8 Scientific Facts About Whitetail Deer

big rub

The Right Rubs: In the book Whitetail Country Michigan biologist John Ozoga points out that the first good-sized rubs–on trees 2 to 4 inches in diameter–that you find in late September were made by bucks 3½ years and older to mark their home ranges and “to proclaim their control over a given area.” Other bucks and does will see the fresh blazes, and they might come over and lick or rub their heads on them. But those deer will get a whiff of the rub maker’s fore-head and salivary scent, and they’ll know who’s living there large and in charge.

Finding clusters of big rubs is a key strategy for your entire season. From late September through December, most of the bucks that blazed those rubs will spend 90 percent of their time on the same ridges and in the same bottoms where you find the sign. So find the early rubs; scout out from them a couple hundred yards for the best food sources, trails, funnels and bedding thickets; and hang some tree stands at strategic points. Hunt those stands all season, and you’ll see some shooter bucks.

Scrapes: Back Off! QDMA biologist Kip Adams points to a comprehensive University of Georgia study of free-ranging deer that live on a 3,400-acre property that is hunted each fall. I put the most stock in studies that deal wild, hunted deer, not pen whitetails.

Most all deer research over the years has found that bucks check scrapes mostly at night, and the Georgia study, the largest of its kind, confirms it. The researchers tallied thousands of trail camera images and found that mature bucks check scrapes mostly between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Why waste more hunting time sitting and watching scrapes where a good buck isn’t likely to show up until the wee hours of dark? “You’re much better off setting up and watching a heavy trail or edge of thick cover several hundred yards off the freshest scrapes you can find,” says Adams. “That’s where you might catch a buck moving to and from the scrapes in first or last light.”

Back Off Scrapes Altogether: By mid-November in most areas, it’s time to back off scrapes altogether. Karen Alexy, lead researcher on that Georgia project, says that bucks most often make and hit scrapes two to three weeks prior to the rut. “After the peak, we found that bucks almost completely stop visiting scrapes,” she says, “so you might be better off hunting bedding sites, travel corridors, or feeding areas.”

Low-Pressure Stands: In a South Carolina study, researchers analyzed hundreds of interactions between hunters and deer, and found that mature bucks traveled 55 yards on average farther away from hunting stands at the end of the season versus the beginning of the season.

This confirms something I have been writing about and saying on my TV shows for years: Mature bucks can learn your habits and pattern you. As the season progresses they see, smell and hear where hunters walk into the woods, climb trees, walk out at midmorning or after dark… You get the picture. The bucks then start to skirt those stand locations and access points to avoid you.

This fall, change it up. Say you’ve been bowhunting a big 10-pointer for a few weeks from the same 2 stands in a 200-acre block of woods. You saw the deer a couple of times early in the season, but it’s been awhile since you’ve seen him now.

Check the lay of the land on maps or Google Earth. Then at midday, slip into those woods and set a couple of new stands along trails, in draws, at creek crossings, etc. You don’t always have to move far; you might set some of those new stands on good cover edges or funnels only 40 to 70 yards from your original stands. Play the wind and be as quiet as you can as you set the new stands.

When you sneak back in and hunt those fresh stands, you have a good shot at surprising that buck in a spot where he doesn’t expect you. As he moves on a pattern to avoid your first stands, he might walk 10-20 yards below one of your new stands. Take him!

High or Low? Missouri biologist Grant Woods put GPS collars on deer and found that old bucks generally bed just over the top of a ridge, usually on the east side. “That’s probably because most of the time wind currents come from the west,” he says. “When a west wind goes up and over the top of a hill and swirls, it creates an air cone that picks up and carries scent from all directions.”

Woods, a hard-core bowhunter, notes that he rarely hunts on tops of a hill because of the eddy-like, unpredictable air currents up there. “You’re a lot better off hanging a stand lower on the side of a ridge or mountain, or on a flat where you can catch a buck sneaking up to his bed or coming back down from it.”

Think Green (Part 1): Biologists in Michigan, Minnesota and other northern states have found that 5- to 40-acre conifer swamps, with trees 10 to 25 feet tall and canopies 50 to 70 percent closed, provide the best thermal cover for deer. If you bowhunt the late season up North, look for green covers of that size, and hang a stand on a nearby trail.

Think Green (Part 2): After killing a deer late in the season, Pennsylvania ruminant nutrition specialist Phil Anderson pokes through the paunch to see what the critter had been eating.

“Ever killed a doe or buck in December when the woods are brown, but the rumen contents (of a deer’s stomach) are bright green?” he asks. He points out that deer love tender, green shoots year-round and particularly in the winter. The animals sniff and dig around the woods and find them under rotting leaves.

Next December and January, be on the lookout for spots where deer have dug and pawed the leaves (deer sign is narrower and more linear than wild turkey scratching). Get down on hands and knees and investigate. If you find little green shoots popping up, set up there and fill your last doe or buck tag.

Beat the Head Bob: In a study funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation in hopes of reducing deer-car crashes, Dr. Karl Miller and others focused on the whitetail’s vision. They confirmed that to get a good 3-D look at a strange object, a deer has to shift its head and stare at it from several different angles. You’ve seen that before—a deer sees you and starts head-bobbing as it tries to figure out what the heck it is looking at.

The next time a doe or buck looks up into your tree stand and starts head-bobbing, freeze. When the animal dips its head and appears to look away, stay frozen. Only when the head-bobbing stops for good and the deer relaxes and seems satisfied that you are not dangerous should you shift in your stand and draw your bow. A deer’s eyes are well adapted to detect movement.

5 Things About Summer Deer Antlers

sask oneill 2017 2Velvet antlers have a complex system of blood vessels which causes them to be hot to the touch. Top whitetail scientist Dr. Grant Woods notes, “There is so much blood carrying protein and minerals to a buck’s antlers this time of year that even small antlers are easily detected by thermal imaging devices. Antler tines show up like neon signs when flying over with thermal cameras in summer.”

(Note: True and amazing how velvet antlers glow in a thermal imaging device. Last week on a nighttime hog hunt on a managed property in Georgia, I scanned the woods for hours with Trijicon’s IR Patrol thermal monocular and looked at a lot of good bucks; the hot-blooded antlers shined twice as white and bright than the deers’ bodies!)

Tiny hairs on the velvet stick out and make the antlers look thicker than they are. The hairs act as a radar system so a buck won’t bump into trees, fence posts, etc. and damage his soft antlers.

Sebum, a semi-liquid secretion, on those hairs gives the velvet a shiny look. Sebum also supposedly acts as an insect repellent to keep gnats, biting flies off a buck’s rack and face.

In early August antlers will begin to change from soft and pliable to hardened bone. “A buck’s antlers will change from looking swollen or bulbous at the tips of the tines to a more normal diameter,” notes Dr. Woods. “Once this change in appearance occurs the buck won’t add much beam or tine growth.”

By mid-August most of the antler growth for the year is done. Sometime between September 1 and 20 bucks will shed the velvet. The cue for antler hardening and the velvet shedding is the change in photoperiod caused by decreasing daylight and increasing darkness, which results in a significant increase in the bucks’ testosterone.

Food Plots: Simple Tips To Save Money

flatlander plotToday’s guest blog from our friend and habitat-management specialist Matt “Flatlander” Cheever:

Hey Mike: Here are some quick thoughts on how to save some money on food plots if your budget is strapped, or you don’t have the ability to move large equipment from property to property.

Seed depth is critical for quality deer food plot success. Recently I didn’t have the ability to take all the equipment that I normally would to a property where I planted a plot. I had no way to sufficiently drag in the seed. I wanted just a small amount of topsoil over the brassicas.

Rule of thumb is all seed gets buried at twice the depth of the size of a seed (I.E. if soybean seed is ¼” you want it planted about ½”, and if a brassica seed is .10” you want it at .20”) I know this is pretty precise but it’s a good guideline.

The cheap and easy solution is to ratchet strap a simple wooden pallet behind a quad, and drag the seed bed once the seed has been broadcast. I added a field stone for weight (see picture, inside the red oval); it was perfect to get just a dusting of dirt on top the brassica seed. If I were planting soybeans and wanted to plant them deeper I’d add a concrete block or large chucks of firewood and strap them on. The more weight the deeper it digs/covers. The best part is when you wear down the boards, simply flip the pallet over and use, and then switch it from end for end so you’ll have 4 boards to use that last a long time.

I also don’t always have room or the means to take along a seed drill or large broadcast seeder so I’ve always kept a small hand-crank seeder with me. I usually wear out 2 a year as the small seed binds them up. I also break off a lot of the crank handles. I’ve found a solution from Scott called the Wizz (pictured top right). It’s a battery-operated seeder that has dozens of settings for seed size and can even widen or narrow the pattern. My buddies laughed at me for having a battery-operated seeder until they tried it—they then said it might be the best invention ever. It saves a ton of cranking and broken seeders, and is way more uniform in seed spacing, and that saves money on seed. It might be the best $20 property management tool I’ve purchased. The Wizz packs easily and I get about a season’s worth of planting off just four AA batteries.

I hope these 2 great, cheap and easy fixes help the BIG DEER gang get better deer plots in remote places for less money and effort. Good luck to all this season.–Flatlander

Whitetail Science: How Well Do Deer Hear?

MT buck flop earYears ago as a doctoral student at the University of Georgia’s Deer Lab, Gino D’Angelo put whitetails in a sound-testing booth and monitored their brainwaves to see how the animals responded to different sounds and frequencies. (Dr. D’Angelo is now is an Assistant Professor of Deer Ecology and Management at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.)

Here are 4 things Dr. D’Angelo and his colleagues found about the whitetail’s sense of hearing:

Deer do not hear that much better than we do! The frequency of sound is measured in hertz. Studies have found that a healthy human can hear from 20 to 20,000 hertz, with our best and most sensitive range from 2,000 to 5,000 hertz. The researchers found that deer hear best at moderate frequencies of 3,000 to 8,000 hertz. To put perspective on it, both our normal speech and most deer vocalizations fall within these frequency ranges. So while deer generally vocalize at lower frequencies than we talk, they hear similarly.

Low-frequency sounds travel farther and can be heard better by deer at greater distances than high-frequency sounds. A good example is a hunter walking in the woods, crunching leaves. Deer can hear that, so go slow and carefully and step as quietly as you can. Human speech is a moderate frequency sound that is well within the peak hearing range of deer. Talk softly and whisper in the woods. As Dr. D’Angelo says, “The deer are listening.”

How deer use their ears makes us think the animals can hear a lot better than we can. Deer ears are like tiny satellite dishes that tip back and forth and roll around to pick up, sort out and lock in on various sounds in the woods. Think about this, because you’ve probably been there. A buck is within 100 yards and hears you bang your bow or gun, or scrape your boots on a metal platform; you watch him work his ears, look your way and start stamping his foot. Wow, those ears are amazing and almost supernatural, you think. But Dr. D’Angelo points out that the animal is simply reacting to a strange and potentially dangerous sound in his environment, in much the same way that we jump and look if we hear a sudden horn or a car backfire nearby.

The sounds and frequencies of grunt calls match well with the whitetail’s hearing. As an off-shoot of this study, the researchers analyzed several brands of grunt calls to see how they aligned with the hearing of deer. All the calls produced similar sounds with the strongest frequency range between 3,000 and 4,000 hertz—well in tune for a doe or buck to hear your grunts.

Dr. D’Angelo points out that while your grunt call sounds true and is well tuned to a deer’s hearing, it is not as loud as you think. So if you’re “calling blind” with no deer in sight, don’t be afraid to grunt loudly, especially during the rut. There’s a good chance that somewhere out there in the woods an old 8-pointer will roll his ears and home in on your stand. Keep grunting and with luck he’ll come.

 

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.