Spring: Deer Antler Growth Cycle

Microsoft PowerPoint - Antler Growth Cycle Figure.pptx






This graphic from the Mississippi State Deer Lab shows the entire antler growth cycle…here we focus on spring growth, what is happening right now:

New antler growth resumes about 3 weeks after (old) antler drop, on a scab that has formed over the pedicles. A growing antler is covered with velvet and grows from the tip. Antler growth is slow during April-May and becomes more rapid during June-July, especially in older bucks.

Bigger Bucks: 5 Food-Plot Pointers

plant plot

One: Design Before You Dig

On an aerial map, look for strips and pockets of open ground toward the interior of your property, and plant those first. This keeps your plots—and the bucks they attract–away from roads and the neighbors’ fence lines.

Also, the closer you plant to thick bedding cover the better your chances that mature 8- or 10-pointer will pop out into the plot to grab a bite one evening this fall.

Think back to past hunts on the land. Whitetails are habitual animals that come and go in the same places from year to year. Where have you seen the most deer and found the found the most trails, rubs and scrapes over the years? Plant your plots in and around areas of established deer traffic.

Two: GPS Your Plots

“Use a GPS receiver to measure the exact area of every food plot,” says Bill Gray, an Alabama wildlife biologist.  “Knowing the precise acreage of your plots will prevent over applying seed, fertilizer, lime and herbicide. Better crops are always produced when the correct amount of seed, fertilizer and lime are applied.”

Three: Plant North to South

“Configure plots to run more north-south than east-west,” says Dr. Grant Woods, one of the top deer managers in the world. “Growing plants will get adequate sunlight each day, but they won’t bake in the summer.  The northeast corner of a slope generally has the moistest soil and is a particularly good spot for a plot.”

Four: Get A Top Soil Sample

Dig 5 or 6 six cups of dirt from various spots around a plot area, mix the soil in a bucket and come up with one representative soil sample. Have it tested at your county extension office or by a seed company for recommendations on liming and fertilizing. Bonus tip: Ideally your dirt would have a pH level of seven, or neutral. But usually it’ll test 4 to 6. Keep in mind that it takes a ton of lime per acre to raise the pH one point, and it takes lime months to work most efficiently. Plan well ahead of time.

Five: Plant Clover

You have a bunch of seed choices, but you can’t go wrong by planting a 60/40 mix of a perennial like Imperial Whitetail Clover and chicory in spring. By mid-May the clover is producing major tonnage, and the chicory kicks in soon thereafter to provide a steady food source for lactating does and bucks putting on new antlers.

The great news is that the clover will last 5 years, and the chicory about 3 years, so this minimizes your work and cost big time.

Scout Deer In Spring Turkey Season

scouting trackWhen we scout and hunt a property for deer from September through December, we poke around and look for rubs, scrapes and tracks. But we are reluctant to walk around too much or penetrate too deeply into the woods for fear of bumping deer. That’s good, but trouble is, by working only the perimeters of a hunting area, you only get a glimpse of how and where the deer, and bucks, live and travel.

But in the spring, you can walk freely in the woods and investigate every ridge, bottom and thicket for signs of deer. Why not kill two birds with one stone and combine your scouting with your turkey hunting in April and May?

At daylight, listen for a gobbling bird and go get him if you can. Midmornings, when the turkeys go quiet, start walking. Cover every ridge, draw and creek bottom on the land. Check out every edge, thicket or swamp. You’ll bump a few deer, but who cares? You won’t be back to hunt them for another 5 or 6 months.

As you’re walking along pause every few hundred yards and cast a few yelps and cutts, hoping to strike a gobbler whose hens have left him for the day. If no luck with that, cut every deer trail you come across, follow it a ways and see where it goes. Trails the deer use now will be fresh and muddy, but old worn trails they used last fall and winter will still be visible. Those old trails are the ones you need to find and follow, since those are the ones a buck used back in hunting season, and the ones he’ll use it again this fall.

Main trails will fork into secondary trails that link more food sources and cover thickets. Walk those too, and key in on pockets of deer sign. When a trail cuts across a creek, veers around a ridge point or drops into a ditch, take note because those funneling points are great places for trail cameras and tree stands next fall.

As you hike, look for feeding areas you might have missed or never knew about—white oaks on a ridge, a patch of greenery near a swamp, persimmons, old apple trees… Same goes for small or large thickets, cutovers, weedy ditches and the like that serve as satellite or major bedding areas.

Rubs and scrapes from last October and November are easy to spot in the spring woods. Look for “signpost” rubs–large, scarred trees that mark some section of a buck’s core living area. Missouri whitetail scientist Grant Woods points out that while mature bucks blaze the big rubs, many deer interact with them. “They act as communal pheromone wicks and are located in areas with high deer traffic,” he says. That would be an obvious spot to scout further and hang a stand this fall.

Woods has found a correlation between the number of rubs in an area and the number of older bucks that live there. On a management property in Tennessee, he’s observed an amazing 5,000 rubs per square mile, or 7.8 per acre. If you find a piece of woods lit up rubbed trees like that, start looking for stand sites for this fall.

Whitetail bucks are habitual, and scrape in the same general areas year after year. As you walk and turkey call, look for three old scraping patterns, and make a note to come back and check them again as bucks start rutting this October:

–A cluster of scrapes at the intersection of 2 or 3 trails, with big rubs nearby. This is a “rut junction” and a great spot for a trail camera.

–A scrape line on the edge of a linear honeysuckle thicket or a row of pines or cedars. Bucks run these edges frequently in late October and early November. Another good spot for a trail camera.

–A heavily scraped spot on a ridge 100 yards or so off a corn or bean field. If the acorn crop is good again in the fall, bucks will stage and scrape there again.

I hope you get your turkey this spring, but if not all is not lost. The more you roam and learn the woods, and the more old buck sign you find, the better you’ll hunt this fall.




How to Judge and Measure A Whitetail Buck Rack

tape rack Print this page, tape it on the wall of your hunting room or camp and refer to it from time to time as you get ready to hit the woods. Tips from Boone and Crockett.

Main Beam Length

Main beams account for 30 percent of a rack’s score. The average Boone and Crockett-class buck has beams that average 25.63 inches. For field-judging purposes, it’s about 8 inches from a buck’s eye to the end of its nose, so look for main beams at least 3 times that long.


The second most important factor is mass. Circumference measurements taken between the burr and first point (G-1), and between other points along the main beam together provide nearly 18 percent of the score. To field-judge mass, consider that the circumference of a buck’s eye is about 4 inches. Antler mass measurements on a Boone and Crockett class buck average about 4 1/2 inches. So look for main beams thicker than the eyes, with that mass carried through the length of the beams.

Tine Length and Spread

Other important characteristics for score, and which account for 12 percent each, are inside spread and length of tines, especially the second and third points. The average Boone and Crockett buck has an inside spread of 19.75 inches. G-2 tines average 10 inches. In the woods, look for tall tines, the more the better.