How Bad Was The Mule Deer Winterkill?

mule deerI recently attended the 2017 North American Deer Summit, where Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West. Jim said that while mule deer went through tough times in recent years, the good news is that muley populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.

But Jim did point to the hard, snowy winter of 2016-17 in some regions of the West, saying that “will lead to a dip in deer numbers this year in some states.” Well, turns out it will be quite a big dip in places.

U.S. News and World Reports has just published a compilation of how last winter impacted mule deer herds in 7 states. Here are some findings that jump out:

South-central Colorado saw high fawn mortality… estimates are that only 20 to 25 percent of fawns survived in the Gunnison Basin, mainly because of a large snowfall event…mule deer hunting licenses in the basin have been reduced by 60 percent for bucks and 80 percent for does.

Idaho saw its third worst winter for mule deer fawn survival in the past 18 years… But mule deer numbers across the state are still healthy enough to withstand the loss as long as next winter is milder.

Above-average losses of mule deer fawns were recorded in northern Utah, where only 10 percent of one herd’s fawns survived… The losses occurred despite the state’s efforts to provide food supplements to the deer. Snow depths exceeded 150 percent of normal in some areas.

In Wyoming, mule deer and antelope west of the Continental Divide suffered significant losses, probably the worst in more than 30 years… Many areas saw up to 90 percent loss of deer fawns and up to 35 percent loss of adult deer. Fewer hunting permits for mule deer and antelope will be issued this fall in western Wyoming.

 

5 Summer Work Projects for Deer Hunting Land

mow plotGet out and put in a little sweat equity this weekend and for the next few months to improve your hunting this fall.

If you’ve got a good-sized pasture or overgrown field on the property, one of the best things you can do is mow 5 or 6 strips through the weeds, maybe 100 yards long and 20 yards wide. Leave strips of the larger and taller vegetation, like blackberries and greenbrier, between the mowed rows.

This simple task creates diversity of food and edge that whitetails love. When late-summer rains come in time for bow season, weeds and forbs pop up in the mowed strips, and deer love the new and succulent food source.

While you’re at it, hang a tree stand or two where the mowed strips intersect a wood line corner or funnel. Great spots to set up and shoot a buck feeding in the mowed strips early in the season.

Mow Some More: The natural order of does and bucks on a property will generally keep small food plots browsed down, but larger clover fields should be mowed at least once a summer with a tractor or an ATV. Cutting helps to control weeds, and the plant tops re-grow more tender and palatable.

Mow when the clover and grasses reach 10 to 12 inches tall. Mow everything down to 5 to 6 inches high.

In a year of normal temperature and rain, you’re okay to mow anytime as needed. But in a particularly hot and dry summer, don’t cut your plots too much or too short and burn them out.

summer antlers cam pic.jpg 6-08

 

 

 

 

 

Double Down on Attractants: If you’re like me, you’ve had some mineral sites scattered across your land for a couple of months, and deer are hitting them regularly. Now, with the bucks’ antlers growing fast, it’s time to double down on attractants.

One day soon, make the rounds to all your sites and refresh them with a good dose o minerals or a corn-based attractant. Hook a camera on a tree at every site and pop in a new card.

Over the next 8 weeks, return to the sites every so often, dump out more minerals and swap cards. Biologists say mid-July until the first acorns start to fall in late August is the best time to conduct a camera survey of the bucks on your land.

From the mineral sites you’ll get hundreds if not thousands of images that, when combined, give you a good idea of how many deer live on the property, and the buck-to-doe ratio. Best of all, you’ll see the older bucks and immediately know what kind of rack year it will be.

Compile and sort the images of bucks, and note the times and locations of their travels. Cross-reference this info with aerial images of the property, and the patterns of the big deer, and where to hunt them, begin to come into focus.

Prep Fall Plots: If you are planning to put in a few cool-season food plots of, say, chicory or wheat, in August or September, here are a couple of things to do now.

Disk areas where you’ll plant several times in two-week intervals prior to when you’ll sow the seeds. This will not only work the soil, but also help to reduce weeds and grass that come up later. Gather some of the fresh dirt and have it soil tested to see if you need to lime the plots. The sooner you lime, the better your fall plants will grow.

Keep a Chainsaw Handy: As you move around your property and work, keep a chainsaw gassed, oiled and ready in your truck or ATV. “It’s one of your most important tools,” says Big Deer blogger and Illinois land-management expert Matt Cheever, who recommends a saw in the 40-45 cc range with an 18-inch bar. “Buy a quality saw and it will last about 25 years of hard use on your deer land.”

You never know when you’ll need it—to remove a tree that fell into a food plot in the last wind storm, or across a logging road or ATV trail that you use to access plots. You might need to cut a rotting, dangerous tree that stands near one of your ladders or blinds.

“Every dead and fallen tree that you remove now will let you move around and hunt easier, quieter and safer when the season opens in a few months,” says Matt.

2017 Deer Update: How Are Mule Deer Doing?

mule deerAt the 2017 North American Deer Summit last week, Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West.

Mule deer went through tough times in the 1990s, and populations declined in many areas. More than 20 years later most people still think mule deer numbers are down, “but actually there’s good news,” said Jim. “Mule deer populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.”

Jim pointed to Utah, Idaho and California as bright spots, with herds on the slight rise. But he did acknowledge that the winter of 2016 was brutal in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, where there should be a “little dip” in deer numbers this year.

In the West, mule deer face unique challenges, such as expanded housing, energy and road development in herds’ migration routes and wintering areas; limited and changing water supplies; and changes in habitat and food sources. Major predators of the mule deer are the coyote (on fawns) and mountain lion.

Jim is particularly positive about the herds and the number of big, mature bucks in his home state of Arizona. “The big bucks are here in any given year.” Arizona manages their mule deer so conservatively—drawing a tag is tough—that there are always big deer on public ground. Also expect lots of huge public-land bucks this fall next door in New Mexico, where again pulling a tag is the biggest challenge.

2017 Whitetail Report: How Are The Deer Doing?

sd sioux falls buck 2008I recently returned from the 2017 North American Deer Summit, a two-day event where the top deer biologists and scientists in the nation gather to discuss the health of our herds and the future of hunting. First on the agenda: How are whitetail deer doing across the U.S.?

QDMA biologist Kip Adams kicked off the discussion with some good news. After several tough years (2011-2014) when winters were harsh in some regions and big outbreaks of EHD  killed substantial numbers of deer in other areas, things are looking up for America’s most popular and widespread game animal.

Kip pointed out that the buck harvest is up 4% (hunters in America shoot some 2.7 million bucks every fall). Furthermore, the percentage of bucks 3.5 years of older in the harvest has never been higher.

It took a while but hunters as a whole have finally embraced the idea of letting small bucks walk in hopes that they will the opportunity to shoot a mature, big-racked deer next season or the next. “I’ve been monitoring this issue for many years, and hunters’ attitudes on letting young bucks grow have definitely changed,” said Kip.

Also, 10-15 years ago, if a state wanted to implement antler restrictions in order to save immature bucks, hunters would scream. Today, more hunters than ever, a strong majority, support antler restrictions that let 1- and 2-year-old bucks walk and grow.

But there are threats to deer herds and deer hunting, including predators and lack of access to good land for hunting. But it all pales to the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. 

CWD, which has now been documented in more than 20 states, is a contagious neurological disease that affects deer. It causes a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior (drooling and stumbling), loss of bodily functions and ultimately death.

A large portion of the 2-day deer summit was devoted to the CWD threat, and I’ll cover that more in future blogs. But here’s the most disturbing thing.

Consider that CWD has been documented in both mule deer and whitetails in Wyoming for at least 40 years. For those 4 decades the deer herds survived and grew in many locations, causing some people to be skeptical of the CWD threat.

Consider me one of those early skeptics. I have hunted in Wyoming many times, and on every hunt, I have been amazed at the number of deer I have seen. Some of the strongest herds in America. How could there be so many deer out here if CWD is such a big deal?

Studies from CWD-prevalent areas in Wyoming the last couple of years have shown noticeable drops in deer numbers, perhaps 18% in places. This is the first time that CWD has been directly linked to population declines. The big worry as CWD spreads across the country: Once herds are infected with CWD, maybe it takes several decades for substantial numbers of deer to start dying and populations to diminish?

There are still many questions and a lot to be studied and learned about CWD, but Kip Adams and all the other scientists at the summit echoed the same sentiment: CWD is the biggest threat to deer and deer hunting in 2017 and maybe ever. All hunters must get engaged on this issue and be informed.

CWD aside for now, the outlook for the upcoming season is good across North America. “For the most part, last winter was fairly mild in most areas, and we’ve have lots of moisture this spring,” said Kip. “The 2017 hunting season is setting up to be a good one.”     

Whitetail Dispersal: How and Where Button Bucks Find Home Ranges

button buckIn the early 2000s researchers with Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences captured and radio-collared 543 bucks, 454 of which were less than 1 year old when captured in the winter. Of particular interest: How and where the young bucks would “disperse” in the summer and fall.

In this Deer-Forest blog post, the researchers explained: Dispersal is a one-time movement from a natal (where born) home range to a different adult home range. For our research (and most studies) we say an animal disperses if there is no overlap between natal and adult home ranges.

So what did they find?

*About 75% of the bucks dispersed as 1-year-olds. Half the dispersal occurred in spring (May-June) and the rest in early autumn (September-October).

*The average dispersal distance for a buck was about 5 miles, but one yearling went 25 miles!

*The dispersal process is fast and furious process. Half the bucks dispersed to their new home range in less than 12 hours, and almost all of them reached their new home in 24 hours.

Some more findings are fascinating!

They had GPS collars on 9 young males and were able to obtain locations every 2.5 hours. On a scale of 0 (random movement) to 10 (straight line) these bucks scored an 8.1. In other words, when the dispersal bug hits them, most yearling bucks move quickly and in a fairly straight line to the new home range where they will spend their lives.

More cool info: The researchers found that in the ridge and valley region of central Pennsylvania where the study occurred, deer are likely to disperse parallel to the ridges. Also, roads and rivers have an impact. A deer is more likely to disperse away from a road and more likely to stop his dispersal movement before crossing a road big or small.

Finally, the researchers note that if you see a button buck on your property next month, there is a 75% chance he’ll be gone by this fall’s archery season. Conversely, if you see a young buck with his first set of antlers in the archery season, there is a 75% chance he came from somewhere else, 5 or more miles away.