Hunting Stories and Strategies from a Forest Biologist Point of View
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Sorry have not been keeping up on things in here. Just a quick note about my recent accomplishments. I am now the Secretary of the Mid Michigan Branch of the QDMA. Also I am on the executive board of our local QDM CO OP. Been a little busy with the kids and my nine to five job. Hope to get back to posting here more so keep following and spread the word.
I recently made a comment on Facebook about a nice 8-point buck I had on trail cam that got shot during the youth hunt here in Michigan. It stirred up some emotions and to varying degrees, criticism and comments. I like the fact that it is a hot issue, so i thought I would write it in my blog and see what happens.
My view on the youth hunt may be sparked by some jealousy. Not because the buck I would have liked my wife to get this year got shot, rather because we never had this opportunity as kids. In my hunting career, which started when I was 13 as an over confident bow hunter, I have taken my share of bucks. I have never shot a buck or had a shot at a buck over 100 inches until last year when I got two. Call it a lucky season, growth of a hunter or whatever you may. My wife has been deer hunting with me since we met 16 years ago. She hunts with gun and bow and has 2 bucks (both 1.5 yr old-7 points) and a few does under her belt. My wife's father is in his sixties and he shot his largest buck ever 2 years ago - No not a monster buck either. It was a 1.5 year old 8-pointer that scored maybe 40 inches.
Now, I will say we harvest our fair share of does to fill the freezer and are happy to get that nourishment. Providing you with this history creates a perspective to ponder. How are these kids going to feel when they shoot a big buck at age 12, and then never see another buck that big again? I know, that is hunting, right? Well, up until about three years ago Michigan law still allowed baiting to harvest deer. When you could still bait, hunters did see all kinds of deer and the youth season probably would not have as big of an effect on a youngster. But now, hunters who have hunted all their lives are coming home with unfilled tags. It took me 24 years of hunting to get Michigan's deer hunting down to a science. I see bucks every time I go on stand. My two boys and my daughter will be ready to use their skills to do the same when they are old enough to hunt.
Most of the Michigan hunters I have talked to say the youth hunt should be does only. I disagree. The kids should be able to shoot what they decide to shoot. They do not need adults telling them what to shoot. My boys have already said they do not care if it is a doe or a buck, "just shoot" they say. I have taught my kids that does taste the same as bucks and if you like venison it does not matter if they have horns or not. Also, they have been taught managing the deer population is vital to maintaining a healthy deer population. We need to harvest a certain number of does a year. Period.
Now, on the buck subject, I made a personal decision about two years ago that I was going to wait for a buck whose antlers were outside his ears. I also am a part of a local QDMA coop in my area and as a group we decided to shoot only 8-point or better bucks. With that said, the rule I give to the folks on my lease is this: If you see a buck with 4-points on one side or if it is your biggest buck to date, shoot it! I am not about to deny someone their biggest buck. My boys will follow the same rule; however, their first year they will only shoot a doe during the youth season. Why? Simply this, I want them to learn how to be patient hunters and respect the animal they are hunting. I do not want them to think that every time we go hunting we need to shoot Bullwinkle. In the regular season, if they are hunting they can shoot whatever they want. The only rule they will follow is if they are successful and get a buck, to be patient and try to make their second buck bigger than the first. I believe in the QDM philosophy. If wanting to see more large bucks makes me a trophy hunter, then so be it. Call me a trophy hunter. Will my kids be the same? Probably, but they will make that choice for themselves.
When it comes to the youth season it is more about the timing. Early season deer patterns are much more predictable than as the season progresses. Youth do have a better chance of being successful in September hunting with a rifle. But, is it a false sense of success? Will they be able to repeat the success? Here in Michigan if the herd is managed properly odds are still slim. Otherwise, that trophy will come by paying thousands of dollars for it? In late September, the deer are still in what I call a "feeding pattern." They are oblivious to pressures. Call it what you want, summer patterns, the deer are still nurturing their fawns and beginning to feed heavier in anticipation of the winter. Once regular season starts, many deer behavior stages occur. Some are man made changes related to pressure from bow hunters, bird hunters and waterfowl hunters. Some are the scientific nature of the beast. Seeing big bucks in velvet in Michigan during the summer months is quite common. As the bucks antlers harden, the big deer become less visible. It is at this point when the youth hunt takes place. A young hunter will probably see 15-20 deer a day during this time of the year depending on where in the state they hunt.
Generally, one week later archery season begins (Oct. 1) and hunters may see 15 deer a day if you hunt in the agricultural areas of southern Michigan. If you are further north, hunters will be lucky to see five. Understanding the deer both physiologically and sociologically, I feel that youth hunters would still have a positive hunting experience if the season was moved back to the first weekend of November. The hunt would occur two weeks before regular firearm deer season and would be the start of the rut here in Michigan. Don't you think hunting during the rut would be an exciting time for kids to be in the woods? I think it would be more exciting , more gratifying and a much more memorable learning experience.
I leave the subject to you and for you to discuss the issue. I am going to remain silent and listen. Please remember we are all hunters. Everyone hunts different and personal views vary. Happy Hunting everyone!
There are a lot of varying opinions about Quality Deer Management. I think the main reason is there are a lot of different opinions of quality deer hunting. To most of the hunting community, it doesn't matter how big the buck is only that it is a buck. For some, it is enough to just harvest a deer, regardless of the animals sex. So, what is the correct deer management for you? This depends on what you want to see - this year, next year, and years to come.
Lets start first with deer numbers. If you want to see more deer then does are not what you want to shoot. Here's an example: If you have five bucks and only one doe, how many fawns could be born the following year? A maximum of three, right? Now, if you have one buck and five does, how many fawns could be born the following year? A maximum of 15, right? So, if you are not seeing very many deer, you are either a bad hunter or there are not many deer in the area. In this case, assuming the habitat can handle it, you would let the does go for a few years. I say if the habitat can handle it, because there is such a thing as carrying capacity. This is the amount of deer your property can support at any time of the year. Factors include water, food, and cover. These are the three keys to having a successful deer management scenario.
Water, food, and cover all lead to developing proper deer management. In order to manage any wildlife species, you have to manage the habitat. This is accomplished by planting trees or cutting, field plantings or food plots, ponds, or some sort of watering hole. First, I'll cover cutting or logging. If you can stand at one end of your property and see all the way to the back of your property through the woods, you do not have good deer habitat. Don't get me wrong, they may move through your property, but they do not live there. Fully mature stands of timber offer very little sunlight to the forest floor; thus, providing very little in the way of plant growth low enough for cover or food for the deer. If your property resembles this scenario, you should at least thin the canopy to let more light come in to the ground. It may look pretty open the first year, but you will be suprised how quickly the undergrowth will thicken up. Now, if you have areas of your land that are thick, even if only an acre or two, these are the areas you should leave as sanctuaries for the deer. Hunt around them, but do not go in that area unless you are retrieving the deer or in an emergency. This will give the deer an area where they feel safe, and it will keep the deer on your land instead of your neighbors. To enhance these areas, you could plant tall grasses like switch grass or a warm season grass native to your area. Also, you can cut trees and leave them as deadfalls. I would not recommend cutting a valuable old oak tree for this, rather scrub species that are of no value.
Plantings can include mast producing trees or wind blocks, such as pines or cedars, or it could be low growing shrubs for added cover. Here in Michigan a few years back everyone planted a shrub called Autumn olive. Little did we know then this shrub was very invasive. It spread quick and basically took over any opening it got established in. Good for the deer and other critters, but not very user friendly. I recommend Highbush Cranberry*. It has some of the same characteristics of Autumn Olive, but it is not as fast spreading. Highbush Cranberry also is a food source for deer, birds, and small mammals.
Next, we will discuss food. If you live in farm country, you are saying to yourself there is plenty of food! Well, that is true. But, when are the deer feeding on it? In Michigan, you will see deer out in the fields through about mid-October. After mid-fall, you will only see them in these fields at dusk or after dark with a spotlight. The point is anything you can do to plant food where the deer feel safe, the more chance they will be on your land. I personally hunt in a very agricultural area in Michigan. This year our property is surrounded by corn and alfalfa. Even with all this food available, most of the deer stop to eat at my food plots first before venturing into the field. Basically, the food plots become staging areas where the deer feed until it begins to get dark, then they move to the fields. You can plant anything from rye to turnips and in some states sugar beets. It depends really on when you want to attract the deer and what time of the year they will need it the most. I like to plant clover and chicory as my main food sources. The food plot provides deer with food first thing in the spring and all through summer. For an attractant and for food into the winter months, I plant turnips and rape seed. The rape seed is like a sugar beet leaf , but with no large underground tuber. The rape doesn't become attractive to the deer until the first heavy frost . At this time, the leaves begin to produce sugars becoming like candy to the deer. The deer will eat the whole plant, stalk and all. Any food source you provide will attract deer, you just need to plant it for the season in which you are going to be out there.
Next is water. This is probably the most difficult and sometimes most expensive to achieve. If there is a water source on your property of any kind it is of value. Some states offer assistance to landowners to create wildlife ponds so this may be something to check into. A good water source is just another piece of the bedroom you want to create for your deer. When deer first get up from resting they usually head to the water source for a drink. If this water source is on your land you are lucky, if not your neighbor is probably going to see the majority of the deer first.
That is all for part one of Deer Management. Watch soon for "Part 2: The Buck Discussion - Let 'em grow? It doesn't matter? The choice is yours!"
*Bill is a certified arborist through The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Learn more about Bill here.
It was a perfect evening, calm winds out of the northeast with 40 degree temperatures. As soon as I got settled in my stand, I had this gut feeling in the pit of my stomach. I said to myself, "this is gonna be the night I see another big one."
I began grunting in the direction of the corn field to my north about 5:45 p.m. At about 5:50, I saw movement at the end of the clearing by the corn. I raised my binoculars to see another decent eight pointer crossing the clearing. I grunted again. He looked, but kept on moving to the east. It was now or never, I usually don't use the snort wheeze but this was a huge buck. I let a snort wheeze go and to my surprise this big guy spun around and started heading my way. He made it to the edge of the clearing and looked to the west. Oh no! There was a doe standing to the west of me that I never saw. "Don't go that way big boy keep coming," I said to myself. As expected, he started to turn and headed toward the doe. I grunted two more times. He looked my way, looked back at the doe, and turned again toward my stand. The closer he came, the more my heart raced. This deer's body was huge. So huge, in fact, it made the rack look small. He finally moved to 30 yards and stopped to look at the doe again. He was quartering away slightly with his head turned away. I drew my bow, aimed behind the front shoulder, and "Thwack." Good hit, but not a pass through. As the arrow slammed into the buck, I heard a gasp of air like someone had punched him in the solar plexes. I knew the sound - diaphragm hit. He bolted about 150 yds straight away from me. He ran to the tree line and stopped. As he started to walk again, I lost him in the downed tops from the logger. I thought I heard a crash, but wasn't sure.
I called my wife to let her know I hit another one. She proceeded to call babysitters and was on her way.
We left him for about an hour and a half. When we started tracking, the blood trail was dismal. It actually ended after about 50 yards. I had my wife stand at the last blood spot while I started to follow the path I had seen him take to the timber. "There is one more spot," I called. I kept plugging on got to the timber edge and began scanning with the spot light. "There he is," I yelled to my wife. I walked up grabbed a handful of antler and tried to pull him from the brush. I could hardly budge him. We finally got him out about 9:05 p.m. I had shot him at 6:15pm. What an array of emotions, and all were worth it. What a season! Two Big 8 pointers both with a bow.
I purchased my first trail camera six years ago and was hooked immediately. It was like I was hunting without even being in the woods. Or, as my wife would say, "it's like fishing with a fish finder... you see them, but they don't bite..." My first camera was a 35mm Leaf River (which has turned out to be the most reliable camera I've purchased), and the anticipation I felt after I secured it on that first tree was overwhelming. I would check the camera daily. Once the film was full, I would immediately drop off the film and wait for a hour to see what I captured. Then, I would go through the pictures - squirrel, raccoon, doe.... holy moly, a big buck! It was frustrating to get a roll of film with nothing but squirrels, birds , raccoons, does and fawns (lots of does and fawns). But, I have learned to use the camera to my advantage. I now set it up so I only get photos of what I am looking for.
Trail camera technology has changed and evolved significantly over the past six years. There are many models and each has its own set of crazy functions. The prices have evolved also. Prices range from $100.00 to upwards of $700.00! They now come with all sorts of fancy features like infrared flashes, video, wireless signals to view pictures from your computer at home.
But, what is the purpose of a trail camera?
Trail cameras can be a fun hobby or a useful tool for the serious hunter. The biggest advantage of a trail camera allows me to find out what kind of bucks roam my hunting grounds when I am not there. When managing your land for QDMA, this proves to be a very useful practice. The pictures you get from your camera show you the number of potential shooter bucks on your land. This helps me be a bit more patient when I am hunting. I can let the little bucks go, because I know Mr. Big is out there. You can also use these images to get your neighbors on board with your QDMA cooperative. If the neighbors see there are bigger bucks in the woods it may bring them on board. The biggest complaint I hear about QDM is that "there are only little scrub bucks around, if I wait for a big one I won't get a deer." Not true! If hunters are really hunting for meat and not antlers then they should take a doe and pass on the small bucks. I know if hunters try this for one year they would see it can make a difference in the size and number of bucks they see the next year. And, trail cameras are a way to show the proof.
Ever wonder if deer use a scrape year round? I don't. I have proof. I set my trailcam on a small oak tree that is used season after season as a scrape tree for bucks. I set the camera up in May and what I saw surprised me. I had pictures throughout the summer of bucks and does using this tree. They were not scraping the ground , but instead they used it as a scent post by licking the branches. As any good hunter knows a good licking branch can be better than a scrape or rub line, because it is like social media for us. Once you stop by once, you have to go back for more. Every deer that walks by checks these branches to see who was there. In turn, the deer then leaves its own calling card scent. So, whether hunting for a buck or a doe you should see action near one of these spots. And, by setting your camera on that scent post, it will give you good pictures of most of the deer on your property.
Trail cameras are extremely useful in locating travel routes of mature whitetails. That huge runway you were thinking of setting your stand on this year may not be the one for Mr. Big. Nine times out of ten the big boys use a trail you may not even pay attention too. So, how do you find out? Put your camera on them. Most of the time when I set my cameras on big runways I get does and fawns with the occasional small buck. Instead, I look for trails crossing the main trail. I will set the camera to monitor where the trails cross. This way I am covering two runways with one camera. It is best to use multiple cameras (if it is in your budget) at multiple sites and set during the same time frame. I like to leave my camera set for two weeks minimum. I feel this will give you the best data on which deer are moving where and when. Try this set up and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Early season scouting is useful to get an idea of the bucks on the property , but it won't do much good for later in the season. As the season goes on, food supplies change in the whitetail world. With this change deer movements can change, especially when you are talking about farmland areas. With the planting of crops deer move from there native foods to the lush green fields of the farmers. As the season progresses different crops become more attractive than others. Once fall arrives, the farm fields begin to be harvested. Deer then return to their native foods. This is when I like to set my cameras. I set them on trails to the fields for awhile then I transition to runways and good mast crop trees. A good producing oak tree is my best friend. Even with fields full of crops, deer will show up almost daily at a good acorn buffet. From experience, I have found deer like to use these trees as staging areas before they head to the fields. Where I live and hunt in Michigan, deer do not like to go out into the open fields in the light of day. Being one of the states with the most hunting pressure, deer have learned to feed in the fields under the cover of darkness. Use your cameras to find these staging areas, you will know when you found a good one because there will be multiple deer in one shot and it will be during daylight hours.
My father is responsible for my passion for whitetail deer hunting. When I was about 6-years old, my sister and I would wait and watch from our south-facing, living room windows waiting to spot dad's truck headlights from across the field beginning his drive home. We always wondered if Dad had shot the big one. He'd arrive home, and we would run to the door screaming, "did you get one, did you get one?" This was the start of my fascination of deer hunting.
When I was about 7-years old, my father started taking me along to track deer he had shot with his bow. I started out as the last spot marker and gradually became the one who crawled through the thickets looking for more blood. From this point on, I could not wait to be the one doing the shooting of these magnificent animals.
My dad was a typical Michigan hunter at this time. The idea was to put a little bait out and sit on stand waiting for the deer to arrive. I hunted the same way for a lot of years, and harvested some nice deer, but never could close the deal on the big ones.
In college, I first studied Forestry and earned an associate's degree in Forest Technology. After that, I transferred into a four-year program for Fisheries and Wildlife Management. Here I started to see that the game animals I so loved to hunt had habits and needs that I never really thought of before. I began to piece little bits of info together that would transform me into the hunter I am today.
The tables have now turned with me and my dad. Now, I am teaching him a few things about hunting without bait. We have planted a few food plots here and there on his Onaway, Mich. property. He is seeing the benefits. Taking my education and my passion, I've actually started to do consulting for food plots and habitat improvement. My clients as well have seen the benefits of additional land management feedback and planting.
And I am proud to say that now I am the one coming home from hunting and hearing from my three children, "Did you get one? Did you get one?"