Study: Trees Know When Deer Feed On Them

deer browseScience continues to uncover interesting things in the deer world.

The Deer Forest Blog reported that a recent study found that some trees know when they are being browsed by deer…and they put up a defense mechanism to stop it.

The study looked at beech and maple saplings that comprised the regenerating under-story in a forest, and thus were often browsed by deer. The researchers simulated deer browsing by clipping buds off the saplings and then applying deer saliva to the wounds.

They found that the saliva caused the saplings to increase production of salicylic acid, which signals a tree to produce more tannins. Tannins are bitter and not palatable to deer. The scientists concluded that the production of tannins may deter future browsing by deer on those saplings. Saplings that were clipped off but not treated with deer saliva did not produce tannins or initiate other defense metabolites.

Bottom line: Some species of saplings that are browsed by deer initiate a defense mechanism so that the trees are literally not eaten alive by the animals, thus perpetuating the growth of under-story and the health of a forest.

Fascinating! Isn’t nature grand?

Southeast Deer Study Group 2017

Southeast-Deer-Study-Group-450x337The Southeast Deer Study Group meets annually for researchers and managers to share the latest information on whitetail deer. The 2017 study just concluded last week in St. Louis, and here are a few of their findings:

As always there was interesting new info on the whitetail rut. Researchers from Mississippi State’s Forest Resources revealed a study that shows when bucks of similar age and body weight are present and available, does in estrus prefer to breed with the buck with the largest antlers.

Another finding confirms why during peak rut you need to keep as many trail cameras rolling across your land as possible: Researchers at the Univ. of Georgia noted that you’ll get the most cam photos of mature bucks during peak breeding days.

There was new info on Southern whitetail herds, many of which were established from northern deer that were trucked in and stocked in parts of Dixie many years ago. This caught my interest, as I recently hunted the rut in late January in south Alabama.

Researchers from Miss. State studied dozens of herds in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and found that only 1 deer (from Alabama) showed a genetic link to its northern source (Michigan). While Southern deer have all Southern blood nowadays,  they still rut more than 2 months later than northern deer in some parts of the South.

Researchers at the Univ. of Georgia have been studying whitetail vision for a couple of decades. Their latest finding: A deer’s eyes and vision are acutely adapted to detect movement at dawn and dusk, which makes perfect sense since those are the times when does and bucks are on their feet and moving the most.


Lastly, my favorite new finding that in no way will improve your hunting, but which is another of nature’s fascinating trivia: A wildlife student from Georgia was able to identify 28 unique fawns out of 1,454 trail camera images by their unique spot patterns on their little hides!

Texas Unicorn Buck: Biggest Unicorn Whitetail Buck Ever?

STexas unicornThanks to our friend Wren for alerting me to the most unique “unicorn buck” ever. I’ve never seen a multi-pointed third beam–5 points–of this size protruding from a buck’s face; this could well be the biggest unicorn buck ever recorded in America! The original post is from the South Texas Hunting Association Facebook page:

Our amigo Troy Calaway from TWC Hunt Co. with a very unique buck with a third main beam that grew out between both eyes…congrats on an awesome trophy!

STexas unicorn.png 2

So what causes this rarity? Scientists say a unicorn tine is caused by trauma to the front facial bone of a buck, such as a tine puncture from another buck. Strangely, another beam then grows out from there.

One thing for sure: This Texas uni buck will make one of the coolest shoulder mounts ever, awesome Troy! I’m hoping Troy will see this and send me the entire story of this amazing deer.

Pennsylvania Bowhunter Shoots 8.5-Year-Old Buck

PA 8.5 buck 1

The Deer-Forest Study blog, written by biologists and researchers from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is one of my favorites, and I monitor it weekly. Biologist Jeannine Fleegle posted this one earlier this week:

A couple of weeks ago, we got a phone call from a hunter reporting a tagged deer. Nothing out of the ordinary about that this time of year. 

(Note: The PA researchers tag some wild does and bucks every year and monitor their movements with GPS and the like; the tagged deer are legal game, and hunters who shoot and report them get a reward.)

When we looked up the tag, we discovered that this buck (11144) was tagged in 2010 as a yearling, which means he was 8.5 years old!  The hunter was nice enough to forward some photos and (the buck) was rather impressive. 

This buck was harvested during the (2016) archery season…. But he was available for harvest as a 7.5-year-old, 6.5-year-old, 5.5-year-old, 4.5-year-old, 3.5-year-old, and 2.5-year-old for every deer season (which) means this buck outsmarted hunters for 6 years.  If he was a legal buck as a yearling, that would make it 7!  And let’s not forget, he was an antlerless deer for one year too.

PA 8.5 buck 2

…8.5 years old is pretty old for a buck. To give you a little perspective, less than 1% of bucks harvested are older than 7.5 years old. 

The hunter who harvested this buck was pretty awesome too.  She declined the $100 reward and asked that it be used on future research. I guess Buck 11144 was reward enough (for her).

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.