Athens Georgia: Hotbed Of Deer Information and Research

qdma shed tree

You might know that Athens is a vibrant college town, home to the SEC Bulldogs. Did you also know it’s the epicenter of whitetail research and deer-hunting information in America? Last week the BIG DEER TV crew took a road trip to check it out.

First stop, headquarters of the Quality Deer Management Association. I stepped in the front door and naturally checked out the shed tree in the corner. It’s built with an antler from every state and province where whitetail deer are found. Impressive, and they tell me it weighs more than a ton.

qdma brian

I sat down for a lengthy talk with Brian Murphy, CEO of QDMA and one of the top deer biologists in the country. This man knows the state of the whitetail across North America in 2018.

Brian explained that after several tough years, notably 2011-2014 when winters were harsh in some regions and big outbreaks of Hemorrhagic Disease killed numbers of deer in other areas, things are looking up. Deer herds are generally doing well, and prospects for the 2018 season are good.

But all is not rosy. Brian pointed to some major issues issues on the horizon.

First, and the elephant in the room, is Chronic Wasting Disease.

cwd map 24 states

CWD, first documented in deer in Colorado in 1967, has now been confirmed in 24 states, 3 Canadian provinces and 2 foreign countries. CWD is found only in hoofed animals such as deer, elk, and moose. The disease affects an animal’s nervous system. Infected deer lose weight, wander aimlessly, salivate and eventually die. It is always fatal.

CWD is affecting the core of why we hunt—to bring home the venison. While no cases of CWD in humans have been confirmed, there is fear that could change. In a Canadian study three of five primates contracted the disease after eating meat from CWD-infected animals.

Brian’s advice: If you shoot a deer in a known CWD area, DO NOT eat the meat until you have it tested and confirmed CWD-free.

Second big issue: Decline of hunters across North America.

Recent surveys reveal that only 5% of Americans age 16 and up hunt today. That’s half of what it was 50 years ago. The number of licensed hunters, by far most of them deer hunters, dropped from 14.2 million in 1991 to 11.5 million in 2016. Most disturbing, the decline is expected to accelerate over the next decades.

Fewer hunters buying licenses and guns and ammunition equals less dollars for state wildlife conservation departments. If we do not stop this negative trend, the consequences will be severe. There are already reports that dollars for CWD research are drying up, and that’s the last thing we need.

Brian Murphy said QDMA is making a big push to continue youth hunter recruitment, and also to bring in more adults, 20-, 30- and 40-something men and women who might well want to to hunt deer, but who were never exposed to hunting as kids.

dr miller deer lab

Next, I drove across town to check out the Deer Lab at the University of Georgia. This is one cool place. Under the tutelage of Dr. Karl Miller for the past 30 years, the Deer Lab has grown from one small pen to an impressive collection of buildings and enclosures where landmark whitetail research is ongoing.

Dr. Miller gave us the tour, where we observed and filmed collared does and fawns and  bucks in velvet. We checked out rooms where deer are exposed to lights and monitors to check their vision. Dr. Gino D’Angelo explained studies he has conducted on how deer hear, and GPS-collar projects that track deer movements.

To a whitetail junkie like you and me, all kids of fascinating stuff.

Set your DVR and watch this episode of BIG DEER TV Wednesday, August 29 at 7:30 PM on Sportsman Channel.

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Grilled Venison Beer Brats

IMG_1050Perfect for a summer Friday or Saturday night:

–Shoot deer in fall. Gut deer. Transport some meat to processor and have brats made. (These jalapeno cheese brats came from a  buck I shot in Montana, though a deer you shoot and gut anywhere will do.)

–Simmer brats in 50/50 mixture of water and beer for 20 minutes. Do not boil brats, just a low, slow simmer, rolling brats occasionally.

–As brats simmer, sip remainder of leftover over beer. Heat gas grill and chill at least one more beer.

–After 20 minutes, remove brats from stove and drain water/beer mix. Reduce grill to medium-low. Add brats and grill, covered, for 6-8 minutes, until charred slightly.

–Remove from grill, serve with mustard on a paper plate, add a side veggie (optional) and enjoy (no bun, low-carb here).

–Crack second beer. The best brats you will ever eat pair perfectly with your favorite brew.

3 Top Summer Spots For Trail Cameras

Image-1

I’ve had several Spartan cameras out for a while, but now in July is when I start my recon in earnest. Velvet antlers are up and growing full bore; when you get an image of a buck with potential, you’ll know it and can start tracking and patterning his movements.

One: Last week we set 2 cameras on 2 one-acre clover plots hidden back in the woods. We set 3 more cams near larger food plots, but not aiming out into the fields. Rather, we pointed these cams 20 to 30 yards back in the thickets that rim the edges, on well-used deer trails. Secluded, thick pockets and bottlenecks like this are where you’re apt of get close images of a big velvet buck working the area.

Two: We put a camera on a muddy creek crossing a quarter-mile from a clover plot, and another on the edge of a beaver pond where we’ve photographed good bucks before. As summer deepens, bucks spend time hanging out in low-lying areas near water where it’s cool and shady.

Three: On one Virginia farm we hunt, there are 2 cornfields with a 40-yard-wide row of trees splitting and separating the fields. Within that row of trees is a flat, grassy gap where the farmer drives his tractor between the fields. On an old gate post in the gap is our top spot to set a camera now, while the corn is still tall and uncut.

Over the years, a camera on the gate post has been the most productive for catching bucks on natural summer movement (photo below). If you have a similar gap like this where you hunt, go set a camera there now before the crops are cut and the deer movement patterns change.

Va  9 point at round tower gap

How Summer Heat Affects Deer

summer deer webAbove normal temperatures–say a string of 90-plus days with high humidity–cause whitetails to stress. The amount of stress is dependent on the quality of the habitat.

Deer consume more water than any other mineral (water is a mineral, a naturally occurring substance). The amount of water deer need increases during hot and dry periods in summer. Where good water is abundant, no big deal. But where water is limited either by quantity or quality, some of a deer’s bodily functions are limited, such as transferring calcium to growing antlers or milk production for fawns.

Deer travel to find water. But if they are forced out of their home range in search of H2O, bucks and does expend huge amounts of energy that then can’t be used for other bodily processes like antler growth and milk production. Biologists point out that deer traveling out of their range to find water is very rare, except possibly during an extended drought. Normally they can find enough water to survive in their core areas.

Whitetails are adaptable and resilient, and are used to dealing with natural hardships and stress. An extended drought and abnormally hot summer in your region might lead to smaller antler growth and less fawn recruitment that fall. But a typical summer with periods of high heat and dry weeks won’t affect the herd much.

Social Media Rumor Bucks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe posts and picture said: “30-point monster killed at our Georgia hunt club. That is the biggest rack I’ve ever seen in GA.”

Another guy added: “One of the new guys in our hunting club killed this out of my tower stand last year!”

Well, that would be difficult since this amazing buck was shot by Bill Crutchfield in Maryland 12 years ago. This is fact, as I have interviewed Bill and posted on this giant several times: the 28-point, 268 1/8-inch Crutchfield titan is one of the biggest whitetails ever killed in Maryland, and on the East Coast.

Lesson: This is just but one example of rumor bucks you see all the time on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Enjoy the magnificence of these animals, but reader beware!