Southeast Deer Study Group 2015

SEDSG 2015This respected group holds an annual conference at which deer biologists and researchers present their recent findings on whitetail biology and management. The 2015 meetings just wrapped in Arkansas. I followed QDMA Tweets from the conference #SEDSG. Here, some of the most interesting new science (followed by my thoughts):

–Plants in poor soils contain all the nutrients deer need, just low in quantity, which you can fix. @UTKnoxville’s Craig Harper. (Any dirt can grow big deer; that is where lime and fertilizer come in.)

–Bucks of all ages/sizes successfully breed, one reason hunters can’t change genetics with trigger decisions. Chad Newbolt @AuburnU (Never was a fan of culling bucks anyhow.)

Study of buck breeding success at @AuburnU found 13 of 27 sets of twins and 1 of 2 triplet sets involved multiple fawn daddies. (More fascinating new science shows that nearly 50% of fawns have two or more buck fathers, so factor that into genetics.)

Kip Adams of QDMA: One reason for Midwest buck harvest declines: Loss of habitat. 5 million acres in Midwest taken out of #CRP from 2007 to 2014. (Other reasons include tough, long winters in upper Midwest, coyote predation and EHD outbreaks in some areas.)

3 does in @UGAWarnell study of deer/car collisions actually used interstate right-of-way for fawning, presumably to avoid predators. (Yet another example of how adaptable whitetails are. But I fear what happened to those little deer as they tried to leave their birth area. I was a driving on busy 4-lane in VA two springs ago and saw a tiny fawn that had just been hit by a car. One of most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen.)

Moderate soybean browsing by deer may actually increase bean yield by spurring stem growth: @MSUDeerLab (So unless deer are smashing and destroying a farmer’s field, no need for depredation permits.)

Don’t waste time/money fertilizing white oaks, but timber thinning around good acorn producers works. Jordan Nanney @UTKnoxville (Tree fertilizers don’t sweeten the acorns to deer, as once believed.)

14 GPS-collared adult bucks in LA had widely variable home ranges. 245 to 2,852 acres in fall! No real “average” buck (range). @UGAWarnell (What I’ve been finding in my field research—most mature bucks have relatively small home ranges/core areas, but some live and travel in large areas, you just never know.)

Doe health affects (the) fawn for life. Full effect of nutritional improvement on deer size takes 2 generations. Eric Michel @MSUDeerLab (Interesting that deer science/physiology has come this far and is so in depth!)

If coyotes hitting fawns hard (in you area) you may have to back off doe kill AND trap in spring to prevent (deer) population decline. Colter Chitwood @NCState (Most average hunters cannot or will not trap, but we should all shoot some coyotes and show restraint on our doe kill.)


Petition: Should Michigan Become A One-Buck State?

sarah mcandrews bow buckI just saw this new online petition that will be delivered to the Michigan DNR and it got me to thinking:

Limit buck kill to one per year, end all special seasons…begin hunting with Archery October 1st…change Gun Season to 3 day hunt starting on first Friday in December annually…

To put an end, once and for all, to the gross mismanagement of the deer herd in the name of revenues. Too many immature bucks and too many does are harvested annually because of overzealous resource commissioners making laws with revenues in the forefront, manipulation of herd numbers to reach financial goals, and to pander to the insurance lobby. The creation of youth seasons, no age-limit hunting, liberal crossbow rules and endless doe tags are the catalysts to the issue.

Michigan has the tools and raw materials to create a mature buck paradise while increasing hunter satisfaction without emptying hunters’ freezers. If you care about deer hunting in Michigan, you should support these changes.

When I saw the petition it was just posted and had only 233 supporters. But for years a growing number of Michigan hunters have been disenchanted with the way the DNR is managing the state’s deer herd. This has been simmering awhile; we’ll see how many signatures the petition gets, and how large the movement grows.

I neither live nor hunt in Michigan, though one day I hope to (hunt that is, not live, too cold). But I have hunted in many states with lots of varying management practices and laws, so I feel compelled and competent to toss in my two cents.

First, I can’t say whether limiting the kill to one buck per year per hunter is right for Michigan, but no doubt it has helped protect immature bucks and increase the age-structure of bucks in states like Kansas and Minnesota (many zones). No denying that.

I love gun hunting in the rut, but again there is no denying that moving the firearms season back to December and shortening it (i.e. Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin) would save a lot of rut-wild bucks, both immature and mature, in any state. But 3 days is too short and not practical. A week in December maybe, but I can’t imagine any state with only 3 days of gun hunting to get your buck.  

Have hunters been shooting too many does in Michigan? That is something that needs to be looked at. As I have pointed out here on BIG DEER before, many states in the Midwest and elsewhere need to re-evaluate the number of does tags issued. The good old days of hunters shooting 5 or more does a season are gone, or should be, until we re-evaluate our management goals and rebuild our whitetail herds.

Now to some things I do not like in that petition. First off, it’s short-sighted and greedy to imply that Michigan (or any state) should not hold a short youth-only deer season each fall. To the contrary, special youth seasons are a must because we constantly need to recruit kids into our ranks. Moreover, if a boy or girl shoots a spike or 4-point for his or her first buck, great! We should be happy for those kids, not grumbling that they are taking a potential shooter buck out of the pool.

And the implication that allowing the crossbow in archery season is somehow impacting the deer herd is old news and a red herring. I have been following and writing about the crossbow debate for more than a decade; study after study (including this one from Michigan) shows that liberalized crossbow usage has not impacted the deer herd or harvest, but in fact has gone a long way to keeping older bowhunters in the woods and active.

In summary, this petition raises some legit points. Whether or not Michigan, or any state for that matter, should go to a one-buck rule and restrict the number of doe tags issued is a good and healthy discussion that we need to have in the whitetail world these days. But I must say to the petitioners that using terms like “overzealous commissioners” and “pandering to the insurance lobby” does your cause no good. To the contrary, the contentiousness it creates poisons the well and weakens your arguments.

What do you think, not only about in Michigan but where you hunt? To improve the age-structure of the bucks in your region and in theory increase your chances of seeing a 4-year-old with a big rack, would you support one-buck a year only (you could shoot him in either archery season or gun season, but just one total)?

Kentucky Big Buck: Troy Gentry’s Ft. Knox Giant, 186 6/8

KY gentry 1My favorite segment on BIG DEER TV is American Deer Hunter. No matter where I’m hunting, my producers and I try to find a local hunter in the area who has shot a magnificent  whitetail. During a break in the hunting, we head over to the hunter’s house to film him and hear the story. When the new season of BIG DEER starts this July, you’ll see and hear Troy Gentry talk about the day he killed this 186” 10-point in Bullitt County, Kentucky . FYI, when we show up with the cameras you never know how a hunter will react. As you will see on this show, Troy was a natural, smooth and comfortable on camera as he told his story (paraphrased here):

It was 2002, and I got drawn for a really good area on Fort Knox military installation. It was the first day of a two-day hunt, shotgun-only, and I was hunting with a Remington 1187 slug gun. I had been sitting in the tree all morning, daylight to about 11:20, and I had a pounding headache. I got down to go get some aspirin out of my truck.

As I still-hunted back to within about 80 yards of my stand, I saw a little doe between me and the stand. Behind her was this incredible buck. After the shot, I immediately radioed my dad and told him I’d just killed a Boone and Crockett. By the time he got over there I had told him four different stories…he’s 170, 180, 200 inches! I just couldn’t believe it when I walked up on that deer.

By the time we got the deer out to the truck, there was a colonel and a general from Fort Knox. The general was on his cell phone saying. “We got a new state record, we got a new state record…” Everybody was freaking out. On B&C scoring system he grosses 198 and nets 186 6/8. On the SCI scoring system he scores 202 6/8 and is the Kentucky state record under that system. He’s just an amazing animal…it was the best experience of my hunting career.—Troy Gentry

NOTE: Troy’s 10-point buck has 27” and 28” main beams, and 14” and 15” tines. It ranks as the #13 typical ever shot in Kentucky.

Two lessons to take away from Troy’s hunt:

—If there’s a military installation, state forest or area near you that holds an annual draw hunt, apply. These limited-entry hunts are usually short, 2 or 3 days, and there’s a good chance to shoot a buck…and if you’re really lucky a giant.

—It amazes me how many monster bucks are killed when hunters least expect it. If you have to get down from your stand one day for whatever reason, don’t sweat it. But don’t stop hunting. Keep your edge, move slow and hunt as you head back to your truck or back to your stand, just like Troy did. You never know when a big buck will show up, so be ready.

Shed Antler Hunting: Check Bedding Areas

SD shed 1When you’re out in the woods on a shed hunt, pick up a deer trail and follow it for a few hundred yards to a half-mile or more, until you come to a thick and obvious deer bedding area. In late winter that might be a brushy southern exposure that gets midday sunlight, or the east side of a grassy ridge or knoll where deer hunker out of a bitter northwest wind.

Back in hunting season you would have stopped, tested the wind and worked the outer fringes of such a sanctuary so as not to spook any deer. But now, plow right in.

Montana shed-hunting fanatic Dick Idol told me one time that he finds 60 percent of his sheds in and around thick covers where giant bucks hide in late winter. So dive in, go slow and look close. While you’re at it, analyze all the rub lines and trails you’re sure to find in and around there. Try to get an idea of the easiest and best-hidden routes a mature buck would use to enter and exit the cover according to various winds. That info will help when you come back to hunt the area next fall.

Keep in mind that if you find some good-sized sheds in and around a thick cover for several years in a row you know within a few acres of where at least one good buck and probably a couple of giants bed in the winter and perhaps earlier in the rut as well. Hang a tree stand along a trail that leads out to a hot food source and you might shoot a monster right there next fall.


How to Wear Camo Face Paint

face paintIt shouldn’t, but it irks me when I see all these guys and gals who feel the need to paint their faces like a WWE wrestler or a college football player prepping for the big game when they go bowhunting for deer. The trendy color is black, and common designs are flames or swirls that shoot up and back over the cheeks, or “warrior” teardrops that start below the eye and streak down to the jaws.

That look works in the ring or on the field, but in a tree stand? No. In my opinion fancy paint makes you look kind of silly, and like you’ve never been there before…like you are a rookie or wannabe. And although I’m sure the face painters have never thought of it and don’t intent it, I believe it disrespects a bit the good and wholesome rite of deer hunting.

Is this the image we want to portray? Suppose a man or woman in the suburbs looks out the window one day this October and sees a guy in full camouflage, face painted like the WWE’s Ultimate Warrior, carrying a bow or crossbow and sneaking through the woods on the next lot behind their house. This hunter is perfectly legal and has permission. While the man or woman has never been against hunting, he or she might view this man as a threat, and might even call the sheriff. Don’t laugh, it could happen, we live and hunt in a different world these days.

I know a lot of hunters in their 20s and 30s see a lot of fancy face-paint jobs on TV hunting shows and the Internet, and think that is the cool way to hunt these days. This is America, you can paint your face however you like. But I ask, unless you are a child of 8-15 please resist the urge. (Kids get a pass, they can have fun painting up.)Use just enough dabs and streaks of brown, black and green grease to break the outline and glare of your face, like real bowmen have done for decades.

Agree with me, or am I being petty?

In the picture: Montana hunter Luke Strommen shoots bucks on the ground at close “wolf range” with his recurve. This is how a real bowhunter wears face paint.