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WHITE-TAILED DEER ARTICLES
Monthly White-tailed Deer Management (top of this column)
White-tailed Deer Biology & Behavior (middle of this column)
White-tailed Deer Hunting Tips (bottom of this column)
T.R.'s White-tailed Deer Management
#1 Pope & Young whitetail hunter Mike Weaver
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,
May 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 Deer Managers manual available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.
This article is an excerpt from T.R. Michels' Deer Deer Managers manual available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.
White-Tailed Deer Biology & Behavior
Whitetail Research 6/10/04
I have learned a lot about wildlife research since 1994:
1. Researchers are learning about game animals so fast that the only way to keep you up to date is to do it in a regular newsletter. The problem with magazines is that by the time the article gets printed the information is probably a year old, and the writers who get hold of research seldom do research themselves or have access to other sources to verify the research they are writing on. The article often leads you to believe that the research project and researcher's findings and conclusions are gospel, and they aren't. 2. Not all game animals react alike. Animals of the same species react differently in different areas and different habitats. 3. Animals of different sexes react to environmental conditions and predatory pressure, especially hunting, differently. Males of most prey species, because they look different from females, are more susceptible to being chased, killed and eaten, therefore they are more wary. The older the animal, especially males, the warier they are and the more they react differently than other animals in the same area.
Case in point. I have two articles by two different writers, both who I know and like. The first article refers to a study by Norb Geissman and Brian Root in the Deer Ridge Wildlife Management Area in Lewis County, Missouri to determine if white-tailed deer actually head for unpressured areas and refuges to avoid hunters during the hunting season. Based on this study the article states that does increased their daily movement during the hunting season by 25 percent, presumably because of the hunting pressure. The does moved about 2 miles a day during the pre-rut and 2 1/2 miles per day during the rut/hunting season. It also states that all of the does, whether hunted or not, stayed within their home range and none of then wandered into unfamiliar ranges, even when hunted, and there was a refuge nearby.
The article goes on to state that the bucks decreased their movement by 20 percent during the hunting season. This was while the rut was on and when bucks could normally be expected to travel more in search of does. The bucks moved about 5 miles a day in the pre-rut and 4 miles a day during the rut/hunting season. The article says that the bucks with home ranges partially in the refuge shifted almost all their activity to the refuge, again presumably because of hunting pressure. (But it said the does traveled more and didn't leave their ranges.)
The researchers found that there were differences in the size of the home ranges of bucks and does (something most of us who hunt already know). The average home range of a buck was 1,576 acres, about three times the size of the doe ranges which averaged 502 acres. A closing statement of Brian Root, who was a student at the time of the study says, "Don't worry about deer moving into areas closed to hunting. Most deer will stay right where they've been all along." (This is exactly the kind of statement I am referring to. And what about those bucks that shifted to the refuge?)
The second article refers to a study by Kurt VerCauteren on the Desoto National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska to determine the size of their home range. In this study the deer ranges averaged 400 acres, although they varied greatly in size. The article goes on to states that most transient deer tended to be yearlings that traveled 12-15 miles off their former home range. Some subadult does traveled 40-50 miles. It then states that old deer become almost invisible because they live in prime ranges where they don't have to move much to find what the need. (Sounds right to me.) Next the article says that, "VerCauteren verified what most hunters know, that whitetails respond to hunting pressure." (Hey, the other guy said they would stay right where they were.)
The Desoto Refuge is near the Missouri River, which separates Nebraska and Iowa. VerCauteren noted that when the hunting season opened in Nebraska some deer swam to Iowa; and when the Iowa season opened some deer swam to Nebraska. (In other words they left the area to avoid hunting pressure.) Once the hunting pressure let up most of the deer returned within two weeks. Those that stayed at home changed their habits too. Eight deer moved to a strip of posted land 60x100 yards and remained there until the season closed. (In other words they headed for a refuge.) The article then refers to Dr. Harry Jacobson who calculated that in the hardwood forests of Mississippi the average annual range of does was 1,820 acres, bucks 3,773 acres, with the largest at 5,500 acres. In the same article Dr. James Kroll is reported to have said that bucks in Alberta may occupy a 3,000 acre core area and travel circuits of 20-25 miles during the rut. (Hey, the other guy said bucks travel less during the rut, about 4 miles.)
The article goes on to say that a study by Thomas Baumeister found that in Idaho's Clearwater River drainage, whitetail deer (including bucks) had small summer ranges of 190 acres in the drainage's upper range. But, in October and November the deer migrated an average of 24 miles to their winter ranges. (He is not saying the deer moved in response to hunting pressure. Presumably the movement was in response to less forage, cold weather or deep snow. But it did happen during the hunting season.) Some of the deer stopped along the way while others traveled straight through. I guess this proves my point. 1. The results of one study in one area don't necessarily hold true for any other area. 2. Not all deer in the same area react the same. Males, especially older ones, are more wary than all other deer and will do almost anything to avoid Predatory Behavior, especially hunting.
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 whitetails 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.
This article is an excerpt from the Deer Addict's Manual; Volume 3 ($9.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels.
How Seasonal Changes Affect Fall Deer Activity 3/29/03
Clouds, fog and precipitation all have the ability to reduce the amount of available light causing daytime conditions to resemble those at dawn and dusk, when deer feel more secure. During my studies, precipitation in the form of light rain, drizzle or snow, and gentle sleet, caused the deer to move earlier in the evening and stay later in the morning than normal, because of a lower relative light factor. During heavy rain or snow, and driving sleet or hail, the deer sought shelter in wooded areas; in coniferous trees if they were available.
Vegetation, because it also limits visibility, makes deer feel secure. Abundant vegetation can eliminate enough light in shaded areas to create the illusion of twilight conditions, when deer feel secure. But, once the leaves fall, less vegetation allows deer to see farther, which causes them to feel less secure. I noticed that after the leaves fell the deer began entering open feeding areas about a half hour later and leaving them a half hour earlier, than they had when the leaves where still on. After the leaves were gone there was more available light in the wooded bedding areas, which caused the deer to remain in the bedding areas longer. It also caused the deer to abandon many trails that were now more open to begin using other, more protected trails along hillsides and gullies, or they moved to trails that were deeper into cover and offered more security.
High or low temperatures, dewpoints or wind-chills that make it too hot or too cold; and heavy precipitation are "Comfort Factors." Wind speed that affects the ability of the deer to smell and hear, and to lose heat; heavy precipitation because it can cause deer to lose heat; and clouds and leaves, because they affect the ability of the deer to see, are all "Security Factors."
Deer movement is governed to a great extent by the availability of food. As food sources become depleted in the fall deer are forced to travel greater distances to locate new food sources. They often shift their feeding patterns to take advantage of preferred foods that ripen or become available during the fall. Depending on how scattered these available or preferred food sources are, and how close they are to individual deer core areas, the deer may move more, or less, than normal. This "Distance Factor" is directly linked to the "Food Factor" and these two together, because of their importance to deer survival, can affect how much time is devoted to other fall deer activities.
The availability of preferred food sources may have a significant affect on dominant buck activity during the rut. Miller reported less rubbing activity by bucks during a year when there was low oak mast (acorn) production. The reduction in rubbing activity may have occurred because the bucks spent more time in search of food and therefore had less time available for rubbing behavior. This could lead to fewer buck sightings near traditional rub routes and scrapes during years of low mast production.
Fewer bucks sightings can also be attributed to the fact that bucks increase the size of their home ranges during the fall. This occurs when bucks begin traveling farther from their Fall core areas as they search for new food sources and does to breed. During a study by Kammermeyer and Marchinton the average range of bucks increased from 71 hectares in the summer to 124 hectares in the fall. In my study in Minnesota the range of bucks increased from 300 acres to 1500 acres. The average daily distance traveled by bucks may also increase during the rut. Bucks in the boreal forest of eastern Canada commonly travel 20-25 miles every five to seven days in search of does. The combination of this "Breeding Factor," and the need to find food causes increased buck movements, and, depending on the amount of distance traveled and the time deer spend in specific locations, can lead to fewer buck sightings.
1. Security needs cause deer to; use available cover or travel in low areas where visibility is limited; move during low light; and avoid predatory behavior when possible. Security to a deer is not being able to see, smell or hear possible predators. The ability of deer to see, smell and hear effectively depends on the amount of light, whether it is from sun, moon, or man made; amount of cloud cover; type of precipitation; shade from vegetation or terrain; and air movement from wind or thermals. These are all major Security Factors
During the fall deer begin to travel more at night as leaves fall from the trees and there are less daylight hours available, which makes them feel insecure, because they can see predators farther away. They may abandon summer trails and seek out heavier cover or low lying and less visible travel routes where they feel more secure.
High winds make it difficult for deer to hear and smell, or to determine the direction of the source of a sound or smell, causing them to stay near bedding sites or move to protected areas.
Conditions that cause a reduction in the normal amount of light (clouds, fog, precipitation) may cause deer to move earlier in the evening and leave later in the morning than normal because they feel secure in low light conditions.
The rut makes security less important, and deer, especially bucks, may move earlier in the evening and later in the morning than normal because of the urge to breed.
Prolonged extreme weather makes security less important, and deer move earlier in the evening and later in the morning than normal because of the need to eat.
2. Comfort greatly influences fall deer movement. High or low temperatures, dewpoints and wind-chills cause deer to seek relief. Temperature, dewpoint and wind-chill; and amount and type of precipitation are all Comfort Factors.
In warm or humid weather deer move to shade, wet areas, or areas open to the wind. They wait until the sun goes down and temperatures drop before moving.
During cold or windy weather deer seek shelter in heavy cover, in low-lying areas, or on the downwind side of hills and woods.
Deer often seek cover in a conifer stand because it provides protection from heat or cold and can reduce wind speed by 50-70 percent.
Clouds trap heat and produce low light conditions. On cold, cloudy days deer move later in the morning and earlier in the evening than normal because the temperatures are warmer at those times and they feel secure in low light conditions.
Heavy rain, snow and sleet can cause heat loss, reduce visibility, and the ability to detect scent. Deer seek cover and often wait until the storm is over before feeding.
During periods of extreme cold deer may feed frequently to maintain body heat. They may get up, but they do not move far from their bedding areas to feed.
Prolonged extreme weather may force deer to move in spite of lack of comfort to seek food. They may migrate.
Deep snow may cause deer to abandon traditional areas to seek conditions where travel is not as difficult and food easier to locate. They may migrate or yard up.
3. Foods with high carbohydrates are sought during the fall to put on fat and get deer through the winter. Nuts, seeds, fruits of domestic and wild plants, agricultural crops of grains and clovers are excellent food sources. Movement is influenced by the location and availability of these foods and the distance to them. The type, quality, quantity and availability of food sources all affect Food Factors.
4. Predatory behavior, whether from animals or humans, cause deer, especially older bucks, to abandon traditional use areas and travel routes. They travel primarily at night and may move to an area outside their home range if they are pressured. They may move during inclement weather when there are fewer hunters around. Unknown movement, sounds and smells, movment, sounds and smells attributed to a predator are Predatory Behavior Factors.
5. Breeding Behavior causes bucks to establish and maintain dominance. Their movements are influenced by the need to make rubs and scrapes in doe use areas and in travel corridors. They travel from one dominance area to the next coinciding with individual doe core areas and food sites. The number of deer in the area, the size of their home range, the buck to doe ratio, and the sex and social status of each individual animal determines their Breeding Behavior.
During the rut bucks travel in any weather condition to find does, even extreme weather when does remain in bedding areas and are easily found.
Bucks spend time locating doe use areas, where they make rubs and scrapes. Does often restrict their movements to specific portions of their range, often near primary and communal scrapes on trails leading to or near food sources.
6. Distance from bedding areas to food sources; availability of cover and travel routes; comfort factors of light, wind, temperature, dewpoint, wind-chill and precipitation; breeding interest; and predatory behavior play a role in determining when deer (especially bucks) begin to leave bedding areas and arrive at food sources.
Bucks traveling through several doe use areas often arrive at food sources after dark, making them nocturnal.
Bucks encountering estrous does forego traveling their route to follow the doe while she remains in estrus; up to 48 hours. The bucks may be late returning to their beds the next day and may rest a day before returning to normal activities.
The farther away, less comfortable, less secure, more pressured and more interested in breeding the bucks are, the longer it takes them to arrive at openings and food sources.
7. Lunar Factors may cause peak deer movement during daylight hours during the Full Moon. The amount of available moonlight, the moon phase, the overhead position of the moon, the distance of the moon from earth, the speed of the moon, and the declination from the actual hunting site, may all affect deer movement and be considered as Lunar Factors.
While Lunar Factors involving gravity and biomagnetics may cause an increase in daytime deer movement, abundant moonlight caused by the full moon may cause deer to spend less time in open areas at dawn and dusk. Lunar Factors may also affect the timing of rut related activities. However, Lunar Factors may be completely overridden when either the rut or the hunting season is in progress. Current weather conditions often override any influence Lunar Factors have on deer movement.
This article is an excerpt from the Deer Addict's Manual. Volume 3, Fall Deer Movement Influences ($9.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels.
Sex, Social Class and Antlers 2/26/04
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).
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.
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.
Understanding the Whitetail Rut
Rubbing, Scraping and Breeding Peaks
Rubbing, scraping and breeding all have their own time frames (which overlap each other), and their own peaks. We've already established that the peak of the rut refers to the peak of breeding activity. Rut related activity in northern areas usually starts when bucks begin rubbing small trees and brush to remove velvet from their antlers, possibly as early as late August or early September. Rubbing may peak in mid-September and generally diminishes throughout the rut, but it may rise again during later breeding phases. Scraping activity may begin as early as the first week of September, but without much activity until mid to late October. Breeding may begin in mid-October, and the breeding curve begins to rise along with the scraping curve in late October. Scraping peaks in mid to late November as bucks continue to make new scrapes and maintain existing scrapes. As breeding activity increases in early November scraping decreases. Breeding in northern areas may be intermittent from mid to late October; fairly continuous throughout November, with peak breeding occurring sometime between the first and the third week of November; and intermittent from early December into January. But, hold on what was that about breeding beginning in mid-October?
My own observations, those of several other writers and photographers, and the studies of Dr. Larry Marchinton in Georgia show that breeding occurs as early as September 24 in northern Minnesota, October 15 in southern Minnesota, October 17 in Georgia, and October 24 in central Wisconsin. Thanks to Marchinton's studies we can actually pinpoint estrus cycles in captive deer. The study was conducted to find out how many estrus cycles unbred does would experience. During the study recurrent estrus ranged from 2 to 7 times. Of the eight does studied one 2.5 year old came into a first estrus on October 17, another on October 24, three 1.5 year olds on November 11, one 2.5 year old on November 19, one 1.5 year old on November 21, and one 5.5 year old on December 1. The last recurrent estrus occurred on April 7.
This shows that, even without recurrent estrus, some does will be in estrus from mid-October to early December, resulting in a breeding period of more than 45 days. In northern areas the breeding period may last in excess of 60 days; from mid-October to late December. In southern areas it may last more than 90 days; into February. In most areas a small portion of the adult does may be bred in October, most of them in November, and a few more in December. This is typical of most deer populations. In northern areas 1.5 year old does may experience their first estrus in December. Doe fawns (5+ months) may experience their first estrus and breed in December, January or February.
Late Breeding Phase
Because of Marchinton's study we know we cannot reliably predict when the late breeding phase may occur. Even if the majority of the does come into estrus at the same time, the research shows that recurrent estrus cycles are variable. Instead of occurring every 28 days as previously thought the cycles ranged from 21 to 30 days. This would make it difficult to pinpoint the late breeding period, especially when coupled with the knowledge that the first estrus of a doe may occur anytime from mid-October to mid-December. Another note of interest is that the does were in estrus from 24 to 48 hours, not the 22-24 hours previously thought. Any buck chasing a doe may spend up to three days with her without returning to its core area.
There are several theories that suggest that the phase of the moon affects the estrus cycle of whitetail does in the northern states and Canada. One writer claims that peak breeding will occur from 5-7 days before the first new moon following the second full moon after the fall equinox (on September 22). In 1997 that full moon would have occurred on November 30, which would be a very late breeding period. Another writer, and two researchers working together, claim that peak breeding will occur from 5 to 7 days after the second full moon occurring after the fall equinox. In 1997 that would have been November 19-21. This is still fairly late in the upper Midwest. Obviously these predictions can't both be right.
The truth of the matter is that whitetails in different areas may breed at different times, because the breeding dates for deer in each area are dependent on fawn survival; and fawn survival depends on warm weather and green forage. Since the whitetail gestation period is 180-210 days (mean length 197-202), deer in most areas breed approximately 6 2/3 months before warm weather and spring forage appears, which generally occurs in late May. In northern areas May is when temperatures regularly stay above freezing, which allows plants to begin growing, and does to produce enough milk for the fawns.
The two researchers mentioned above do state that although the moon may have some effect on the rut, when the appropriate moon phase occurs outside of the normal breeding period, the deer will breed at the normal time, but there may be a longer breeding period with a less noticeable peak. I have checked with local deer researchers in Minnesota and they tell me that peak breeding invariably occurs in mid-November, not the third week of November, or the last week of November. Two friends of mine who raise deer tell me their does are bred every year from November 1-20.
There is good evidence to show that the moon phase predictions are not right. Several years ago I received the conception dates for 1,600 does in Minnesota between 1980 and 1987. Peak breeding for all years combined occurred on November 11, and peak yearly breeding did not very by more than a few days from year to year. This shows that most breeding in Minnesota generally occurs from the first to the fourth week of November, and that breeding always peaks during the second week of November.
Incidentally, during the years of the study, the second full moon after the fall equinox occurred from as early as October 21 to as late as November 27, and it occurred most frequently during the second week of November, showing no correlation between peak breeding and the week after the full moon. In 2001 Dr. Karl Miller presented a research paper showing that there was no correlation between moon phases and peak breeding of does in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina or Texas.
Researchers believe that rubbing and scraping by bucks, and the pheromones left behind at these signposts, help bring the does into estrus and synchronize the rut between the bucks and does. It has been suggested that the pheromones may bring does into what researchers call a "silent ovulation," during which the doe usually cannot conceive. If the priming pheromones at rubs and scrapes cause the does to come into estrus, then the rut should be more synchronized if there are abundant rubs and scrapes in areas where does will come in contact with them. Rub clusters and scrapes often occur in high use doe areas: along travel routes, near doe core areas, in staging areas near food sources, and at the edges of feeding areas, where does are most likely to come in contact with them. When scraping activity begins in mid-October, the pheromones of the scrape may bring the does into this silent ovulation and they experience a normal "estrus ovulation" 21 to 30 days later, from approximately the beginning of the first week to the third week of November, signaling the peak of the breeding period. This scenario makes more sense to me than the moon phase theories.
I have checked my data and found that scrapes regularly appear at or near food sources from October 15 to 21 in my area. Peak breeding in the area regularly occurs from November 7 through the 14; 21-30 days later. Although there may be a correlation between scrape activity and the moon, I don't think the moon is what causes increased scraping in late-October. I believe it is caused by the fact that there are approximately 11 hours of daylight at that time of the year, which affects the hormone levels and breeding related activities of the deer. If you want to know when peak breeding will occur in your area, find out when scraping becomes frequent in doe feeding areas, then expect breeding to occur 21 to 30 days later, or call your local game manager.
Buck To Doe Ratio
The higher the buck to doe ratio is, the more mature bucks there are, and the choicer the habitat is; the more concentrated the deer are, the more priming pheromones there are available to the does, and the more synchronized the rut should be. In ideal conditions there would be one buck for each one or two does in an area. The does would come into contact with the pheromones, the rut would be synchronized, and there would be abundant breeding related activity. Numerous estrus does would be pursued by one or more bucks, and fights would occur regularly. However, in heavily hunted areas the mature buck to doe ratio may be as low as one mature buck for every 4-10 does. The fewer the mature bucks, the less likely the rut will be synchronized, and the less chance peak breeding will occur during any one phase of the moon.
If you are interested in more whitetail hunting tips, or more whitetail biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at TRMichels.com. If you have questions about whitetails 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.
This article is an excerpt from the Whitetail Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels.
This article is an excerpt from the Whitetail Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.
T.R.'s Tips; Hunting White-tailed Deer
T.R. Michels with 168 1/2 " 10 point whitetail
Find The Does
One of the easiest ways to find a whitetail buck during the rut is to find the does. If the deer population is healthy and close to balanced the bucks will find the does during the rut. If you know where the prime food sources are, then you will know where to find the does. Once you find the does you should be able to find their home ranges. Once you find the doe home range you should be able to find a buck’s rub route, rubs and scrapes. And once you find the rub route it is a matter of time and effort before you find the buck.
There are two times during the year when locating does is easy. One is obviously during the fall when the deer are in meadows and agricultural crops taking advantage of the abundant forage. They can also be found in woods where they search for mast crops, but they are often harder to see in this environment. The other time of year to locate does is in the spring when the leaves are still off the trees and the deer begin to look for new green growth and leftover mast from the year before. I prefer spring scouting for does because I like to devote the fall to locating the rub, rublines and scrapes that bucks make. Then I locate the bucks themselves.
After the long winter I always get spring fever, so I begin glassing (using binoculars to look for deer) in April. I drive around the country, checking farm fields at dusk looking for does. Once I find where they are feeding I watch to see where they come from so I can locate their bedding area. Every once in a while I get lucky and see one of the bucks too, like I did April 28 one year. I was out looking for the does near the railroad tracks where I knew they locate to feed. As I drove across the tracks I saw deer about a quarter mile away. I got out of the truck, took my binoculars and got as close as I could. There where four deer; it looked like one doe and two yearlings but I couldn’t tell what the other deer was. As they got closer I could see two inch velvet on the head of the other deer, and knew it was the big eight point buck I had watched all fall. I could also see small bumps on the head of the bigger yearling. As I watched the male yearling got too close to the bigger buck, and the eight point kicked the yearling on the top of it’s back with both front hoofs already exerting dominance over the one year old buck. I keep watching the deer all summer long, so I know where to find them in the fall. .
After I find the does in the fall I start scouting, looking for evidence of bucks passing through. Rubs and scrapes are very evident in the spring and it’s easy to locate the bucks rub route. Once I find the rub route I backtrack it to find the buck’s bedroom. More often than not I will go into the bedroom and spook the buck out but I don’t worry about it. By the time hunting season rolls around the buck will have forgotten about my intrusion and I know right where to find him in the fall.
When I look for does in the fall I use the same technique. By this time I know where the mast crops are and which crops the does will be using. I check the food sources, find the does and then I begin to watch them to see which foods they use and what time they use them. If I can, I sit in a treestand, or get on a high point where I can see a lot of territory. I sit and watch the deer for the next week during both the morning and evening to see when they are most active.
Then I choose my hunting sites based on the knowledge of where the does travel, where they will be feeding and the added knowledge of where I found the bucks rub route. I also make a point of looking for the bucks near their bedding areas, to see what their racks look like and which ones made it through the winter. Once I know where the does are, what food sources they use, where the buck rub routes are, and which bucks are still around, I know where to find the bucks when the rut begins. By watching the bucks from an observation point for a few days I know what time to expect them at certain points along their rub route. Then I choose which stand site to use at what time of the day for the best chance at the buck.
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 whitetails 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.
This article is an excerpt from the Whitetail Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.
Waterfowl Biology & Behavior (top of this column)
Waterfowl Hunting Tips (bottom of this column)
Photo courtesy US FWS
Depending on how they are used, goose calls fall into six different categories: Agonistic, Contact, Intent, Mating, Parental/Neonatal and Social Status. Dr. Cooper refers to the Contact calls as the "Here I am, where are you?" calls. While they are in the air geese call to each other to help keep the family, and especially the juveniles, together. When the family flies it forms a line or a "V" and the birds call to each other to keep in contact. When the family joins other families in a subflock the family usually flies in a straight line with the gander at the front of the family.
The calling of a goose in the air is directly related to the speed of the downbeat of the wing stroke, which is when the goose contracts its chest muscles and exhales. While a goose is flying in formation the tempo of its call is a slow herr-onk...herr-onk...herr-onk. When a goose begins to land, its wing beat gets faster as it backpedals, and the calling is a short, loud, fast clucking sound (cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck) that slows after the birds have landed and regrouped. I have also heard geese make a quiet, drawn out herrr-onk when gliding in to land.
While geese are feeding they perform a contact call hunters refer to as the feeding gabble, or "singing" as it is referred to by wildlife biologists. The call is a deep guttural herr-onk-onk-onk-onk. It occurs while the goose’s head is down and it may not be able to see very far. This call lets geese know where the other geese are, and helps to space the geese out while they are feeding. When young goslings use this call it is a high pitched peep-peep-peep.
Agonistic (as in agonizing/arguing) or Threat Calls are intense and therefore loud, starting out slow and becoming faster. Both the male and the female goose often perform these calls at the same time, with the male’s calls usually lower in pitch than the female’s call. The call is fast and may contain two different notes; herr-onk onk, herr-onk onk, or cluck-uck, cluck-uck. There are three different levels of aggression in geese, each level using the same basic call but defined by different body posture and actions.
Geese on the ground or water use the first level of aggression as other flying gees approach them. The geese on the ground or water extend their neck and head upward, with the mouth open and tongue out, and use a loud herr-onk onk. If the geese in the air do not land in the area occupied by other geese there is usually no further action.
In the second level of aggression the goose calls with the neck extended skyward, but the head is bent toward the ground, and the head is pumped up and down while the goose calls. The action is directed toward a subdominant goose on the ground or water, and the subdominant often moves away from the dominant.
In the highest level of aggression the neck is extended forward along the ground or water and the head is tilted slightly upward while the goose calls. If the subdominant goose does not move it is usually attacked, either by being bitten or slapped with a wing. During all three levels of aggression the mouth is open and the tongue is out.
When a predator or human approaches too close to a goose, especially when there are eggs or young present, the goose may warn the intruder with a Hiss while the mouth is open and the tongue is out.
The Preflight or Intent call is usually performed by the gander while signaling its intention to take to the air to the rest of the family. The call starts out as a slow honk while the bird’s chin is lifted, its bill points skyward and it shakes its head from side to side and flashes its white cheek patches as a visual signal to the other geese. The calling becomes faster as the goose prepares to take flight, and continues as the goose rises into the air, the calling in time with the wing stroke. Once the birds are in the air the calling slows with the wing stroke and may stop altogether.
The gander uses the Triumph or Mating Call in the spring when it has claimed a territory. The call is a loud series of honks performed with the head erect. This excited call starts out fast then slows down as the mood of the goose returns to normal. During the call the neck and head of the goose are extended upward.
There has been little research on parental and neonatal calls of geese, but Dr. Cooper says that both parents respond to the soft peep-peep-peep of the young goslings shortly after they hatch. I have heard adults perform a soft, nasal unk while they were with the young, or as the family fed. I suspect that both these calls are a form of social contact call used between parents and young.
The Social Status or Greeting Call occurs between two family members after they have been separated, usually when the female returns to the nest, or after a male has driven off a predator or another goose that has invaded its territory. The call starts out as a loud slow honk that becomes faster, and then slower and quieter as the goose runs out of air. During the call the neck and head of the goose are extended upward.
Geese do not have an alarm call, but they do have an alarm signal. During alarm the head of a goose goes up into the sentry position so that it can see better, and it becomes silent. As other geese become alarmed by the action of the first goose, or spot the cause of danger, they raise their heads in the sentry position and also become silent.
This article is an excerpt from the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.
Understanding Duck Communication 10/1/03
Some hunters may not realize that communication among ducks and geese is a combination of sound, body posture and action. The meaning of a call may be more related to body posture and action than to the sound of the call. Because it is difficult to duplicate body posture and action you need to understand the call in order to correctly recreate it. According to waterfowl researcher Dr. Jim Cooper there are two major factors that determine the meaning of a duck or goose call; the frequency and intensity of the call. There are two other factors that determine the difference between different species and subspecies of ducks and geese; the pitch and duration of the individual notes of the calls.
The frequency or tempo (speed) with which a duck or goose calls is related to the action of the bird; the faster the motion of the duck or goose, the faster the call. The calling of a duck or goose on land or water is related to how fast it is moving. The calling of a duck or goose in the air is related to the downbeat of the wing stroke, which is when the duck or goose contracts its chest muscles and exhales. When a goose is calling on the ground to keep the family in contact it calling is slow. When a goose is flying, the calling is directly related to the downbeat of the wing stroke, which is when the goose contracts it chest muscles and exhales. When a goose is flying in formation its call is a slow, measured honk. When a goose is pumping its wings rapidly during takeoff or landing it calling is fast. Fast calls are a sign of a rapidly moving duck or goose.
The intensity (loudness) of the call is related to the mood of the duck or goose. The more anxious, excited, irritated or nervous the duck or goose is the louder the call is; taking off, landing, threatening and attacking are situations that may cause a duck to become anxious, which causes loud calling. If a goose is attacking another goose its calling is louder than if it is just threatening. Mating, threatening, attacking, landing and taking off are all intense times for ducks and geese, and their calling is often louder than normal at those times.
When a female duck uses a quack to keep the family together while she's feeding the call is usually soft and slow. When the quack is used to keep the family together while flying the call is louder and faster. When the quack is used to get the family back together after it has been
separated, or by a lone duck trying to locate its family or a flock in the air, the call is louder. When the quack is used as a hen jumps into the air after being alarmed it is loud and fast. When a hen uses a chuckle on the water the call is loud and slow, because the duck is not moving fast. When a hen uses the chuckle in the air the call is faster, because the duck is beating its wings rapidly. When Remember this when you are calling; loud calls may be a sign of an excited duck or goose, or a lost duck or goose.
The pitch (musical tone) of the call, and the duration (length) of the notes of the call, are related to the size of the duck or goose. Generally speaking, the larger the species of duck or goose, the larger its chest cavity is, and the deeper the pitch of its call. And, generally speaking, the larger the species of duck or goose, the longer its wing are, the slower it beats its wings, the longer the notes of its call, and the slower the timing (rapidity) of the individual notes of its call. Although Teal and Mallards use the same basic decrescendo call, the Mallard decrescendo is lower in pitch, and the individual notes are longer and slower than the decrescendo call of the Teal. The call of a giant Canada goose consists of low pitched, long notes, that are medium spaced; herr-onk ... herr-onk. The call of a small cackling Canada goose consists of high pitched, short notes that are quick paced; unc... unc. A study of Barnacle geese suggests that geese within that species, that have wider mouths, have higher pitched calls than geese with narrower mouths. This may be another reason why smaller subspecies of geese have higher pitched calls than larger subspecies of geese.
During the fall most puddle duck hens of the genus Anas (Mallard, Black Duck, Gadwall, Blue-Winged Teal, Green-Winged Teal, Widgeon and Shoveler) use three calls: the Social Contact call, the Decrescendo call and the Incitement call. Drakes of these species use a deeper version of Social Contact call for social contact and as a Mating call.
The Social Contact call is used by a hen to keep the family together, it is also used by hens to make other ducks aware of their presence. The hens of most puddle duck species use a slow, shortened version of their Decrescendo call as a Social Contact call; Mallard hens use a simple quack. This call may contain one or more drawn out notes spaced evenly apart; quaack...quaack...quaack. To imitate this call cup your hand over the barrel of the call like you were holding a bottle, and say quack. Your hand should remain cupped while you say the qua portion of the call; open your fingers on the ack.
The Decrescendo call is used by hens to announce a willingness to pair bond; it may also be used by hens as general conversation. Although breeding doesn't usually occur until spring, the hens use the Decrescendo when they begin forming pair bonds in the fall. The Decrescendo call sounds just like its Latin name implies; it starts out loud and becomes quieter as the duck runs out of air. The decrescendo of the hen Mallard is often referred to by hunters as the hail, high ball, or greeting call. It usually consists of five to ten notes, with the second note being the loudest and each successive note being softer. But it may be longer; I have heard a hen Mallard string seventeen quacks together while performing the decrescendo. To correctly perform this call the first note should be loud (and can be long), with each of the following notes becoming softer quaack-quack-quack-quack-quack-quack. Most callers leave their hand open while performing this call. Eli and Rod Haydel, of Haydel's Game Calls, use a variation of this call with an exaggerated, drawn out first note as a pleading call; and a sharper, more insistent version as a comeback call; quaaack-quack-quack-quack-quack-quack. My favorite calls for hen Mallard sounds are Haydel's DC-87 Double Reed Cutback Mallard, DR-85 Double Reed Mallard and the AD-98 Acrylic Duck.
The hen Black Duck, Pintail and Shoveler use approximately the same Decrescendo call, and the same pitch as the mallard. The hen Widgeon uses a qua-awk; with 1 to 3 notes. For all of these ducks I use Haydel's BVD-96 Variable Tone Mallard. The hen Gadwall uses the same call, but with a higher pitch; for Gadwalls I use Haydel's GW-01 Gadwall Call. Blue-Wing Teal and Cinnamon Teal use a high pitched quack with 3 to 4 notes, and the last two notes are usually cut off short. For teal I use Haydel's BT-85 Blue Wing and Cinnamon Teal call, which recreates the higher pitched sounds of the hens of those species.
Agonistic calls are named for the fact that the animal is agonizing, or arguing. The Incitement call is used by the hen to get her mate to drive another drake away from her; it is a threat call, with the hen telling another duck that if it doesn't leave her alone it may be attacked by her mate. The Incitement call used by hen puddle ducks is usually an insistent rapid call consisting of several short notes The Incitement call of the hen Mallard is referred to as the chuckle or feeding chuckle by hunters. The first time I really began to understand how Mallards used the chuckle was about ten years ago while I was sitting at the small lake near my home feeding geese with my kids; I heard the call and saw a hen mallard feeding with the geese. But, she wasn't feeding she was chasing away a drake mallard. It was quite obvious that the hen was using the chuckle as a form of threat call. I often hear this call in the spring, when two or more drakes are pursuing a hen mallard in flight.
Although the chuckle is not a feeding call, it does occur in feeding situations, where there are lots of drakes near the hens. In order for the hens to keep from being harassed by single drakes they perform the chuckle (telling other drakes that if they don't stay away they may be attacked by the hen's mate). In order to be able to feed or swim in peace the hens use this call to try to get the drakes to leave them alone. Since ducks often hear the chuckle while they are feeding, or as they approach ducks that are feeding (whether they are on land or water), this call can be used to attract most puddle ducks.
When you use the chuckle to bring in ducks, blow it as it is meant, loud, insistent and aggressive. Do not blow it like a welcome to incoming ducks, or as a pleading call to get other ducks to come down and feed. To imitate the sound of a hen performing this call in flight, cup one or both hands over the end of the call, and rapidly say ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka while you blow into the call. To imitate the sound of a hen performing this call while on land or water I say tuck, tuck-tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck-tuck. I cup both hands over the call, and alternately open the fingers and thumb of the hand that is not holding the call, to create the impression of different sounds coming from different directions.
The hen Black Duck, Gadwall, Shoveler and Widgeon use approximately the same call and pitch as the hen Mallard. The hen Pintail uses a softer, more hoarse call, rrrt-rrrt-rrrt. The hen Blue-Winged and Green-Winged Teal use the same call with a higher pitch. The hen Wood Duck uses a high-pitched whistle, wheet-wheet-wheet. I use Haydel's W-81Wood Duck Squealer and WW-90 Wood Duck Whistle for recreating the sounds of Wood Ducks.
The drake mallard Social Contact and Mating call is simply a deeper more reedy version of the social contact call, usually containing two to four notes; raeb-raeb-raeb-raeb. I often hear this call when one or more drakes are pursuing a hen in the air during spring mating flights, and in large flocks in the fall. I also hear it when drakes are just resting on water or land. The drake Black Duck uses the same call as the drake Mallard. The drake Gadwall uses a higher pitched raeb-zee-zee-raeb-raeb. The drake Pintail uses a high pitched whistle, and a burp performed with an outstretched neck, kwa-kwa. The drake Blue-Winged Teal, Green-Winged Teal and Widgeon use a high pitched whistle. For the sounds of these species I use Haydel's MP-90 Magnum Pintail/ Mallard Drake call, which you can use on Pintail, Mallard, Teal and Widgeon. The drake Shoveler uses a woh-woh-woh, or, took'a-took'a-took'a.
Although divers are vocal, calling them is not as important as it is for puddle ducks. When they are hunting divers hunters usually rely on large numbers of decoys to attract the ducks. Because of the way divers approach a landing site you don't often have to work them like puddle ducks that may swing over the decoys several times. When divers do come in to the decoys, I generally use the inciting call of a hen Bluebill, because it is louder than the social contact call of the drake. Once divers commit to landing I put down the call and grab the gun.
Most diver duck hens of the genus Aythya (Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Redhead and Canvasback) perform the incitement call. Hen Redheads use a soft growled err-err. The hen Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck use a guttural arrrr. The hen Canvasback uses a grunted krrr. I imitate the incitement call of divers by using a mallard call and growling into it, like I was saying grrr while clearing my throat.
Drake diver ducks perform the courtship call, which may also be used as a social contact call. The drake Greater Bluebill, Lesser Bluebill and Ring-necked Duck use a 2 to 3 note call; scaup-scaup-scaup. The drake Canvasback uses a grunt or coo. The drake Redhead uses a catlike me-ow. Use a diver duck call to imitate the sounds of these species. Before I owned a diver duck call I used a Mallard call to imitate a drake Bluebill. I said the word scaup (scowp), while closing my hand over the barrel of the call at the end of the sound.
This article is an excerpt from the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.
T.R.'s Tips: Tips Waterfowl Hunting
Photo by T.R. Michels
Flagging is one of the best methods to attract ducks and geese to your spread. I first used a black flag while hunting Bluebills back in the fifties. Then I began using flags to hunt geese in the 80’s. The first flags we used for goose hunting were simply a large piece of black cloth stapled to a broom handle or long pole. Then my good friend Randy "Flag Man" Bartz began designing goose shaped wings and attaching them to a short dowel with fiberglass struts: he called it the T Flag. Eventually he came up with the Lander Kite, a more realistic version of a goose's wings and tail. It wasn’t until later that he added the white crescent to the Lander Kite; and it is the white crescent that revolutionized goose flagging.
The first time I really noticed the white crescent on a goose I called Dr. Cooper and asked him if it was a visual signal. He told me that the white crescent on a goose’s tail serves the same purpose as the speculum on a ducks wing; it causes an involuntary nervous system response to flock; not voluntary, involuntary. When geese see the white crescent they want to get up behind it. When geese see the white crescent below them, looking like a goose landing, and hear the landing call (the fast cluck), it signals to them that other geese are landing. The sight and sound of landing geese makes flying flocks feel secure, and makes them want to join geese below them. Randy "Flag Man" Bartz heard me mention this in a seminar and added it to his Lander Kite, and a flagging revolution began.
The Lander Kite can be used with a short pole, or placed on a long fishing rod to gain more height and visibility. I put mine on a 20-foot telescoping fishing pole. You can attach two or more kites to the fishing pole to simulate a pair of geese. The Lander can also be attached to your gun barrel. When you use flags attached to your barrel you can flag with the gun while you are concealed by the flag. Any movement you make will go unnoticed by the geese, because the flag is in front of you. When you are ready to shoot, shoulder your gun and pull the trigger. For more realism you can also attach Flapperz wings to your goose decoys to simulate geese flapping their wings.
For ducks there are several different models of wind activated and motorized decoys available. However, there is talk of regulating or prohibiting their use in some areas. Research in California shows that while motorized wing decoys may increase the number of ducks hunters decoy, they may also result in higher crippling rates when hunters take longer shots than they should.
I begin flagging as soon as I see ducks or geese in the distance, holding the flag high in the air with one hand to simulate a flying duck or goose. In the other hand I have my call, and I use it. Remember, you want to recreate both the sight and sound of flying ducks or geese. When I am hunting geese, and the birds are far away I flag slowly, and call slow and loud. As the birds get closer I keep flagging, but I start calling faster, imitating the sounds of anxious landing geese and the clucking of threatening geese on the ground. As the geese get closer I bring the flag closer to the ground and shake it with my wrist, like a goose landing. I don’t stop flagging until the geese are within range. I have seen flocks swing away if I stop flagging before they are over the decoys. When the geese are almost in range I drop the flag and the call and grab the gun. Flag Man goose flags and other products are available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog at the back of this book.
This article is an excerpt from the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.
Late Season Goose Hunting 11/5/03
An hour and a half before sunrise I turned the truck onto the road that lead to the hayfield where we hunted geese. As the truck neared the center of the hayfield I slowed down, and I heard my son Dallas say, "I hear geese." I'd heard the geese honking too and said, "Yeah, they roosted on the lake last night. If the wind keeps blowing from the northwest they should fly right toward us when they leave." About an hour later a flock of seven Canada geese came off the lake, heard our calling and saw our decoys, circled the decoys twice, and came in to land. Just before the geese touched down we shouldered our guns and fired, and four geese plummeted from the sky; we had our limit. A half-hour later, after picking up our geese and our decoys, we were on our way home. It's very rare that a goose hunt goes that well, and ends that fast. Sometimes it takes all day to get your limit.
Geese normally rest on lakes, river and ponds during the night, and feed on grass, clover and grain twice a day; shortly after sunrise, and shortly before sunset. The best way to find out where geese are feeding is find out where they are resting at night, and then follow them as they go out to fed in the morning. You can hunt the geese in the afternoon, but most hunters wait until the next morning to hunt. If you do hunt in the afternoon, the geese may not come back the next morning. Geese like to rest on lakes, rivers and ponds during the night, and feed on grass, clover and grain twice a day; shortly after sunrise, and shortly before sunset. The best way to find out where geese are feeding is to find out where they are resting at night, and then follow them as they go out to fed in the morning. You can hunt geese in the afternoon, but most hunters wait until the next morning to hunt. If you do hunt in the afternoon, the geese may not come back the next morning.
Geese prefer to land and take off into the wind, and they prefer to feed out of the wind. The also like to feed in open areas where one or more of the family members can see all around them. When you put out your decoys place them in the middle of an open field, on a hillside or low-lying area out of the wind if you can. Most of the decoys should face into the wind and not more than twenty percent of them should have their heads in the upright or "sentry" position. A goose with its head up is either looking for danger, or has already spotted danger. A lot of geese, or decoys, with their heads sticking up is a sign that there may be something dangerous nearby.
Geese are very family oriented. Depending on which species of goose they are the male (gander) and female (goose) mate when they are 2-4 years old. The young geese (goslings) usually stay with their parents for the first year. They migrate with their parents during their first fall, spend the winter with their parents and migrate with them back to where they were originally raised the next spring. The young females will continue to return to the general are where they were born every year. When the young males mate they follow their female partner back to where she was raised. Many of the goose flocks you see in the fall are made up of related females and their families. When you setup your decoys, place them in family groups, with 5-12 decoys in each family. Separate the decoys in each family group by a foot or more, and separate the family groups from each other by a yard or more.
In order for geese to respond to your decoys they have to see them; five or six stationary, black and brown decoys in a dirt colored field are not easily seen by high-flying geese. You can make your decoys easier for the geese to see by using bigger decoys, using more decoys, placing dark decoys in light brown fields or snow, by placing light colored decoys in light brown fields or dirt, and by using decoys that move. One of the best ways to attract geese is by "flagging." You can flag geese by nailing a 12-inch square of black cloth to a broom handle, and then wave the flag back and forth in the air. When geese see the flag they will often fly closer to investigate. Then when they see your decoys and hear your calling they may try to land near your decoys.
Randy "Flag Man" Bartz decided he wanted a more realistic looking goose flag, so he created the Lander Kite, a triangular piece of dark cloth with a tail, with a white crescent just above the tail. When the Lander Kite is attached to a 20 foot fishing pole and waved in the air, it looks just like a flying goose. By lightly shaking the pole up and down while you lower the flag toward the ground you can make the flag look like a goose landing. Randy suggests you keep flagging until the geese are within shooting range. If you stop flagging they may stop coming, or stay out of range. By using the fast cluck of the honk of the clucking landing
Geese use variations of several different calls, but the calls you should use when you are hunting include the social contact call, the landing call, the threat call and the feeding call. Most of these calls are honking sounds, but depending on how loud and how fast the calls are, they mean different things. When geese are worried or excited they call louder than normal. The Landing and Threat calls are louder than the Social Contact or Feeding calls. The faster the geese are moving, the faster they call. When geese are flying or running they call faster than when they are walking. While they are flying geese normally call at the same time that they flap their wings; the faster their wings beat, the faster they call. When geese flap their wings fast in order to slow down before landing their call is short and fast; when they glide in to land, and don't move their wings, their call is long and slow.
The Social Contact call is used to keep the family together, whether they are in the air or on the ground. Most of the slow honking that you hear when you see a flock of geese flying, or while they are feeding, is the Social Contact call; its usually a two note call that sounds like herr-onk. Use this call when the geese are far off and you are trying to get them to come closer. The farther away the geese are, the louder you may have to blow the call, so the geese can hear it. The Landing call is a louder, shorter and faster version of the Social Contact call, that geese use when they are flapping their wings as they land; it is usually a series of fast, short, one note honks; honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, honk . Hunters often refer to this call as Fast Clucking. Use this call when the geese are close and you want them to come closer and land.
The Threat call is used by geese to tell other geese to stay away; that they are getting too close. It is usually a loud, short, fast double honk; honk-onk. Hunters often refer to this call as the Hut-Hut call. This is the call you hear geese on the ground make as a flying flock of geese gets close to them. You can use this call in combination with the Landing call to get geese to land, because flying flocks almost always hear the Threat call as they prepare to land near another flock of geese. The Feeding call is used as combination social contact and threat call. It helps to keep the family together while spacing the families out while they are feeding with their heads down and they can't see. It is a series of deep sounding, gravely honks; onk, onk, onk onk. Use this call when geese get close, to convince them that your decoys are actually feeding geese.
When geese are in a large flock on land there is a lot of squabbling among families, accompanied by loud threatening honks and attacks. At the same time the geese that are feeding are performing the gabble. Family members that have been separated are also calling back and forth to each other, using the Social Contact, "Here I am. Where Are You?" call in an effort to get back together. All these sounds together make up the sounds of a feeding flock of geese. The more geese there are, the more noise they make. There is not one single call being performed, it is a combination of different calls.
Geese on the ground or water do not pay much attention to geese in the air until it appears that the flying flock may land in the area occupied by the resting flock. The resting or feeding geese may then begin to use the double cluck threat call, telling the approaching geese to stay away and not land near them. The aggressive, threatening double cluck is what the flying geese expect to hear, because it is what they hear from other flocks every time they land. In fact, Dr. Cooper says that the louder, more aggressive the calling is, the more the geese in the air want to land. But, remember, when you are performing the double cluck, you are not asking the geese to come and feed with you; you are actually telling them to go away or they will be attacked. Your calling should be loud and aggressive, not friendly, pleading or begging.
While they are landing the geese are often backpedaling to slow their descent, and they call rapidly in a "fast cluck;
"cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck. When approaching geese hear the fast cluck of the landing call, along with the double cluck threat call, it signals that geese are landing and are being threatened by geese already on the ground, which means this must be a good place to eat. In this sense these calls are like security calls.
Large flocks in the air do not call to locate other flocks, they are only calling to other family members within the flock to stay in contact with each other. But, there are times when geese in the air (often juveniles, or non-nesting pairs) have been separated from the flock. When this happens the may geese use a long, drawn out, pleading honk in an effort to locate the flock; cluck-aaah, cluck-aaah. This is simply another form of the "Here I am. Where are you?" and is often referred to by hunters as the "comeback call."
The best way to understand geese and goose calling is to know what each call sounds like and what it means. Find someplace to watch and listen to geese. Watch the action of the geese as they use the call and the reaction of the other geese. Many hunters listen but they don't observe. If you don't understand what the geese are doing you may misinterpret the call. Pay close attention to the action of the geese while they call and you can learn. An excellent reference is the out of print book (that can be found in larger libraries) Handbook Of Waterfowl Behavior, by Dr. Paul Johnsgard.
This article is an excerpt from the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels.
Duck Calling 10/1/03
Hunters may not realize that communication among ducks and geese is a combination of sound, body posture and action. The meaning of a call may be more related to body posture and action than to the sound of the call. Because it is difficult to duplicate the body posture and action of ducks and geese, you need to understand the meaning of the calls in order to correctly recreate them. Two thing to keep in mind when you are calling ducks is that the pitch of the call, and the length of the individual notes of the calls of different species of ducks, are affected by the relative size of the duck. Generally speaking, the larger the duck, the deeper the call and the shorter the individual notes are. While Mallards, Teal, Black Ducks and Gadwalls all use similar sounding Social Contact, Decrescendo and Mating calls; the calls of Mallards and Black Ducks are deeper pitched than the calls of Gadwalls and Teal. Because of their larger body size Mallards and Black ducks also call slower than Gadwalls and Teal. While most puddle ducks will respond to the calls of a Mallard, if you are primarily hunting species other than Mallards, you should use the right call for the species you are hunting.
When I first see puddle ducks a long way off I use a loud, long hail or high ball call (decrescendo) to get their attention and let them know where I am. I also use loud, long calls on windy days, when the ducks can't hear as well, especially if they are upwind; and when I'm hunting flooded river bottoms, where sound doesn't carry very far. If the birds don't come my way, or if they turn off before the come in, I use a more drawn out version of the decrescendo, to try to convince the birds to come my way. While I call I watch the birds. If they respond to the call I'm using, I keep it up. If they don't respond I try something else: a loud decrescendo; a soft decrescendo; a long, drawn out decrescendo; a string of short quacks; or a chuckle, whatever it takes. Sometimes I quit calling all together, to see if that works.
Once the ducks get within a hundred yards or so I use softer, shorter hail calls and slow, loud quacks, trying to sound like a contented hen. Most duck hunters have heard the early morning quacks of a hen Mallard across the water, that's the sound you should imitate when your calling ducks that are in close. When the ducks are close don't blow loud, fast quacks, that's the sound a duck uses as it jumps into the air when it's alarmed. And don't over call. If the ducks are coming toward you, put the call down, grab the gun, and let 'em come. If they look like they might swing off use slow, soft quacks or the chuckle to keep them coming.
Most of the calls used for hunting diver ducks can be performed on a standard mallard call by growling into the call to produce the rrrr of the females. You can produce the scaup of the males by cupping your hand around the call and blowing a short eouuk while closing your hand at the end of the sound. I use a Haydel's MG-84 Marsh Guide Mallard for a high pitched call, and a Haydel's DR-85 Double Reed Mallard for lower pitched calls. Lohman offers their Model 450 Diving Duck Call specifically for hunting divers.
When you are calling ducks, think about what you are trying to do. Initially you try to get their attention, to let them know there are other ducks in the area, and where they are. If the ducks aren't coming toward you, you try to get them to change their course and come closer. As the ducks get closer you try to convince them that there are other ducks on the water, that it is safe to land, and that the area is a good place to rest and feed in safety. However, the calls you are performing are not used by the ducks for those purposes. They are used to announce a willingness to mate, used during courtship behavior, and used as a threat. So, what you have to do is use the calls the ducks use, but, use them in a way that will get the ducks to do what you want them to do.
You can use a loud decrescendo as a hail call to initially get the ducks attention. Even though the decrescendo is a pair bonding call, it can be used to attract ducks because they are accustomed to hearing it in the fall. You can also use the decrescendo as a comeback call to turn the ducks, and as a pleading call to entice the birds to land. But, when you are calling, remember that ducks are not very big, and they have small lungs, they can't possibly call as loud as I hear some hunters blow their calls. The closer the ducks get, the softer you should call.
You can use a series of quacks and chuckles to convince the birds that your decoys are real, and that everything is all right. Even though the inciting call is a threat and not a feeding call; it is used by ducks in a feeding situation. You can use the chuckle or a diver growl to convince the in coming ducks that there are one or more drakes harassing the hens in your spread. To add more realism to your calling you can use the social contact calls of the drakes, and the sounds of any other duck or goose species that might be in the area.
I always carry more than one Mallard call, each call with a different pitch. If the ducks don't respond to one call I try the others, until I find one they do respond to. I also carry several calls so that I have a backup when the call I'm using gets wet and won't blow. While I really like the sound of a good wooden call, they sometimes have a tendency to freeze up on cold days. I always have a couple of non-wooden calls with me. Plastic, polycarbonate and acrylic calls may still freeze up, but you can usually clear out the ice by blowing into them hard, or by knocking them against your hand.
To keep from sounding like every other hunter on the marsh, especially when the ducks don't seem to be responding to my hen Mallard hail calls, quacks and chuckles I use a drake Mallard call. When the ducks won't respond to a Mallard call I use a Pintail/Widgeon/Teal whistle or a Wood Duck whistle, which may be all it takes to get the ducks to respond. If I'm hunting lakes, rivers, sloughs or marshes that are big enough for divers to use I also keep a diver call on my lanyard. I include decoys of these other species in my decoy spread just in case some of them show up. After being hunted for several days or weeks the ducks often get call and decoy shy. When this happens I may stop calling altogether, use fewer or more decoys, or move to a new location.
If you really want to sound like the ducks you've got to have calls that can produce the right sounds. There are a lot of calls on the market that don't produce the right sounds, or that can't produce a wide range of tones. If a call doesn't produce the right sounds, or is not able to produce a wide range of sounds, you won't be able to reproduce realistic duck calls with it. If you have limited experience with a duck calls stick with a double reed call, although they are more limited in their range of tones than single reed calls, they are easier to blow, and they will get you blowing the right sounds more quickly, and more consistently. After you become proficient on a double reed you may want to get a custom single reed call.
Before you buy any call I suggest you give it a try. Blow a loud high ball, a softer quack and a chuckle, to see how the call performs. If you are one of those callers who likes to tune their own calls, ask before you start fiddling with the reed; some stores will let you and some won't. If you're looking for good over the counter calls Big River, Haydel's, Hunter's Specialties, Knight & Hale, Lohman, Mallardtone, Primos, Quaker Boy and Sure Shot all make good inexpensive calls. If you can't find what you want at your local store, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's, Herter's, Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products, Wing Supply and several other catalogs offer a good selection of calls and instructional tapes.
As with most things you pay for, the better the call, the higher the price. The price of custom calls made of laminated wood, cocabola wood and acrylics start at around $70. I don't suggest you buy an expensive call through the mail, unless you know the maker, because you may not be able to return it. The best way to buy a custom call is to meet the maker at a show, and try several calls, then choose the one you like. If you don't like the sound of the call most of the makers will tune it while you wait. Watching a call maker tune a call, and asking questions about how and why they do it, is also a good way to learn how to tune your own calls.
T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983
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