How Spring Floods Affect Deer

floods deerThis week a low-pressure system has brought steady rain and localized flooding to the Carolinas, and today it’s moving up the East Coast. Late April and especially May is also when floods are common along the Mississippi and other rivers and streams in the Midwest.

How does all this spring rain and flooding affect the whitetail deer?

The good news, biologists say that rising floodwaters of river and creeks won’t kill many if any adult deer, though it will displace the animals for days and perhaps weeks. But the deer will filter back into their habitats and core areas once the waters recede.

While pregnant does will move out of rising water now and for the next few weeks, the primary concern for deer herds in and around flood zones occurs later on in May and in early June, when the does start dropping fawns.

“But fawn survival in flood plains is typically very high, even during flood years,” says noted whitetail scientist Grant Woods.

“To cause any significant problems in a herd, the water levels would have to rise very rapidly and be timed when the peak of fawn births occur, and before the fawns are mobile. This is a narrow window of time. Rivers rarely rise that quickly on that timing, and does are excellent mothers!”

Another and perhaps more serious concern is where floodwaters might affect preferred fawning cover. “When does are forced to fawn in adjoining croplands or woods where there isn’t as much cover predation on the fawns can increase. But overall, I’m not worried about the fawns and the deer herds in a normal flood zone.”

How Deer Antlers Grow

July28,2005StickerBuckRiverBankVelvet010(2)

In April, as the days continue to get longer and daylight increases, new antlers begin to grow from buds that form on the pedicels on a buck’s head. Typically within a month, main beams and brow tines begin to sprout and split off. A month or so later, in early June, second and third tines will form.

Throughout early summer, the fledgling racks grow fast and furious. Antler tissue is the fastest growing tissue known to man. Beams and tines may grow a quarter-inch or more per day, the process driven by a buck’s hormones and the photoperiod of the days.

According to Missouri scientist Dr. Grant Woods, a buck’s rack will show most of its points by mid-June, though tine length is typically less than half developed at this time. Most of the beam length will grow by late June.

Those are the general rules, but Grant points out that the growth of individual racks can vary. “Some bucks will show a lot of antler growth early, while others seem to add a bunch to their rack during July,” he says. The photo above was taken on July 28 a few years ago.

Click for more interesting facts about summer antlers.

In early August antlers begin to morph 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 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 15 bucks shed the velvet. The cue for antler hardening and velvet shedding is the change in photoperiod caused by decreasing daylight and increasing darkness, which results in a significant increase in the bucks’ testosterone.

Velvet shedding typically takes only a couple of hours, though it is not uncommon to see a deer walking around for day or two with bloody velvet tatters. Bucks have been known to turn their heads and peel or even eat the dry velvet off their new racks.

Mid-September on, the tree rubbing and antler-polishing begin. With their new crowns gleaming, mature bucks are ready and willing to breed the does for the next three months, until the days grow shorter and their testosterone begins to fade and the fascinating antler cycle begins all over again.

Tennessee: Tucker Buck #1 Non-Typical Whitetail Ever!

tn tucker buck

The Boone and Crockett Club recently confirmed that a buck shot in Tennessee in 2016 is the highest-scoring non-typical whitetail ever shot by a person.

Hunting with a muzzleloader on November 7, 2016, farmer Stephen Tucker shot the massive deer in Sumner County (full story click here). Its official entry score into the Boone and Crockett records is an astounding 312 0/8.

Justin Spring of Boone and Crockett said, “What makes this particular deer special is an entry score of 312 0/8 on only a 149 1/8-inch typical frame, which includes a modest inside spread of 14 1/8 inches. That’s 162 7/8 inches of abnormal points.”

The Tucker Buck had 22 scorable points on the left side and 25 on the right. Only three other entries ever in the B&C record book have had more than 47 scorable points.

Who would have thought that the biggest buck ever shot by a hunter would come from Tennessee, which has a total of 27 non-typicals in the record book (as compared to almost 600 in Illinois)? It goes to show what I have been blogging for years: You never know when and where a giant will pop up. The area where Tucker shot his buck is one of the top spots in the state, with prime habitat, soils and genetics. Sumner County also produced the previous Tennessee record non-typical, a deer scoring 244 3/8 taken in 2000.

While the Tucker Buck is the #1 non-typical whitetail ever shot by a hunter, it sits at #3 all-time. The World Record and #2 in the non-typical category were both “picked up” (or found dead) and score 333 7/8 and 328 2/8 respectively.

TN tucker scorecard

Do Deer Migrate? How Far?

wy mule deer migrationNo, in Midwestern, Southern and Eastern states, the whitetail deer that most of us hunt do not migrate. In fact they are homebodies, typically living their entire lives in a home range of a mile or so, with buck core areas smaller than that.

But yes, in Western states some herds of both whitetails and mule do deer migrate.

Based on 40 years of radio-tracking data, Montana biologists have documented that whitetails in the western mountains migrate to dense forests during the winter months. Herds move an average of 8 to 15 miles, going down in elevation as far as needed in search of conifer needles to eat, overhead tree canopy to block the snow and thermal protection created by Douglas fir and other evergreens.

As for mule deer, they are the big walkers. For example, in northeast Montana where I hunt most every year, biologists from Fish, Wildlife & Parks have tracked mule deer moving an average of 64 miles from winter range west of Glasgow, Montana to summer fawning areas up in Saskatchewan.

A few years ago, the longest mule deer migration ever recorded was in Wyoming. Thousands of deer migrate 150 miles from winter range in Wyoming’s Red Desert to summer range in the mountains. This 300-mile round-trip journey is the greatest large mammal migration in the continuous United States.

The entire migration was documented, and needs to be seen to be believed.

Western deer pass migration routes down from generation to generation. It’s possible that if a route becomes blocked the deer will lose it forever and the herds will suffer. As the human population in the West continues to grow, developmental threats to these critical travel corridors, especially for mule deer, are a constant concern. Through land acquisitions and easements, the Mule Deer Foundation and other conservation groups work tirelessly to ensure that the age-old paths between summer and winter range remain intact.

 (Photo by Joe Riis)

Cryptorchidism in Deer: “Stag Buck”

doug stag buck

Have you ever seen a buck in velvet well past September, maybe into November or December, or even with velvet antlers still intact in spring or summer?

Commonly called a “stag,” the oddball buck exhibits unusual antler growth and retains velvet on the antlers due to low testosterone levels.

Scientists refer to this condition as cryptoridism, and it’s rare. It can result from a birth defect or disease that causes a buck’s testicles (one or both) not to drop normally. Or, a buck may injure his privates, say on a wire fence (ouch). Cryptorchidism can occur in whitetails, blacktails (picture above) or mule deer (below).

A stag buck is different, and he doesn’t engage in the seasonal rituals of normal bucks. Cryptorchids don’t rub or scrape as the rut approaches. They lack the chemical stimulation to express dominance or individualism. Their necks don’t swell and they don’t breed. Reproductively, they are stuck in neutral.

A stag doesn’t shed his antlers; they remain in velvet year-round. The fuzzy antlers can continue to grow as the animal matures. Older-age-class cryptorchids can grow to become true freaks, known as “cactus bucks.”

If you see a stag in the woods, take him, you’ll have a rare and interesting trophy. Big Deer TV producer Justin Karnopp did just that one day last fall, and you’ll see the hunt on a new episode of my show later this summer on Sportsman Channel.

oregon stag