November 24 2016
How much do you know about deer biology and behavior? Most serious hunters crave solid information on whitetails nearly as much as they crave oxygen. Hopefully, the questions below will help supply some new information, and if one happens to get a few wrong, that might help provide a small dose of humility, something most of us can use a little more of. Luckily for us, deer also tend to give out ample doses of humility each season for FREE!
Question 1: When are deer most evenly distributed throughout their habitat?
The answer is summer.
Although it’s understandable how one could believe it would be during the fall rut, when bucks are running the lands in search of does, that would be incorrect. In reality, the answer is summer. During early summer, does have staked out fawning areas and protect them from all intruders, driving out even the largest bucks. Furthermore, in the absence of harsh droughts, at no time is food more readily available than during this season. The combination results in deer spreading out more than at any other time.
At first glance, this might seem unimportant to hunters, but it isn’t. Because of the wide dispersal, along with most of the previous fall’s sign covered with lush vegetation, summer scouting for deer sign applies very little to the coming fall’s hunt.
About the only thing of value out there to find this time of year are advantageous terrain features and bachelor groups that give an indication of the caliber of bucks to be found in the general area.
Question 2: In the Northern and Midwestern regions, during which season are deer most heavily concentrated?
The answer is winter.
In the Northern forest, a typical winter results in only about 10 percent of the habitat being suitable for wintering deer. Even in the Midwestern farm belt, deer have a very high tendency to concentrate around the few prime food sources remaining.
In either case, these can be great locations to setup for late season hunts. Sure, the concentration won’t be in full effect yet, but it often begins in late November and continues to build on through the end of season.
Question 3: During a Northern winter, the metabolic rate of whitetails drop by what percent?
The answer is 45 to 55 percent.
According to scientific research conducted by biologist Helenette Silver, deer drop their metabolic rate by about 50 percent. Furthermore, they decrease their movement by 50 percent or more from early to mid winter. Finally, they shift much of their movements from late night and early mornings to the comparatively warmer afternoon and early evening hours. Like concentrating in winter yarding areas, all of this helps them conserve energy and increase their odds of surviving winter.
The result of this for the hunter is often a very pattern-able buck. On the surface, the decreased movement might seem to be a disadvantage. However, the increased incentive to focus this limited movement during the warmer afternoon and early evening hours can turn an otherwise predominately nocturnal buck into one that is now more easily hunted.
Question 4: If you shoot a fawn in November with a good layer of fat, you can be rest assured that it's ahead of the growth curve for it's age, true or false?
The answer is false.
The pineal gland, spurred by declining photo period causes deer to shift their energies from growth to fat production each fall. Building fat supplies is so critical for winter survival that it takes precedence over additional skeletal growth in fawns. Because of this, even the late born fawns have a surprisingly thick layer of fat. General size and weight are far better indicators of the health of a fawn crop than fat supplies.
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Question 5: During years of favorable nutrition, what percent of fawns in the Midwest are likely to breed their first fall?
The answer is more than 50 percent.
Although this might surprise you, more than 50 percent of well-fed Midwestern fawns will breed their first fall when they are only 6 months old. Because fawns enter estrus later than healthy, prime-age does, this can make for some very good “second rut” activity. Conversely, only about 5 percent of fawns living in the heavily wooded Northern forests will breed their first fall.
Question 6: The phenomenon known as yearling buck dispersal most commonly occurs when?
The answer is during the month leading up to breeding during the buck’s second autumn.
This is sort of a trick question. In areas with larger chunks of deer habitat, the majority of bucks disperse just before reaching breeding readiness when they are 18 months old. Conversely, in areas with extremely fragmented habitat, particularly where sprawling expanses exist between pockets of cover, many nubbin bucks disperse when mom reaches estrus during their first fall. In both cases, a smaller percentage hangs on until they are 2.5 years old.
Although it varies based on habitat type, the buck’s individual traits and possibly even breeding opportunities, 1 to 10 miles is the average distance that these bucks disperse. Also of note, if their parental doe is killed, the odds of the buck remaining on its birth range increases significantly. Because of that, it’s not bad practice for hunters to target does with twin buck fawns.
Question 7: What is most likely the single biggest determining factor in staking out dominance in the buck hierarchy?
The answer is an aggressive temperament.
Although all of the traits listed can and often do play a role in a buck’s dominance, none is more important than the individual buck’s temperament. Some older bucks have little or no interest in fighting. Also, large racks don’t always translate to large, muscular bodies and nasty temperaments.
It is not uncommon to often times see smaller bucks like an 8-point that won’t even break 120 inches at the age of 6.5 years old, intimidating and fighting older bucks with way bigger racks into subordinate roles.
For those that control hunting lands, these small racked bruisers should be targeted for removal. Not only do they have inferior antler traits, but they also tend to bust up the racks of the bucks you really want to harvest.
Question 8: After velvet shedding, the amount of rubbing a buck does before breeding is mostly determined by what?
The answer is his testosterone levels and dominance.
A buck’s high testosterone levels and dominance are the greatest motivators for creating rubs. Rubs are visual cues to other bucks that serve as intimidation tools. Assuming they’re located in a prime location, a surprisingly high number of rubs are reworked multiple times over a fall. Also of note is that certain trees are rubbed year after year after year, as well as often being inspected by most deer in the area. When positioned in areas that offer good odds of daylight activities, these can be dynamite locations for pre and early post rut stands.
Question 9: What most accurately describes the purpose of a scrape?
The answer is that scrapes advertise the maker’s relative dominance, presence, readiness to breed and intimidate other bucks.
Perhaps no whitetail biologist has done more to unravel the secrets of scent communication amongst whitetails than Dr. Karl Miller. He theorizes that the scent deposited on the licking branch ID’s the maker. The pawing of the scrape shows dominance, and the urine most likely indicates dominance. In other words, scrapes are the buck’s equivalent to a billboard dotting the side of the interstate. It is meant to advertise the buck to as many passersby as practically possible.
Unfortunately, not all scrapes are created equal. A mature buck might make over 200 scrapes during fall. The vast majority are not revisited. Finding the few that are consistently reworked during daylight hours is a huge key to scrape hunting success.
Question 10: How long does a doe stay in estrus and, assuming she is not impregnated, how long before she will repeat?
The answer is her Estrus lasts 24 to 36 hours and may repeat every 23 to 30 days.
It is my very strong belief that relatively few does aren’t successfully impregnated during their first estrus. Many hunters witness after hunting many years Northern and Midwestern whitetails, and while on heavily hunted grounds, they have never witnessed anything but fawns being bred in December. Not to say that it doesn’t happen, but the majority of the time, fawns are the ones that create those sporadic flurries of “second rut” activity.