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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Whitetail Science: Young Bucks Breed 30% Of Does

deer breeding in febFor many years biologists and hunters believed that most adult does were bred by bucks 3.5 years and older, a theory I always questioned. In many areas of the U.S., deer herds are overloaded with does, and there are relatively mature bucks 4.5 years and older.

So in peak rut, when many does come into estrus at one time, which bucks are actually doing the breeding?

According to research published in the Journal of Mammalogy, immature bucks (1.5 and 2.5 years of age) are breeding does at a much higher rate than once thought. In one study, researchers analyzed the DNA samples of more than 1,200 whitetails in 3 different populations (Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma) and found that young bucks sired 30 to 33% of the fawns.

This seems to prove my personal and totally unscientific theory, but one I think makes a lot of common sense: On public and private lands that are not managed and which do not have a large population of 3.5 to 5.5 year old bucks, the 1.5 and 2.5 year olds MUST be doing a lot of breeding. I’d bet it’s more than 33 percent in some areas.

But here’s an interesting finding. The DNA researchers found that even in a population with a good number of mature bucks, immature males still sired 30% or so of the fawns. So in layman’s terms, the old boys don’t suppress the randy youngsters with big rubs, snort-wheezing and their mere big-racked presence as much as we once thought.

Upon analyzing these studies, one whitetail biologist said, “This genetic research crushes our thinking on how whitetails do their breeding. What amazes me most is that we really believed for the longest time that there were a few dominant bucks that did most of the breeding.”

Cool stuff. I feel sort of vindicated.

Best Chainsaws For Hunters

chainsawFrom now until stand-hanging time in September a lot of people will be out working their deer hunting property, clearing trails, taking out trash trees to let in more sunlight, etc.

What’s the best saw for the job? Illinois land management expert Matt Cheever says:

I prefer Echo, Stihl and Husqvarna in that order. Echo has the longest warranty and best power to weight ratio (it’s all I currently own). Stihl has always made a good saw, and a “Husky” is built like a tank, but seems to have a longer power stroke so you have to run them wide open all the time for best performance. All 3 are solid choices. Buy a saw in the 40-45 cc range with an 18” bar and it will meet 95% of your land-management needs. A quality saw will last about 25 years of hard use.

What chainsaw do you use and swear by?

Whitetail Management: A Little Land Work Leads To A Monster Buck

Now is the time to put in food plots, work the timber, create mineral sites, and otherwise improve the private property you’ll hunt on this fall. You don’t have to go hog wild and spend thousands of dollars doing it, especially if you live in the right big-buck zip code. Here’s proof that some sweat equity mixed with smart scouting can pay off big.

A few years ago Mike from Iowa obtained a small chunk of ground with a cabin on it. He scouted and hunted a couple of seasons, but didn’t see many bucks bucks, either on camera or from a tree stand. “My confidence in the farm was low, but after doing some timber-stand improvement and putting in food plots one off season, I had hopes that things would change for the better.”

iowa bow giant 2013

Then on November 2 that year Mike recalls…

I was still trying to work things out on the property, and I bumped several deer on the way in to my stand that afternoon. Before the evening was over I had passed on a very nice buck–and I was second guessing myself. I decided to leave everything in the stand so I could just slip in quietly the next morning.

The wind was right and it worked like a charm. I was settled in the stand plenty early, and I had some serious quiet time with God. I enjoy that peaceful time before sunrise. Just after legal shooting light I heard crunching behind me, straight downwind. I turned to look and immediately grabbed my bow and hooked up my release.

The buck was already at 30 yards and in the open, but a couple of large limbs from the tree I was in blocked the shot. My first thought was to wait for him to move from behind the limbs; then it crossed my mind that anything could happen and I needed to get my shot off before he got awaay. I leaned way back and tried to clear a large limb, but couldn’t. I squatted, leaned way out, settled my pin and let her fly.

I was shooting for 30, but the deer was actually at 25. He may have jumped the string as well…either way, my shot was high. As he bolted, the arrow appeared to fall out with poor penetration. I immediately nocked another arrow and was ready for a follow-up shot if he stopped. When his tail started to cork screw I thought “dead deer,” but mind you I had seen the arrow fall away. I started looking for room to squeeze another one. The buck moved slightly and gave me a tiny opening. Before I knew it, the second arrow was away, a clean pass thru this time.

As the deer hustled off I saw what looked like two mortal wounds. I thought I heard a crash, and I started sending text messages. After a few minutes I located horns with my binos and the emotions swept over me. I knew he would be my best deer to date, and as soon as I walked up on him I knew he was a net Boone and Crockett buck.

On my way back to the cabin to get help, I walked up on 3 good bucks in another food plot. I have changed my mind about this property being a low percentage spot! A little timber improvement and quality plotting turned this place around in a hurry, and I see many years of pleasure ahead for our clan here at our cabin farm.

On yeah, the buck scored 183 2/8″ gross, and 178 6/8″ net.—Mike from Iowa