“Stag Buck” Velvet Antlers: What Causes This?

oregon stagBIG DEER TV producer Justin Karnopp sent me this text: Shot velvet buck with no testicles. Coolest buck I’ve ever killed!

I can’t wait to see the video footage. This will make a terrific episode for next season, as a stag buck like this is very rare.

According to QDMA a birth defect known as cryptorchidism causes a buck to keep velvet antlers beyond the normal velvet-shedding time of late summer:

In extreme cases both testicles remain in the abdominal cavity and never descend into the scrotum. The normal production of testosterone is diminished, and the antler cycle of hardening, velvet shedding and antler casting is altered. These same results can sometimes be produced in a buck that is born normal but subsequently suffers a testicular injury.

Cryptorchid bucks are different. They don’t participate in the seasonal rituals of normal bucks. Because their testosterone levels remain low in early fall, their antler development is not completed, and their velvet is not shed. Cryptorchid bucks don’t participate in signpost behavior… They lack the chemical stimulation to express their dominance and individualism…  the necks of cryptorchid bucks do not swell as the breeding season approaches. Reproductively, they are in neutral. Antlers are not shed, and they remain in velvet year round… the antlers continue to grow as the animal matures.

I all my travels and hunting I have never seen a stag buck, have you? If anybody has shot one, send me a picture!

BIG DEER’S Moon/Rut Deer Hunting Guide 2016

full moon compressFrom Kansas to Virginia to Canada, 90 percent of the adult does will come into estrus and be bred from roughly November 5-20, regardless of moon phase or weather. It’s been that way for decades in the Northern two-thirds of North America, and will continue to be that way forever. Take off anytime from Halloween though Thanksgiving, and you’ll hunt some phase of the rut. Anytime you hunt rutting deer you are going to have a good time, and with the potential to shoot a big buck.

But I do believe that some days and weeks are better than others each year, according to when the various phases of the “rutting moon” occur each November. I base this on two things. One, 30 years of hunting and observing whitetails as they seek, chase and breed each November. And two, my keen interest in all things lunar, and how the four phases might affect deer movement. I read all the moon research I can get my hands, and then compare that data to my field notes.

The most recent study on the moon and its effects on whitetail movement was conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University. Researchers tracked GPS-collared deer throughout the four lunar phases, and analyzed text messages sent from those collars to determine when the does and bucks moved the most–and the least. I cross-referenced the study’s findings with my field notes, and found some similarities and common ground.

I’ll use that to make predictions on how and when the deer will move around and rut this November.

October 30, 2016: New Moon

The NC State study confirmed one fact we already know: Whitetails are crepuscular, which means they are active mostly at dawn and dusk, regardless of moon phase. “That fact did not change,” says researcher Marcus Lashley, who headed the study. “But the intensity of movement in each period when the deer decided to move did change.”

In some moon phases the deer were noticeably more active at dawn than they were at dusk. The new (dark) moon is example of that. “We saw a large peak of movement at daylight during this phase, and below average movement the rest of the day and night,” Lashley notes.

In any given year the first week of November is one of the best times to bowhunt for a big deer; hundreds of giants are arrowed this week across North America. If you take off this week, hunt all day every day, because you never know. But remember the new science that says with the moon new and dark and waxing crescent, bucks will be most active at daylight. Get on stand extra early and hunt the mornings extra hard.

November 7, 2016: First-Quarter Moon

The NC State study found that during the first-quarter moon, deer move less on average throughout the day than in all the other phases. Researcher Lashley goes so far as to say, “That would be a good seven days to work.”

This is where I totally disagree with the science. Looking back to my notes and past blogs, it is no secret that many huge bucks are killed every year during the peak-rut window of November 8-14. This is always a good week to take off work!

That said, I mention this. On and around November 10 every season, especially in the Midwest, the “lockdown” hits in many areas as mature bucks hole up in covers and tend and breed does. Couple that with the data that says the overall deer activity will diminish during the first-quarter moon and things could get tough.

Friend and big-buck hunter Mark Drury, a moon fanatic like me, concurs. “Look for the lockdown in mid-November to be fairly tough, but once bucks start to free up around the 14th,  and with the full moon coming on, I think the buck movement will be quite good at all times of the day.”

full moon buck compress

November 14, 2016: Full Moon

Mark Drury texted me recently and said: “I think this year’s rut will be a little better than last year’s, good if temperatures are normal or below, but not great. I’m looking most forward to November 14-18 and I will sit all day. Daylight activity could be really good right then.”

For the last several years Drury and I have texted back and forth from tree stands across America, talking about the moon and what we’re seeing. Turns out we’re both working on and adding to a new theory—mature bucks move great during the day in and around the full moon in November. Of course this flies in the face of what many of you have read for years and believe–that deer are most active at night during a big moon, and therefore move less in daylight, and thusly the full moon is bad for hunting.

But I believe we’re on to something, because the more I hunt during the rutting moon across the U.S. and Canada, the more mature bucks I seem to see wandering around the woods, or chasing does. Mark agrees. We are not scientists so we can’t give you any hard data to that end, we just know we like hunting the full moon more and more.

Marcus Lashley is a scientist, and his findings on the full moon back us up, at least somewhat. “A common misconception is that deer can see better at night (and hence move all over the place) because it’s brighter when the moon is full. But according to our data they actually move less on average at night during a full moon and more during the middle of the day, and also earlier in the evenings,” he says.

While Mark Drury is only so-so on the 2016 rut, I’m more optimistic. I see things setting up to be pretty good during the moon that waxes full on November 14. Many of the old bucks will be coming out of lockdown around then, and as they go back on the prowl for more does, some of them will move long and hard from around 11:00 a.m. until dark each day. Plan to get on stand by 9:00 a.m. and hunt till dark.

November 21, 2016: Last-Quarter Moon

Later on in November is tough and unpredictable any season. The breeding is winding down, and weary bucks have been pressured for two months. Simple math says there are fewer bucks in the woods because a number of them were harvested earlier in the season.

But there is still hope. According to the NC State researchers, from a moon perspective, the deer movement should be best from November 21 until the end of the month. “If you are going to hunt the last hour of the day anytime this season, you should do it on the last quarter because that was the most extreme deer movement we saw during the whole study.”

Try this. Set an afternoon stand near a secluded, thick-cover funnel that leads out to a crop field where you know some does are feeding. A skittish, weary buck is still ready and willing to breed any last doe that will give him a chance. You might just shoot one yet as he sneaks out to check the girls in the last wisps of light.

Good luck and let me know how you do moon-wise this fall.

The Hunting Mentality: “Keep Your Head in the Game”

Got this from Bud awhile back:

Mike, watch your show all the time. My son and I hunted together in Kentucky last year. One day I sat in a blind and saw deer from dawn until 10:30. I let 16 smaller bucks go, waiting for Mr. Big. I didn’t see another deer for 4 hours.

All I thought about was what you said in one of your shows: “Keep your head in the game you never know when he will step out…”

ky bud 1

Well, my buck came out at 2:45 in the afternoon, and I dropped him at 217 yards with a .30-06 shooting a 180-grain. I’ve been hunting since I was 16; I’m 69 and he’s my best deer. Just got him back from the taxidermist.

My son has been hunting since he was 11. He’s 35 and also took his biggest deer, a 9-point, on that trip.

Thanks for the advice and looking forward to next season of BIG DEER.—Bud Cummings

Great job guys, way to keep your heads in the game and your instincts ready. Deer hunting is 80% mental. You never know when a shooter will step our, and you need to be poised to cash in.

BIG DEER TV 2016 Episode 5: Kentucky’s Coal-Country Elk

KY elk 1a

Did you know that Kentucky has the largest herd of wild elk east of the Mississippi River?

In 1997, seven elk were shipped from Kansas to the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. Over the next several years some 1,550 more wapiti were transported from various Western states into the Kentucky mountains. The animals thrived in the hilly, rugged reclaimed strip mine habitat. Today Kentucky’s elk herd is estimated at a strong and healthy 10,000 animals.

ky elk 2

It is one of America’s top wildlife restoration stories, and we highlight and celebrate that success on tonight’s episode.

The conservation story is weaved amid a great hunt that took place last October. My friend and Sportsman Channel colleague, Graig Hale, somehow beat astronomical odds and drew a tag. As you will see, Graig encountered several Appalachian bulls and cashed in with a nice one.

KY graig elk

I had hoped to somehow get a tag and go along on this unique hunt. The folks in charge of the elk tags laughed and said, “Yeah, maybe you can draw one in 20 or 30 years!”

So we let Graig and ace videographer Danny Dodge handle it, and as you will see they did a superb job.

Set your DVR, BIG DEER TV Wednesdays at 7 pm ET on Sportsman Channel.

BIG DEER TV 2016 Episode 3: “Rut Race Saskatchewan to Idaho”

sask woods before cut

As the script goes: Saskatchewan’s muzzleloader season is 2 weeks earlier than my usual rifle hunt up here, and the warm, wet weather is killing us. It’s hard just to get around in the mud and slop, and the deer are inactive in their thick winter coats…the forest is dead…but you have to keep your head up.

That I did, though I did not see a single buck all week. A few does, but not one buck. My 10-plus-year streak of amazing buck hunts and good fortune in the Saskatchewan bush had come to a crashing end.

I could not let it end that way. I’d have to come back next month…

Down but not out, I put a tough hunt behind me and prepare for daunting terrain in the river canyons of northwestern Idaho.  A far cry from the mental fatigue of the ground blind, this hunt will test my physical stamina and work ethic…

white bird

White Bird, Idaho, named after a chief of the Nez Perce tribe, is surrounded by prime western whitetail habitat…but you have to earn your buck in this tough country.

First no buck in Anticosti Quebec and ditto for Saskatchewan last week. My rough start to the 2015 whitetail season rolls on. The first guy I met in Idaho was a local game warden named George, a nice fellow who said, “You should have been here last year. Plenty of bucks. This summer, EHD hit the whitetails hard in the area you’re hunting.”

…you have to keep your head up.

We started glassing and hunting in this stunningly beautiful paradise where during a normal season you can find 10 or more whitetail bucks a day without too much effort, along with lots of mule deer and elk. Some mule deer and herds of elk were still here, but we were hard pressed to see one whitetail buck. Just as I thought I’d eat my third tag in a row, Bob and I crossed a creek, looked up and…

idaho buck mike

As the show ends, you’ll see how to make a whitetail backpack and carry the whole darn deer, sans legs, up and out of the mountains on your back. (Not mine, but a strong, tough 20-something named Ryan.)

whitetail backpack

This new episode of BIG DEER TV airs 7 pm Eastern tonight on Sportsman Channel, set your DVR.