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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (Part 2): Buck Movements Tied to Personality

Buck Movement Patterns Linked to Personality

By: MSU™ Deer Lab

Most serious buck hunters have taken the effort to pattern a nice buck, only to be frustrated when they never saw him again in the original area. In Part 1 of Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, we explained that many adult bucks shift their area of use during the hunting season in response to several needs related to food and reproduction.  Here we take learning to an entire new level as we describe personality differences that explain some of the most bazar behaviors you may have experienced on your hunting grounds.

The MSU Deer Lab’s ongoing movement project is generating location estimates every three hours for up to 50 adult bucks each year across a large landscape dominated by forests and agriculture.  Graduate students Ashley Jones and Colby Henderson are just getting started with their analyses, but our preliminary results prove that you should NEVER say “always” and ALWAYS say “maybe” when it comes to predicting buck behavior.  However, there appears to be two general types of adult buck personalities that we can tie to general patterns of movement. About 60% of our adult bucks live in one general area or home range, and we call these “Sedentary Bucks.”  The other 40% of our adult bucks split their time between two or more areas or home ranges, and we call these “Mobile Bucks.”

Orange 300 and Orange 92 are both 3-year old bucks that exemplify the relatively sedentary movement pattern present in 60% of our collared bucks.  They live in a single general area, although they shift their movements across their hunting season home range in response to food resources and potential breeding opportunity. They also make short excursions outside of their normal home range, likely to evaluate potential new opportunities. Don’t take the term “sedentary” to suggest that they don’t move much – looking at the scale in this figure shows that each of these bucks’ hunting season home ranges cover a range of 3-4 miles!

Orange 100 and Orange 297 are three-year-old bucks that also shifted concentration areas within their hunting season home ranges, but the extent of their shift differentiates them from the Sedentary Buck Personality.  These two examples of the Mobile Buck Personality made significant movements between two home range areas separated by up to 7 miles.  Some Mobile Personalities make a single movement between their two home ranges while others make regular visits back and forth.

These extreme shifts in home range location explain why bucks patterned on one property may end up being harvested many miles away on another property.  Stay tuned for more valuable buck behavior insights as we continue to analyze data from this monumental adult buck movement project.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (Part 1): Shifts in Buck Home Range Areas

Adult Buck Movement Study | Shifting Buck Home Ranges

By: MSU™ Deer Lab

Most serious buck hunters have located a nice buck prior to or early in the hunting season and invested time and effort trying to bring him home.  Many of these same hunters have experienced the frustration of never seeing him again in the original area and wondered why.  Did he move because of your scouting and hunting efforts or was the shift in the buck’s home range part of normal buck behavior? Well, the MSU Deer Lab’s ongoing adult buck movement project is generating buck location estimates across a large landscape.  Graduate students Ashley Jones and Colby Henderson are just getting started with their analyses, but our preliminary results show the cause of your frustration when it comes to shifting buck home ranges.

Look at the movements of a 3-year old buck (Orange 92) during the 2017-18 hunting season and you’ll notice a distinct shift in areas of concentrated activity across the hunting season.  Each dot is a location estimate sampled at three-hour intervals and color-coded by month to illustrate changes in home range use across the hunting season.

Orange 92’s October locations (red dots) have nothing in common with his January locations (blue dots).  Examining the November (orange dots) and December (green dots) locations shows that his home range shift was a graduate transition that took place over two months. This pattern is present in many of our collared adult bucks.  A closer look also shows two important and common movement behaviors associated with the rut, which peaks during late December and early January on this study area. First, are the excursions or short-term movements outside of his normal home range during November, as he likely seeks out an opportunity to breed an estrus doe.  Second, note the greatly expanded movements during December and January as he moves more widely and regularly in search of does in estrus and expands his home range to double that of pre-rut.  He evens takes a short return trip down into the lower portion that he used extensively during October.

Adult bucks are creatures of habit but thank goodness for our sport, predicting their locations with accuracy is difficult. Future updates will expand on our new knowledge of how buck movements can actually be classified into personality traits!

 

 

Hinge Cutting for Deer | Supplying Winter Food and Cover

Why and How to Hinge Cut for Deer

February and March are the hardest times of year for whitetails. They are near the end of their fat reserves, AG field residue is wiped out, and woody browse is limited and often over pressured. What is your solution for feeding deer in the winter if your property is not up to par? The solution is sitting in your garage, your chainsaw

February and March will bring new challenges to our properties, are roles as deer managers, and to the deer themselves. March is hardest time of year for whitetails. They are near the end of their fat reserves, AG field residue is all dried up, and woody browse is limited and often over pressured. Spring green up is right around the corner but deer still have a month or two of hardships ahead. It’s important that we understand what a whitetail desires this time of year and exactly what type of food they need in the winter.

A whitetail is adapted to survive the winter, they reduce movement, reduce intake and survive off of their fat reserves from fall. Currently a deer’s diet in winter will consist roughly 40% fat reserves, crop residues, and left over hard mass, but 60% will be woody browse. The main question you need to ask yourself this time of year is “do you have enough food and Quality cover on your property to carry your deer herd through the winter?”

We can correct this by putting out the right feed for deer in the winter with the chainsaw. By hinge cutting tree species such as hackberry poplar, and maples, non-mass bearing trees (do not cut oaks and hickories) we can put food at a deer’s level and also create bedding areas with certain cuts. The tops of the trees offer a lot of food in the form of newly grown buds and branches.

Cutting this way also serves the purpose of creating side cover, multiple hinge cuts can offer a lot of food and cover where it was once open. You are dropping a lot of shade closer to the ground, at the deer’s level( up to 6ft) and they will eat on the buds and branches, bed next to or under the hinge, and the top of the tree serves as protection for young samplings, ,especially important for oak regeneration. 

The Alternatives

Hinge cutting solves our problems for cover and deer food during the winter, it is a better long term solution for problems of March, and it is an alternative for the negatives associated supplemental feeding and/or feeding deer large quantities of corn. If you don’t have the habitat that can support hinge cutting as the form of emergency food you might have to rely on a stronger food plot program or supplemental feeding. Supplemental feeding is not recommended or illegal in some states, but where legal and in the right areas, you can do it right!

6 Winter Deer Habitat Improvements You Should Be Doing

Winter Deer Habitat Projects to Improve Your Herd

The long hard grind of deer season is now behind us in most of the whitetails range. Aside from a few southern states, the season has closed, however, that doesn’t mean the work should stop. If you’re a property owner, lease land, or have permission to work on a property, the winter months serve as an important time period to get ahead of the game. Ultimately, a lot of the habitat projects you start now will have lasting results, some of which just might help you bag a buck next season. So before you put your nose to the ground in search of shed antlers, consider doing a few of these off-season deer habitat improvement projects this winter. 

#1 Plan and Set Goals for the New Season

Every project needs a plan, and every good plan has a specific set of goals to attain. Before diving right in and getting crazy with a chainsaw or bulldozer, carefully write down what it is you hope to accomplish with regards to your hunting property this season. From there, break it down and rank which are the most crucial to get done and when. From there, you can organize your to-do list and put a solid plan of attack in place. Now, let the real work begin!

#2 Timber Stand Improvement

Improving the cover provided by native habitat resources is critical for future success and winter is the perfect time to get to work.  If you have a property with homogenous stands of hardwood forests you may consider doing some chainsaw work. In an open stand of timber there is very little ground cover for deer. Remember, security cover for deer exists between ground level and approximately three feet up.  

While timber stand improvements can achieve multiple goals, the core emphasis is often to open up the canopy and to selectively release preferred trees. By opening up the canopy you will see an immediate change this spring with new growth of forbs and ground vegetation. This new growth helps with nutrition and cover, so it’s like killing two birds with one stone.

#3 Hinge Cutting

Hinge cutting is the popular timber stand improvement process in which you saw half-way through a tree and then bend it over to the ground in order to provide living cover and browse for deer.  While you can really hinge cut trees during any time of the year, winter is the best time.  For one, the trees are dormant during the winter, thus, you’ll experience a better survival rate.  Secondly, it’s comfortable working conditions – it’s not too hot out, and there’s no bugs and leaves to annoy you all day.  It’s also a lot easier to see what you’re doing and where the trees are falling in winter compared to the green jungle of summer. Lastly, hinge cutting during the winter allows time for deer to find and utilize these new sanctuary thickets and browse areas.

#4 Post Season Trail Camera Survey

The best times to conduct camera surveys are during August and in January before bucks begin to shed their antlers. Conducting an annual trail camera survey will provide an invaluable amount of information pertaining to the deer herd.  Sex ratio, deer density, buck age class, antler development, and fawn recruitment numbers can all be evaluated by conducting a trail camera survey. Studies have shown one bait/camera site per every 75 to 100 acres of land will provide a survey with >90% accuracy. For a full rundown on how to conduct a post season trail camera survey check out this link: How to Run a Trail Camera Survey

#5 Food Plot Planning

As was stated earlier, it’s never too early to start planning. It always seems like food plot season sneaks up fast.  One minute you’re searching for sheds and the next you’re throwing seed in the ground.  Taking the time in February and March to figure out a few key details of food plotting will go a long way in the spring and ultimately impact your hunting season. 

  • Collect soil samples in time to add amendments prior to planting.  
  • What type of forage will you be planting in your food plots? And where?  
  • How much seed will you need to purchase? 
  • Are you creating any new food plots this year?  
  • What kind of site prep is needed? 
  • Who is planting the food plots? And when?

#6 Frost Seeding

While we are on the topic of food plotting, don’t forget about frost seeding this winter.  It may not feel like it now, but planting season is less than a month away.  No, not your typical spring time planting of annuals like soybeans and corn, but rather using the planting technique known as frost seeding as a means to plant clover.  Frost seeding relies on the freeze-thaw cycle and early spring showers to establish quality seed to soil contact.  As spring approaches, the soil awakens and actually begins moving up (freeze) and down (thaw).  That up and down movement causes tiny little cracks, which ultimately suck in the small and hardy clover seeds. Clover seed is very hard so it can withstand the potential to rot much better than other larger less hardy seeds like most warm season annuals.  Thus, it’s common to see food plotters spreading it over the top of a thin layer of melting snow.

Frost seeding makes nature do your dirty work.  It essentially works the seed into the soil, eliminating the need for disking and/or dragging.  It’s an effective planting method, one that saves you time and money. The timing can certainly vary year-to-year depending upon how long ‘Old Man Winter’ hangs around, but as a general rule of thumb, the best time to frost seed is when there are approximately 4-5 expected frosts remaining. 

Wrap Up

Let’s not wait until the last minute this year when it comes to deer hunting projects.  Make this year the year of preparedness and try to get as much done during the winter and spring.  If you do, you can bet you’ll have a more successful hunting season come fall, not to mention the fun and memories created working out in the field along the way.