Tag Archive for: how to score deer

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.

How to Score Velvet Bucks | Estimating and Scoring Velvet Bucks

Scoring Bucks | How to Score Velvet Bucks

The chance of actually harvesting a velvet buck is greater in some states than others and it’s this rarity of harvesting a velvet buck that is exactly what makes it so special. For others, velvet bucks are just part of the offseason hit-list, gathering, sorting, and strategizing over fuzzy antlered pictures. In either case, whether you are building a hit-list or have a chance at harvesting a velvet buck, the same set of questions apply… how do you go about scoring velvet bucks? How do you estimate a velvet buck’s score from a trail camera picture? How does that score translate into a score for when the buck has hardened antlers? This article will discuss some things to consider when scoring deer in velvet and estimate antler score from velvet bucks. 

When do antlers stop growing?

Antlers are an amazing feature on white-tailed deer and the fact that antlers are shed on a yearly basis and grow back makes them that much more special. Antler growth generally begins in late April but depends on several variables including the health of the individual buck. It takes an average of about 120 days for a buck to grow his antlers with antlers growing up to ½ inch per day at their fastest point. But believe it or not, antlers are pretty much done growing by mid to late August and then begin to harden. You’ll know that antlers are done growing when the tips of the tines and main beam start to develop sharp points instead of looking so rounded. But generally speaking, what you see is what you get for antler size by the time August rolls around. This is important to keep in mind when you are scrolling through your trail camera pics before opening day of archery season.

Scoring Velvet Antlers

Velvet antlers produce two challenges when trying to estimate their size. First, there is the challenge of estimating what the buck would score after it sheds its velvet. The second challenge is going about scoring and entering your velvet buck in the record books if it is big enough.  

Estimating the score of a velvet buck can be difficult for several reasons. Obviously, antler score is higher when velvet is present but there isn’t much good research out there showing the percent decrease in antler score after velvet is removed. The one exception is the research that BuckScore was developed from, as a reduction value to apply in measurements from velvet to hard antler scores. Regardless, it’s important to keep in mind what measurements will be most dramatically impacted by the presence of velvet. Measurements like main beam length and tine length won’t change as much as the circumference measurements will when a buck is still in velvet. If you’re estimating antler score from a velvet buck, it’s smart to be more conservative on circumference scores if you are hoping to get an idea of what a buck will score once he’s shed his velvet.

Scoring your velvet buck is the same as scoring a buck without velvet. All of the measurements you would take for a scoring system used by groups such as the Pope and Young Club or the Boone and Crockett Club are the exact same. The issue comes if you harvested a big enough buck to enter it into one of these two record books as they differ on how they handle velvet bucks. If you are wanting to enter your buck into the Pope and Young Club, then there is no issue with the velvet. The Pope and Young Club will enter velvet bucks with whatever their score is with the velvet on. They don’t have a correction factor and won’t make you remove the velvet first before scoring. However, the Boone and Crockett Club is different. They will not score a buck if it has any velvet present that will affect the overall score. Instead, they will make you remove the velvet before scoring. You may ask yourself why not just enter your velvet buck with the Pope and Young Club if that’s the case? Keep in mind that the Pope and Young Club only accepts animals harvested with archery gear whereas the Boone and Crockett Club will accept bucks harvested by any legal means.    

How BuckScore Scores Velvet Bucks

If you are looking to quickly generate a score that applies a factor that relates to the score of a hard antlered buck from a velvet buck picture or harvested buck, BuckScore is your solution. When developed a reduction value was applied and tested, resulting in the ability to accurately estimate the score of a velvet buck.


Judging antler score for velvet bucks can be difficult and you have to manage your expectations of what that buck will actually score once the velvet is gone. It’s easy to get caught up in how big a buck looks with his velvet on but understanding that there will be shrinkage will help you manage your expectations. If you are trying to estimate the velvet buck’s score, use BuckScore to keep your expectations within 3% of his actual score! 

Regardless, there’s something special about velvet antlers and having the chance to harvest a buck with velvet is something that doesn’t happen often. Make sure to keep these things in mind regardless of whether you are looking through trail camera pics or are lucky enough to harvest a velvet buck!