling to food sources together, and getting ready to shed velvet. Its time to begin clearing deer trails, shooting lanes and stand sites for the hunting season. Its also time to start your archery practice.

Social Balance and Carrying Capacity

When we are talk about ideal social conditions in deer management, the buck to doe ratio should be close to one buck to one doe (1:1). However, in areas where this type of management has not been practiced the buck to doe ratio may be as low as one buck to five does (1:5). Keeping the buck to doe ratio in balance helps increase the number of older bucks in the herd. It can also improve the social ranking, health and reproductive rate of the herd. A herd of 100 deer with a makeup of 50 percent bucks and 50 percent does will not increase by 100 percent per year, because some of the does will be too young to breed, and some too old to conceive. Even if each doe produces twins the natural mortality rate would keep the increase below 100 animals.

If you are trying to increase the number of older bucks in the area you must remember that the habitat can only carry only so many deer, it makes no difference if they are bucks or does. The herd must also be kept in balance with the carrying capacity of the habitat, in order to keep both the habitat and the animals healthy.

Let's assume that there are 100 deer with a 50:50 male to female ratio, and the property has a carrying capacity of 150 animals. If every female produces twins, and 3/4 of the young survive the herd is now above carrying capacity of the land with 175 animals. To prevent habitat destruction and starvation up to 25 deer should be removed; either through natural mortality, predation or hunting. If half the young are male and half females, and no natural mortality or predation occurs the male to female ratio must be kept in balance by removing 12 males and 12 females the next year. This will keep the herd at carrying capacity. But, the herd should be kept below carrying capacity. By keeping the herd below capacity you insure that if a severe winter, drought or habitat destruction occurs the animals may still survive.

In many cases hunters only remove the males from the herd, which can be disastrous. If 25 bucks are removed from the herd there will be 37 males and 62 females, leaving 99 deer. Some of the bucks shot will be 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 years old, and they will never have a chance to become dominant breeding bucks. But, the real problem is that there are now 62 does that can conceivably produce 124 young with a 75 percent survival rate, increasing the herd by 93 the next year for a total of 192, with 83 bucks and 109 does. Because the herd is above carrying capacity, habitat destruction is likely to occur. If the hunters again remove only males, by taking 42 bucks, there are still 109 does instead of the original 50. If the practice of taking only bucks continues there will not be enough mature males left to ensure that all the does will be bred during the peak of the rut; some late born fawns will starve or die of exposure, and the population may crash. Even if the population doesn't suffer, the number of older bucks will decline; in order to produce more older-aged bucks some of the does must be taken each year.

If the habitat is at carrying capacity and the herd is balanced (as many hunters want it to be), equal numbers of does and bucks must be still be removed in order to keep the herd in balance with the habitat. If the herd is kept below carrying capacity there may be enough forage even if the harvest quotas are not met; if production is higher than normal; or if forage production is reduced by unforeseen circumstances. The best strategy for responsible deer management is to keep the herd below carrying capacity, and the male to female ratio as balanced as possible.

 

This article is adapted from the Deer Manager's Manual; and from the Deer Addict's Manual, Volume 1, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more White-tailed Deer Hunting Tips.

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July Deer Management

By July most of the does should be done fawning. The fawns should be growing and following their mothers some of the time. The bucks are growing racks, and all the deer should be feeding on preferred foods.

Planning Ahead

Any type of deer management should take into account several different factors; herd size, buck to doe ratio, age structure of the herd, fawning rates, type of habitat, available food sources, seasonal use of the habitat; and hunting success by age, and sex. One of the first steps in deer management should be to determine the size and makeup of the herd. A fairly accurate count of all the animals should be taken to determine buck:doe ratio and fawning rates; to determine if the herd is in balance with the available habitat, so that overuse of the habitat by the deer does not occur; which could resulting in habitat destruction, poor nutrition, starvation, disease, stress, and poor reproduction and growth of the deer herd. You can start to produce a socially balanced deer herd: 1. By keeping the herd at or below the carrying capacity of the habitat. 2. By balancing the buck to doe ratio of the herd. 3. By ensuring that there are adequate numbers of both sexes and all ages classes of deer in the herd, so that maximum breeding occurs at the appropriate time of the year.

You can find out how many deer there are in the area by having several different people counting deer in different areas, at the same times, on several different days or nights. Be sure to determine the sex of all adult deer, and count all of the fawns. While you may miss some deer using this method, if you use the highest number of deer seen during any one time, you will have a fairly good estimation of the size and makeup of the deer herd n your area. You can also ask your local game managers how many deer they believe there are per square mile in your area. The game manager should also be able to tell you the carrying capacity of the land.

In order for any deer management program to work hunters and game managers must realize that:

1. The habitat can carry only so many deer, it makes no difference whether they are bucks or does. Once the number of deer exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat there will eventually be habitat destruction, which can lead to disease, stress, and starvation of the deer. Or the deer, particularly younger bucks, will leave to find more suitable habitat, making them susceptible to injury and death by natural causes, hunting, or vehicle collisions.

2. Once the carrying capacity of the habitat has been determined, the total number of deer should be kept below that capacity, so that there is adequate nutrition in winter, and in case of forage and habitat loss due to natural causes.

3. Because the habitat can carry only so many deer, and one of the goals of deer management should be to ensure that there are appropriate numbers of both sexes, and all age classes of deer, one of the first objectives should be to balance the buck to doe ratio of the herd. The best way to increase the buck:doe ratio is to remove some of the does. In order to keep the buck:doe ratio stabilized an appropriate number of both bucks and does should be removed every year.

4. To increase the average age of the bucks in the herd younger bucks must be allowed to reach four to five years of age, which is when they should be the dominant breeding bucks. It may be four to five years before there are significant numbers of older bucks available to achieve all the breeding at the proper time.

5. The oldest and youngest deer, and bucks that are exhausted from the rut, are usually the weakest and the first to die. In order to keep weaker deer alive when they are under stress their health needs must be provided for. With the threat of infectious diseases, the best way to provide for the nutritional needs of the deer is through habitat improvement, and food plots; not through supplemental feeding.

6. Increased deer attraction to a particular property, improved survival and fawning rates, and increased body and antler size can be achieved by providing adequate cover and water, planting deer forage and browse, and providing year round minerals. Supplemental feed can be supplied (only where CWD and TB are not a concern) in the winter and early spring when deer are stressed.

This article is adapted from The Deer Manager's Manual, and the Deer Addict's Manual, Volume 1, by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more White-tailed Deer Hunting Tips. 

 

June Deer Management

Milo Hanson's World record whitetail has several tines with extremely long points, and it has long main beams, with a good spread, but it is not massive. The length of the tines is what made it the new World Record whitetail. Game officials aged the buck at 4 1/2 years old. Obviously it had superior genetics, and it lived until it was 4 1/2 years old. It is conceivable that a 3 1/2 year old buck could make the archery record book, but most trophy bucks are over 4 1/2 years of age.

In many areas bucks don't make it past their first year, and the chances of a 2 1/2 year old buck making the book are slim. If you want to see more large racked bucks you have to let the 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 year old bucks go, so they can grow. By letting the young bucks grow, and taking does, you not only keep the herd below carrying capacity, you increase the buck to doe ratio in favor of bucks. Eventually you will have more older-class bucks, which may translate into more larger racked deer.

That being said, scientific studies have shown that antler point restrictions, whereby hunters judge the approximate age of a buck by the number of points it carries, may actually lead to smaller racked bucks in the future. In other words, antler point restrictions alone, used to increase the size of the racks on the bucks in the herd, may not work.

What the study showed is that hunters may not be able to judge the age of the bucks by the size of its rack, and that some yearling bucks with larger than normal racks for the area may be harvested by hunters (who may believe they are shooting older-class bucks. When high numbers (over 50%) of the large-racked yearling bucks are harvested it leaves only the smaller-racked bucks to survive.

These smaller racked bucks may be genetically programmed to grow small racks, and pass on that trait to their offspring, resulting in the yearling bucks producing smaller than normal racks (for the herd, or as opposed to previously harvested bucks) at 2 or 3 years of age. They may also pass on their small-rack genetics to their future offspring, resulting in smaller racked bucks in future years.

This study suggests that hunter should learn to distinguish yearling bucks (from older-class bucks) by their smaller bodies, less developed muscles and rounder faces; and pass up all yearling bucks, no matter how big their racks are. Then, once the bucks reach 3-4 years of age, you can cull the bucks with smaller racks.

If you are interested in more deer hunting tips, or more deer biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at TRMichels.com. If you have questions about deer log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board. To find out when the rut begins, peaks and ends in your area click on Whitetail Rut Dates Chart.

Hunt safe, hunt ethical and God bless you and yours,

T.R.

This article is an excerpt from T.R. Michels' Deer Deer Managers manual available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more White-tailed Deer Hunting Tips. 

Introduction to Responsible Deer Management

There is no question that deer herds must be managed. Increasing human populations, urban sprawl and changing land practices have led to less available deer habitat while deer herds have continued to increase, which has led to an overpopulation of deer in many areas. This has compelled wildlife managers to issue abundant doe permits each year in order to keep the deer herds within the carrying capacity of the available habitat.

The deer management practices of many wildlife agencies revolve around the need to balance the deer herds in relation to the habitat while still trying to keep deer populations high enough for hunting, with hunting as the primary method of deer reduction. The current practice of keeping deer populations high enough that they can be hunted, and the past management practice of bucks only hunting, combined with the belief by many hunters that they should only shoot bucks if they want to keep deer numbers high, is precisely the reason why there are too many deer, particularly does.

It is usually too many does (as in Minnesota and Wisconsin), not too many bucks in a deer herd, that prompts game managers to issue numerous doe permits in the hopes that enough deer will be removed to keep their numbers at acceptable levels. Eventually this becomes a vicious cycle and both the deer and the habitat suffer. The effects of this cycle generally result in low buck:doe ratios and fewer numbers of dominant breeding bucks, which leads to breeding periods that are later, and longer, than they should be, resulting in poor spring survival rates of fawns.

To add to the problem of too many deer, but not enough bucks, the interest in trophy hunting for white-tailed deer has skyrocketed in the past few years. This interest in high scoring whitetail racks by numerous hunters puts added pressure on the already depleted number of large antlered animals, and further reduces the number of available older dominant breeding bucks. Fewer numbers of bucks, particularly older dominants, result in fewer contacts between the does and the priming pheromones deposited by bucks at rubs and scrapes. These priming pheromones are thought to cause the does to come into estrus and help synchronize the rut activity between the does and the bucks. When these pheromones are absent the does may come into estrus from as early as mid-October to as late as January.

In a deer management study by Larry Marchinton between 1981 and 1986, an increase in the buck to doe ratio from 25:100 in 1981-82, to 54:100 in 1983-84 resulted in the average breeding date changing from November 11 in 1981 to October 15 in 1982, almost a month earlier than normal, and the length of the breeding period was shortened from 96 to 43 days. In another study using quality management techniques, the average breeding date occurred almost two months earlier.

This article is an excerpt from T.R. Michels' Deer Manager's Manual available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more White-tailed Deer Hunting Tips. 

Sex, Social Class and Antlers

Sex and Social Class

According to European researcher Anthony Bubenik most ungulates (hoofed animals) have five maturity classes. These can be defined as: kids, pre-teens, teens, prime age and seniors. Each of these classes can generally be separated into male and female groups. Wildlife researcher Brown used four social classes in reference to white-tailed deer defined as: immature, subdominant floaters, group core members and dominant floaters. American researcher John Ozoga combines these terms into what more clearly defines the social hierarchy of male whitetails. These social classes are: kids (1.5 years old); subdominant floaters (1.5-2.5 years old); fraternal group members (2.5-4.5 years old that have not reached maximum body and antler size); dominant floaters (alpha or dominant breeding bucks 5.5-9.5 years old); and seniors (bucks past their physical prime, often non-breeding 8.5 year or older bucks). He further divides the fraternal group members into primary group members (3.5-4.5 years old) and secondary group members (1.5-2.5 years old).

Antlers

Ungulates include animals that produce horns or antlers such as deer, and those that don't such as horses. Generally speaking the horns or antlers of individual species are larger on males than they are on females, causing males to look different than females. This difference in appearance causes the males to be more susceptible to injury and death due to predation and to hunting pressure. Because of this increased predation and hunting pressure males that carry antlers learn how to avoid predators, usually at a young age.

Antlers are shed yearly by male animals, making it difficult to distinguish the males from the females while they males are not carrying their antlers. The absence of antlers makes the males less conspicuous and therefore less susceptible to predation, giving them a better chances of survival throughout most of the year. However, because antlers are used as a means of expressing dominance, and are used to attract females during the rut, they are often present during the rut, making antlered males highly conspicuous and susceptible to predation and hunting.

Prime age males often carry the largest antlers which makes them conspicuous and highly susceptible to predation. Senior males, even though they are not breeding, may still carry large antlers, making them also susceptible to predation. Because their advanced age does not allow senior males to escape as easily as younger males they are extremely vulnerable. Both prime age and senior males must become "smart" to avoid predation and hunting. The older the animal; the less likely that it will participate in the rut, and the more likely it will choose secluded home ranges, travel at night, and limit it's movements to avoid predation and hunting pressure.

In the case of the heavily hunted white-tailed deer, which is prized for large antlers, the males either learn to avoid hunters, or they are shot at and may die. Each year that a buck survives teaches it more about when and how to avoid hunters. Because of this older whitetail bucks are smarter and warier than younger bucks. These infrequently seen older, trophy quality, whitetail bucks usually belong to the "dominant floater" or "senior" class.

Buck Habits

While dominant floater bucks generally participate in the rut, they learn to move at times and places where they are unlikely to be seen by hunters. Senior bucks (which may produce extremely large or heavy antlers) on the other hand, do not participate in the rut and may remain in secluded areas or become primarily nocturnal in their movements. Some younger bucks may also not participate in the rut due to low social class, low testosterone levels, or other factors. I know of several evidences of these non-breeding bucks. Wildlife researcher Valerius Geist reports observing a buck that did not participate in the rut after it was beaten in battle by an older buck. Researcher John Ozoga observed a non-breeding buck that showed unusually high levels of the female progesterone hormone. During my own studies from 1993-1996 there were fewer sightings of subdominant bucks while the dominant bucks were engaged in rutting activity. A twelve point buck that I observed for five years did not participate in breeding activity and was rarely seen during the last year of the study. This leads me to believe that any buck that does not participate in the rut is less likely to be seen during fall hunting seasons.

Because bucks look different they are forced to react differently than does in order to survive. It is also safe to assume that the older the buck is the better it becomes at avoiding predation, hunting pressure and contact with humans. Because predation and hunting have the ability to affect deer health and security they can be considered as "Predatory Behavior Factors." Deer are subjected to predatory behavior throughout the year, however, they are subjected to hunting pressure primarily in the fall. Because of its seasonal nature I refer to hunting, and its associated activities that affect fall deer movement, as the "Hunting Factor." Both these factors, because they have the ability to affect the health and survival of the deer, may cause a decrease in buck sightings during the fall.

 This article is an excerpt from the Whitetail Manager's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more White-tailed Deer Hunting Tips.