Summer Whitetail Fun: 10,000 Trail-Cam Pictures, 30 Bucks!

MD bachelor bucks 2017 1

I have been swapping emails with one of our bloggers who has a very unique situation going on with his local whitetail herd. So unusual that even super deer biologist Grant Woods is impressed.

From our hunter, who has 2 cameras out:

I got more than 5,000 pictures in the month of June alone and most of them were bucks. This leads me to believe that our property is the summer home for the majority of the bucks in the area.

There are easily over 30 different bucks that I am getting pictures of every day. I only have 2 cameras up, and they are only 250 yards apart. I checked them again recently, and one camera had another 1,066 pictures and the other camera had 3,227 pictures since July 1. 

I clarify that all of the bucks aren’t in one big group. They are typically in groups of 3-6 bucks. But there are just so many small bachelor groups.

I know it’s normal for bucks to form bachelor groups in the summer, but is it normal for this many bucks to stick together in a 30-acre spot?  The property is larger, but they stay in this 30-acre area all summer, every summer.

Thirty bucks in 30 acres is unusual, so I ran it by Grant Woods to see if he’d heard of a similar situation:

This all sounds normal, except for the number of bucks.  Is there a habitat feature in or near the 30 acres that’s unique for the area?  Maybe a water source, reason bugs aren’t as bad in this area, less disturbance from two or four-legged predators compared to other areas?

There’s some reason the bucks are spending a lot of time in this area.  Bucks almost always disperse about the time they shed velvet. During past years have you noticed most of these bucks using a different portion of their range?  Do the dominant bucks continue using this area?  If so, that’s a great sign that there’s a limited resource there that bucks need year round like a natural mineral lick, etc.

If only bucks would act like that during hunting season!—Grant

Grant’s observations spurred thought in our blogger/hunter, who emailed me back:

It just dawned on me a possible reason for so many more bucks this year. It might not be that much of a phenomena and more that they were pushed to find a new home.  

There is a place about 1 mile away from our property where they recently bulldozed all of the woods, put up a tall fence and have been blasting away on the construction site.  I bet that is what has pushed more deer onto our land this summer.  They lost their bedding area.

By the way, I think the number one reason that bucks congregate here in the 30 acres every summer is that they are protected.  It is basically a sanctuary.  They have thick cover, plenty of food and there is a stream.  Our property butts against a place that doesn’t allow hunting or trespassing.  And that property butts against the interstate so there is no access at all from that side. 

If you were to look at a topo map you would see several hundred acres of farm fields and then a 30-40 acre patch of thick woods that butts up to the interstate.  This is their summer sanctuary.  The only humans they might see the entire summer are either the farmers or me checking my cameras. That would be the only thing about our property that is different from the surrounding area. The bucks  are undisturbed.

And, yes, Mr. Woods is correct.  Every year around mid-September, once the velvet comes off, the bucks disperse. And, no, the dominant bucks never stick around.  We are generally always left with a handful of smaller bucks. But maybe with the change in habitat, one the bigger bucks will stay on our land this fall, I hope so.

Fascinating story. And I’ve written and blogged many times over the years that what goes on lands surrounding where you hunt is just as important as what is happening on your land. I wrote this in an Outdoor Life article on summer scouting one time:

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in scouting your land that you neglect the adjacent properties. That’s a mistake because what happens across the fences dictates 50 percent or more of the deer movements in your area. Maybe a new crop of soybeans was planted a mile away, or new construction has leveled a big chunk of woods. Many things on adjacent lands can change the deer patterns from year to year, and you need to know that…

MD dan

Finally, our blogger asks: This is one of the bigger bucks I have on camera. Do you think those brows are going to split?  I hope so.

Yes, I see a big split brow (both sides!), hope he hangs around your spot in September bow season. Good luck.

How Bad Was The Mule Deer Winterkill?

mule deerI recently attended the 2017 North American Deer Summit, where Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West. Jim said that while mule deer went through tough times in recent years, the good news is that muley populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.

But Jim did point to the hard, snowy winter of 2016-17 in some regions of the West, saying that “will lead to a dip in deer numbers this year in some states.” Well, turns out it will be quite a big dip in places.

U.S. News and World Reports has just published a compilation of how last winter impacted mule deer herds in 7 states. Here are some findings that jump out:

South-central Colorado saw high fawn mortality… estimates are that only 20 to 25 percent of fawns survived in the Gunnison Basin, mainly because of a large snowfall event…mule deer hunting licenses in the basin have been reduced by 60 percent for bucks and 80 percent for does.

Idaho saw its third worst winter for mule deer fawn survival in the past 18 years… But mule deer numbers across the state are still healthy enough to withstand the loss as long as next winter is milder.

Above-average losses of mule deer fawns were recorded in northern Utah, where only 10 percent of one herd’s fawns survived… The losses occurred despite the state’s efforts to provide food supplements to the deer. Snow depths exceeded 150 percent of normal in some areas.

In Wyoming, mule deer and antelope west of the Continental Divide suffered significant losses, probably the worst in more than 30 years… Many areas saw up to 90 percent loss of deer fawns and up to 35 percent loss of adult deer. Fewer hunting permits for mule deer and antelope will be issued this fall in western Wyoming.

 

Indiana Deer Covered With Warts

IN deer wartsCameron sent me this image via Twitter: I was driving down the road and saw her. Got out and walked within 15 yards and filmed with my phone.

I retweeted the picture and dozens of people want to know what is going on here.

Biologists say that these growths, commonly called “deer warts,” are cutaneous fibromas and they are caused by a virus. The virus could be transmitted from one deer to another by biting insects, just like bluetongue is transmitted.

The warts are hairless tumors that can be found on any part of the skin, but they rarely extend below the hide. They are usually temporary on the body and can vary from 1/2 to 8 inches in diameter, or even larger. The tumors are rarely fatal unless they grow large enough to interfere with an animal’s vision, breathing or eating. This doe has a bad case of warts and might die because her vision is impacted.

Biologists say these growths are not all that uncommon on whitetail deer in the summer. But I have spent 40 years observing and hunting deer and have never seen an animal like this.

Have you ever seen a deer with warts?

While the growths look gross, scientists say deer with these skin tumors are still edible. No report of human infection from cutaneous fibromas has been documented. The concern for hunters would be from an animal with an extensive bacterial infection, like this one. Common sense would tell you not to eat this doe.

2017 Deer Update: How Are Mule Deer Doing?

mule deerAt the 2017 North American Deer Summit last week, Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West.

Mule deer went through tough times in the 1990s, and populations declined in many areas. More than 20 years later most people still think mule deer numbers are down, “but actually there’s good news,” said Jim. “Mule deer populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.”

Jim pointed to Utah, Idaho and California as bright spots, with herds on the slight rise. But he did acknowledge that the winter of 2016 was brutal in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, where there should be a “little dip” in deer numbers this year.

In the West, mule deer face unique challenges, such as expanded housing, energy and road development in herds’ migration routes and wintering areas; limited and changing water supplies; and changes in habitat and food sources. Major predators of the mule deer are the coyote (on fawns) and mountain lion.

Jim is particularly positive about the herds and the number of big, mature bucks in his home state of Arizona. “The big bucks are here in any given year.” Arizona manages their mule deer so conservatively—drawing a tag is tough—that there are always big deer on public ground. Also expect lots of huge public-land bucks this fall next door in New Mexico, where again pulling a tag is the biggest challenge.

2017 Whitetail Report: How Are The Deer Doing?

sd sioux falls buck 2008I recently returned from the 2017 North American Deer Summit, a two-day event where the top deer biologists and scientists in the nation gather to discuss the health of our herds and the future of hunting. First on the agenda: How are whitetail deer doing across the U.S.?

QDMA biologist Kip Adams kicked off the discussion with some good news. After several tough years (2011-2014) when winters were harsh in some regions and big outbreaks of EHD  killed substantial numbers of deer in other areas, things are looking up for America’s most popular and widespread game animal.

Kip pointed out that the buck harvest is up 4% (hunters in America shoot some 2.7 million bucks every fall). Furthermore, the percentage of bucks 3.5 years of older in the harvest has never been higher.

It took a while but hunters as a whole have finally embraced the idea of letting small bucks walk in hopes that they will the opportunity to shoot a mature, big-racked deer next season or the next. “I’ve been monitoring this issue for many years, and hunters’ attitudes on letting young bucks grow have definitely changed,” said Kip.

Also, 10-15 years ago, if a state wanted to implement antler restrictions in order to save immature bucks, hunters would scream. Today, more hunters than ever, a strong majority, support antler restrictions that let 1- and 2-year-old bucks walk and grow.

But there are threats to deer herds and deer hunting, including predators and lack of access to good land for hunting. But it all pales to the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. 

CWD, which has now been documented in more than 20 states, is a contagious neurological disease that affects deer. It causes a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior (drooling and stumbling), loss of bodily functions and ultimately death.

A large portion of the 2-day deer summit was devoted to the CWD threat, and I’ll cover that more in future blogs. But here’s the most disturbing thing.

Consider that CWD has been documented in both mule deer and whitetails in Wyoming for at least 40 years. For those 4 decades the deer herds survived and grew in many locations, causing some people to be skeptical of the CWD threat.

Consider me one of those early skeptics. I have hunted in Wyoming many times, and on every hunt, I have been amazed at the number of deer I have seen. Some of the strongest herds in America. How could there be so many deer out here if CWD is such a big deal?

Studies from CWD-prevalent areas in Wyoming the last couple of years have shown noticeable drops in deer numbers, perhaps 18% in places. This is the first time that CWD has been directly linked to population declines. The big worry as CWD spreads across the country: Once herds are infected with CWD, maybe it takes several decades for substantial numbers of deer to start dying and populations to diminish?

There are still many questions and a lot to be studied and learned about CWD, but Kip Adams and all the other scientists at the summit echoed the same sentiment: CWD is the biggest threat to deer and deer hunting in 2017 and maybe ever. All hunters must get engaged on this issue and be informed.

CWD aside for now, the outlook for the upcoming season is good across North America. “For the most part, last winter was fairly mild in most areas, and we’ve have lots of moisture this spring,” said Kip. “The 2017 hunting season is setting up to be a good one.”