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Why You Should Consider Seasonal Body Changes When Aging Bucks

Aging Deer on The Hoof | Consider Seasonal Body Changes

By: MSU™ Deer Lab

Estimating age of photographed bucks can be difficult enough due to less-than-ideal body alignment in the photos.  Combining that with seasonal changes in body shape will really increase difficulty.  Bucks change dramatically between the early fall compared to when they are primed for the rut, so always consider the date relative to you area’s peak rut.  Bucks relax during the summer, putting extra nutrients into body fat and rapidly growing antlers.  His interests and activities change once testosterone levels increase dramatically in August, leading to antler hardening and shedding of their velvet during mid-to-late September.

This buck photographed in mid-September has a relatively thin neck, which makes you think he’s 3-4 years old. His antlers look huge, but remember velvet antlers always appear to be larger than fully hardened antlers.  Note how much different he looks in December – his neck is much thicker, a result of steroids (testosterone) and 3 month of serious exercise (rubbing, scraping, traveling, and fighting). But, also note his thinner hind quarter in December, which is the result of his reduced feeding activity during his increased exercise (sounds just like most human weight-loss programs!)

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 Age White-tailed Deer | Three Methods You Can Use This Deer Season

Aging Deer on the Hoof, Jawbone Aging, and Cementum Annuli

By: Eric Michel  

If you’ve been around deer hunting for any amount of time you probably understand that many hunters get caught up in trying to age deer, and for good reason. Aging deer, whether dead or alive, can give you valuable information about what you can do to better manage your herd and reach your goals. Many hunters would like to consistently harvest bucks of a certain antler size, but often times fall short. Allowing those bucks to live for a year or two more would likely help those hunters accomplish their goals, but they won’t know that if they aren’t aging their deer.  

There are several ways to age deer, but it’s important to understand that none of them are 100% accurate and accuracy usually decreases as deer get older. Each method also has a certain level of subjectivity associated with it. The only way to know for certain how old a deer is, is to give it some type of unique identifier at birth. Outside of that, you can rarely say with 100% accuracy that a deer is a certain age, but you can say that a deer is displaying characteristics associated with a certain age. Even though people will use the number of antler points and antler configuration to keep track of a deer throughout the years, they are still making assumptions about how old the deer is the first time they see it. Even if you think the deer is most likely a yearling when you first see it, there’s only about a 30% chance that buck will be on your property the next year. This is because about 70% of yearlings will disperse up to five miles away from where they are born. Additionally, the number of points and a bucks antler configuration can change from year-to-year depending on disease, quality of nutrition, and antler injuries. This article discusses the three most common methods to age deer.

 

Cementum Annuli

Most people have probably heard about how you can use growth rings to age a tree. Well the same concept can be applied to white-tailed deer. A calcified layer of cementum is laid down each year a deer is alive which allows you to take a cross-section of the tooth and count the number of rings associated with it. This method is done by removing one of the front incisors from a dead deer and sending it off to a lab so the age can be estimated. Generally speaking, the lab will charge you a minimum cost (usually around 75$) so it’s best to wait to send in all of the incisors you’ve collected until after the hunting season.  

Counting cementum annuli is considered to be the most accurate method of estimating age, though it’s not perfect and there is little, if any, research that has compared ages derived from counting cementum annuli to those of known-aged deer. This method can also be cost prohibitive for individuals who harvest a large number of deer from their property or even state agencies who collect samples from sometimes hundreds of deer.  

Tooth Replacement and Wear

Tooth replacement and wear is the oldest method used to age deer. This method is great for several reasons. First, it’s cheap. You can do this method by yourself without having to send the jawbone off for analysis. It is also fast after you know what you’re looking for. The biggest downfall of this method is its inaccuracy and subjectivity. There are several factors that can impact the wear rates for a deer’s tooth (individual variation associated with the deer, diet, sand content in the soil, etc.). This can cause an individual deer or even a population of deer to have different wear patterns compared to other individuals or populations. Additionally, when assessing the wear, the difference between a 2.5- and 3.5-year-old deer can be minimal and two people may have differences in opinion when looking at the same jawbone. On a positive note, this method is great for placing deer into one of three age classes: fawns, 1.5-year-olds (yearlings), or 2.5+. The downside is this may not be detailed enough to help you achieve your management goals.

  

So how do you use this method to age deer? This method revolves around identifying which teeth have been replaced and then understanding the subsequent wear patterns. The replacement portion of the method is almost 100% accurate while the wear portion of the method has decreasing accuracy as a deer ages because you are comparing the ratio of dentine (dark part of the tooth) to the enamel (white part of the tooth) on the lingual crest which is the crest adjacent to the deer’s tongue.  

Fawns

Aging fawns is easy because they don’t have all of their teeth yet. An adult white-tailed deer will have six teeth on their lower jaw. If you harvest a deer and it has less than six fully erupted teeth and the third premolar is a tricuspid (three cusps), then it is considered to be a fawn.

Yearlings

You can age yearlings with almost 100% accuracy because you are still using tooth replacement as your guide. Remember, the first thing you do when aging a jawbone is count the number of teeth on the lower jawbone. If there are six teeth, the next thing you do is look at the number of cusps on the premolar or third tooth in from the front. If this is tooth is a tricuspid, then it is a yearling or 1.5-year-old deer. This is easy to identify, but it gets more complicated depending on the exact age of the deer. If your state allows for an elongated hunting season, deer may have already replaced their tricuspid tooth. If so, the new bicuspid that has replaced it will be much whiter than the surrounding teeth with very little wear.  

2.5-year-olds

You can still use the replacement portion of this method to classify deer as at least 2.5-years-old. This is  pretty easy to do. First, you make sure there are at least six teeth. Next you check the third premolar to see whether it is a tricuspid or a bicuspid. If it’s a bicuspid, and the first three teeth display some staining and wearing, then you can classify the animal as at least 2.5-years-old. However, if the third tooth is a bicuspid and the first three teeth are completely white with no wear or staining, then the deer is still likely a 1.5-year-old.

3.5+ year-olds

Aging deer as 3.5-year-olds or older means you now have to use the tooth wear portion of the method. For this, you start on the first molar (the fourth tooth in from the front) because this is the oldest tooth in the jaw. The concept of tooth wear is pretty simple. Looking at the tall portion of the crests, you simply compare the width of the dentine to the width of the enamel. If the dentine is at least twice as wide as the enamel, then the deer can be labeled as a 3.5-year-old. If the dentine is not twice as wide, then the deer is likely a 2.5-year-old. You use this same comparison of dentine to enamel to age a deer to 5.5+. So for example, if the dentine on the fourth tooth is twice as wide as the enamel, then the deer is at least 3.5-years-old so you move to the next molar. If the dentine on that tooth is not twice as wide as the enamel, then you stick with the age of 3.5, but if the dentine is twice as wide on the enamel of the fifth molar, then the deer is likely 4.5-years-old. You then apply this same concept to determine if the animal is 4.5- or 5.5-years of age. If the dentine is at least twice as wide as the enamel on the 6th molar, then the deer is at least 5.5-years-old, but if it isn’t then the deer is probably only 4.5-years-old. Accuracy dramatically declines with the increasing age of an animal and aging to 5.5-years is adequate for most management schemes so it’s best to stop and aging at 5.5-years.

Aging Deer on the Hoof

Aging deer on the hoof is one of the most used methods by both hunters and biologists. You don’t have to watch any hunting show long and you will inevitably hear somebody say something along the lines of “look at this 2.5-year old, he sure is an up and comer”. Everybody likes to think that they can accurately age on the hoof and there are several benefits to being able to accurately age a buck on the hoof. Mainly, because it is the only way you can assess the age of a buck while it’s still alive which should ultimately help you reach your management goals. Aging a buck on the hoof takes a lot of experience of looking at pictures and even with that, it is the least accurate method. A study that polled state deer biologists and university researchers showed that when given a series of pictures of bucks, only 62% of them accurately aged yearlings, only 43% accurately aged 2.5-year-olds, 25% for 3.5-year-olds, and less than 30% accurately aged 4.5-, 5.5-, 6.5-, and 7.5+ year-old bucks. But despite being an inaccurate method of aging, it is still widely used. Here are some characteristics you can use to help you decide how old that buck is before you pull the trigger.  

Fawns

Aging fawns on the hoof is pretty easy but also very important. For example, if you are trying to fill your doe tag during a late season hunt, you don’t want to mistake a buck fawn for a yearling doe. It’s much easier to identify fawns when they are in a group with adults because they will generally be the smallest of the bunch. You can also look at the shape of their head. Fawns obviously have smaller heads and will tend to look like a soda bottle, short and stubby.

Yearlings 

Yearling bucks should be one of the easiest deer to estimate age for, but again, only 62% of professionals were able to accurately place bucks into this age class. There are several things to look for that will help you when aging yearling deer. Primarily, you should be looking for underdeveloped muscles in the buck’s front and hindquarters. They will also have pencil thin necks and their stomachs will run at an upward slant from their front quarters to hindquarters. Another characteristic to look for is how long their legs look. Younger deer tend to have legs that look disproportionately long because they haven’t filled out yet in their quarters and stomach regions. Probably the most tell-tale sign that a buck is only 1.5-years-old is if it looks like a doe after covering up it’s antlers. If this is the case, then you most likely are dealing with a yearling buck.

2.5-year-olds 

Bucks that are 2.5-years-old can be difficult to tell from 1.5-year-old bucks. Generally speaking, their legs still look long for their body, though they will have front and hind quarters that will be more filled out than a yearlings. A 2.5-year-olds neck will also begin to be more filled out than a yearlings during the rut.

3.5-year-olds 

Being able to identify a buck as 3.5-years-old can be one of the most important things you can do for your management plan. This is because 3.5-year-olds have only reached about 75% of their maximum antler size. That remaining 25% can be the difference between a 130-inch buck at 3.5 and a 160-inch buck at 5.5. Unfortunately, the 3.5-year age class is one of the most difficult to accurately age. 

By 3.5-years, bucks will start to have more swelling in their necks during the rut with their neck flowing more into their brisket. Their legs will start to look more proportional to their body and they will have a sleek, muscular look to them though their front and hindquarters won’t be fully developed. They will also start to develop moderate tarsal staining.

4.5-year-olds

By 4.5-years, a buck will start to develop the sleek racehorse look. They will have fully developed front and hindquarters but will look more muscular than anything. Their necks will begin to look very swollen during the rut and their stomach will be flat from front to hindquarters. They will also display an increased amount of staining on the tarsal gland. 

5.5+

Once a deer has reached the age of 5.5-years they are generally considered to be fully mature. These deer will have fully developed front and hindquarters but they will no longer look as muscular as they did at 4.5. Bucks that are 5.5+ tend to have a sagging belly and a swale in their back. Their necks will flow right into their brisket and will look quite large after swelling during the rut. A fully mature bucks legs will also tend to look short relative to their body because their body is now fully developed.

Regardless of whether you are looking to age deer on the hoof to help determine which bucks you will harvest this fall, or are trying to collect harvest data to monitor your management program, age data can be invaluable. Keep these methods in mind this fall when trying to age your deer.

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!

Deer Food and Deer Feeding in Winter

Deer Food | Feeding Deer in the Winter

By: Weston Schrank, BuckScore Specialist and Biologist

As deer hunters and land managers, we worry about our deer herds in the winter. With freezing cold temperatures, snow, ice storms, and a sun that doesn’t often show itself, it’s a miracle deer can make it through such conditions. While deer are built to handle these tough situations, it’s our job to ensure the habitat and herd are in a healthy state for any type of weather. One question that often comes up during this time of year is “should I be feeding my deer?” In most circumstances the answer is no. However, the answer depends upon the situation as both the terms “deer food” and “feeding deer” can have different meanings. Understanding the right and wrong way to feed deer this winter is your job as a deer hunter and more importantly as a deer steward.

There are three sections below, carefully read and watch the videos in this blog to get a full understanding of the right and wrong way to feed deer. There is a wrong way to feed deer, a better way to feed deer, and “the best way” to feed deer during the winter months.

Feeding Deer in the Traditional Sense

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “feeding deer”? I bet that 90% of hunters think of deer corn. Corn or deer feed pellets are the most common foods that hunters refer to when they talk about feeding deer. So what is the problem with this? Feeding deer large amounts of corn in the winter in an area where they don’t normally get it can be a disaster. The video below explains why this can be a problem.

Feeding Deer with a Better Understanding

As the video above explains, this does not necessarily mean that all feeding is bad. There is a way that you can start feeding deer on a supplemental feeding program during the winter. The secret is feeding in the right amount and at the right times. The video below covers how to properly provide supplemental feeding.

The Best Way to Feed Deer

While many deer hunters and land managers might successfully incorporate a supplemental feeding program on their property, there is a better option. Through habitat management, food plots, and timber management plenty of deer food and nutrition will be available to the deer herd. Food in the form of food plots, early successional growth, woody browse, and downed trees should always be a higher priority for a deer manager than a feeding program. Unfortunately, there may not be enough natural food or habitat to sustain a herd throughout the winter. If this is the case, it might be time to create some emergency deer food and cover through hinge cutting. The video below covers hinge cutting and how it creates food and cover for deer.

When it comes to the terms “deer food”, “deer feed”, and “feeding deer,” it’s important to understand what each means to your management plan. There is a right way and a wrong way to provide food for your deer herd. Which will you choose and more importantly how will your choice affect the future of your herd?

Looking to read more deer hunting and deer manager related articles? Check out the link below!

Trail Camera Survey | Take Inventory of Your Deer Herd This Winter

How to Run a Trail Camera Survey

By: Weston Schrank, BuckScore® Specialist and Biologist

The first of a long list of responsibilities for a deer and land manager is to find out what is going on the property. It’s been a long hunting season… some deer have been killed by hunters, others killed by predators. The cornerstone of your new property management plan, and next year’s harvest plan, is taking a census of which deer and how many there are on the property. The best way to do this is by running a post season trail camera survey.

Post Season Trail Camera Survey

Most surveys are preseason surveys in summer, to determine which bucks are on the hit list… but a post season survey can be far more important to a deer manager. Population number, health assessments, post season age structure, and post season sex ratio are all very important to take note of after deer season.

Winter, specifically late February and March, is the hardest time for deer. A trail camera survey allows you to see the status, size, and overall health of the deer herd before this stressful time. Deer population numbers can fluctuate in terms of how many deer you actually see on the property. Your property may get an influx of deer stacking into your bedding areas, south slopes, and disturbed woodlots if you have a decent amount of cover and ideal habitat. This can cause a lot more stress to the property than what your management plan and property is set up for. Trail camera survey results combined with post season scouting can reveal management projects that might be needed before late February and March. This information also allows you to make smarter decisions on doe harvest, food plots, and even predator management!

What You’ll Need

  • 300 – 500 lbs. of corn or more per 100 acres of property (depending on deer densities)
  • One trail camera per 100 acres of property
  • New batteries for your trail camera
  • 8 GB or larger SD card (check compatibility with camera)
  • Time, enough time to refill trail camera stations every 2-4 days (depending on deer densities)

Trail Camera Survey Instructions

When setting up a survey you need to stick to the correct format that was conducted in the original research in order to get accurate results. The correct setup calls for a trail camera for every 100 acres. However, each property calls for different numbers depending on how it hunts, topography, and its habitat diversity. For example, while one camera may seem to cover an entire 70-acre property, you can learn from observations that each side of the property is used by different deer, and more importantly bucks, the number a survey uses as an index to estimate doe numbers. Setting up a trail camera on each side of this 70-acre property will give the ability to observe and identify each individual deer using the property. As another example, a 150-acre property in will have the same number of cameras. The habitat on this farm isn’t as diverse, meaning the deer move more freely from one camera location to the other.

After deciding how many cameras you need, the location of the trail cameras is your next decision. Your ideal trail camera location would be an area that you can maximize deer encounters with. You will want an area that is relatively clean of brush, saplings, and tall grass, essentially anything that can set off the camera besides a deer. Set up the trail camera about chest high and facing north or south to keep the morning or afternoon sun from blinding your image. Place 50-100 lbs. of corn out about 10 yards from the camera.

After the area is cleaned up and corn is down, turn your attention to the proper trail camera settings. The most important aspect that is often messed up by hunters and landowners is the setting and duration of the survey. The correct settings are 1 photo burst with a 5-minute delay. Make sure you have fresh batteries and an empty formatted memory card and run the survey for 3 weeks or 21- 24 days. During this time, keep coming back to ensure there is always corn on the site.

Trail Camera Survey Results

Once the 3 weeks are up you will pull the cameras. By this time you might have already been finding sheds, or deer will be casting their antlers within a few short weeks. There is no reason to keep the corn and trail cameras running this late into the season.

You are now ready to start the most important part of the survey, calculating the deer population and making decisions based on the survey. While the calculations are relatively simple, making decisions based on the data can be a little more confusing.

Look out for another video coming out in the upcoming weeks on how to start calculating these trail camera survey results. We will walk you through how to identify bucks, estimate does and fawn numbers, score bucks on the hoof, and what results management decisions can be derived from. I will also be pairing these videos with off-season responsibilities and activities you can be doing now that can increase deer movement across your property for next year’s hunting season.

In the meantime, here are several blogs that you can check out to increase your knowledge of deer, deer management, and deer hunting!

Want to score bucks from trail camera photos? The BuckScore® program allows you to score a photo of a deer on your desktop or mobile in just minutes!

Salvage Your Deer Season With These Late Season Camera Tips!

Late Season Trail Camera Tips

By: Weston Schrank, BuckScore Specialist and Wildlife Biologist  

The first two weeks of December can be a rough and confusing time for any deer hunter. Personally, if I have not tagged out yet I’m very unsure what to do with myself. Usually I am already focused on coyote hunting or just spending more time with family and friends… but again only if I am tagged out. The weather and deer activity are in a weird place and deer hunters are caught in the middle of it all. Before the cold temperatures of winter arrive, and after the intense rut action, a lot of deer hunters can catch themselves in this period known as the December lull. The only thing that I have come to know is that trail cameras can be a saving grace during this lull period. I aim to give you some solid trail camera strategies and tips for the late season. But I know reading this will also give you a better understanding of what is actually going on during the late season!  

Late Season Strategies

While I might completely ignore my cameras around the rut and focus more on just getting time in the stand, this ideal completely shifts during the first weeks of December. Unless you are a fan of throwing “Hail Mary” hunts together, trail cameras are the best strategy for the late season. While it might be obvious to some readers, the main reason why trail cameras are your best bet for the late season is because of deer patterns. The late season is the second time period where hunters can accurately pattern mature buck movement down to literally the minute!

Late Season Patterns

Mature bucks focus on recovery and staying warm during the late season. This is similar to their focus during late summer when they are busy feeding on protein. Naturally, their late season patterns fall prey to the same opportunities that their previous summer patterns do. This means that with some simple scouting, and some well-placed cameras a hunter has the ability to pick up on a pattern and plan a hunt based off the intel.  

The buck will be noticeable in only one location… a food source. He will spend morning to early evening hours held up in his warm thermal bedding. This is often a southern slope, a spot where sun can reach the buck but also where the cover blocks the cold wind. Early successional spots and native grass fields that are southern oriented are perfect spots for mature bucks to bed. When the buck does get up he will be headed to a nearby food source. This food source will be most likely one of the 4 most attractive food sources a deer can feed on during this time of year.

Late Season Food Sources

There are 4 food sources that you should take notice of, or plant next year specifically for the late season. Some are quite easy to establish and hunt, and others take quite a bit of investment.  

  1. Brassicas – the fancy name for turnips, radishes, and rape. If enough acreage is planted, the green sugary tops and robust buried treasures can be a potent combo for cold winter days.   
  2. Cereal Grains – winter rye, winter wheat, and oats (winter hardy) can be a great green source of food that will stay green all winter long. They make great cover crops if you are managing soil properly.  
  3. Standing Corn – standing or freshly cut or mowed over corn can be a major attraction during the late season.  
  4. Standing Beans – standing beans, just like standing corn, can be a great late season food source, but it offers summer protein, something that corn cannot. This makes beans a better option if you have enough acreage to have standing beans throughout the season and into early spring.

The Occasional Hot Doe 

Now before I dive straight into trail camera strategies and setups based on the information below ,I do need to talk about the occasional hot doe. Some people refer to it as the second rut, but the more correct term would be the fawn rut. Now, Midwest and Northern states can see an upwards of 75% of all breeding occur during the peak rut week. Some does do come in if they are not bred in the first round, especially if sex ratios are skewed towards more does than bucks. However what I am talking about here is what I commonly see on well managed properties. When doe fawns have great habitat, great food, and as a result great nutrition, they can reach the magical weight of 60-70 lbs. What happens then? If 6-7 month fawns reach this weight they can become sexually active and come into estrous. This is why you might have seen a small doe fawn being chased by 2 or 3 bucks in a late season food source or cut corn field. The one difference here of course is that these bucks are chasing an uneducated fawn, not a smart mature doe!  

This is not something to rely on, just a word of caution that the mature buck you are hunting is not completely safe with a late season pattern on your property. There is still a chance that he could cross the property line.  

Late Season Trail Camera Setups

Obviously the most successful trail camera strategies will be based around the most important aspect of the late season… food! This means creating camera setups that will either inventory the food source location. Or will catch deer movement and behavior around or in route to the food source. Now I have tried multiple setups, on multiple properties, and over the course of the years have ended up with a few videos to help viewers setup trail cameras for the late season.

Trail Camera Tips | patterning Deer with Late Season Cameras  this video was a couple years back, but the principles of the advice are solid. It discusses some of the information I have reviewed above.

Last year I ran a series called “Trail Cameras Weekly” on Muddy TV. During each week of the rut, I published a different video on what to do with your trail cameras for that week. Of course, I covered this time period in that series, and last year I gave some extremely helpful tips for late season trail camera setups.

The “Trail Cameras Weekly video reveals two very useful trail camera setups. One is a trail camera over a food source on time-lapse mode, and the other is on a late season funnel.  

Late Season Trail Camera Time-lapse

By setting up a trail camera over a late season food source over time-lapse mode, you can inventory what deer are utilizing the food source. You can also see where they frequent and even where they are filtering out of. You will want a camera with very high resolution photos (>10-12 MP). Set the camera to take pictures during the last 1-2 hours of daylight, with a photo every minute. Also make sure you have a big memory card (>16gb). 

Late Season Funnels

If you can identify the main areas of a late season bedding area, essentially anywhere with thick cover and sunshine, you can gather intel by hanging a trail camera over a late season funnel. For this setup, identify a heavily used run and set the trail camera up at a 45 degree angle from that run. You will want a camera with a quick trigger speed that can capture 3+ photos in a photo burst mode.

When to Make a Move

Stay out of these food sources except to check trail cameras. Keep the pressure off your food sources until one of the following happens: 

  1. Cold temperatures – when a cold front moves through or snow hits, deer will be forced to get up and feed earlier in the afternoon just to ensure they can keep up with the energy demands of staying warm.  
  2. Daylight movement – if you capture a buck utilizing the food source on a regular basis during legal shooting light don’t hesitate! Go in after him immediately. 

These trail camera tips should help you target late season movement patterns of bucks to target. It can be your saving grace that arrives just when it seems like all other opportunities have faded away.   

Have a nice buck on camera? Score him in minutes using the BuckScore® Software!

Hidden Late Season Intel You Should Pay Attention To

Late Season Deer Hunting | Gut Analysis

By: Weston Schrank, BuckScore® Specialist and Biologist  

The original version of this video and blog was posted on Muddy Outdoors and Muddy TV.  

This is not your normal late season hunting tips blog, or late season strategy blog. If you are looking for that take a look at a blog we just posted. Instead, this is going to reveal some hidden late season intel that most hunters take the time to look at. Last year, I filmed a weekly video for “Trail Cameras Weekly”, a weekly trail camera tip based video series for Muddy TV that reviewed the deer gut analysis tactic. 

Analyzing a Deer’s Gut

Normally, figuring out a deer’s diet is not going to be directly useful for hunting. However, this information is absolutely vital for the late season! I know most hunters are no stranger to taking a doe or two during the late or second gun season of their state (primitive or bonus antlerless season). If so, take advantage of this incredible opportunity!

What Do Deer Eat in The Late Season? | Trail Cameras Weekly “Week 10” – This process offers very valuable intel when it comes to hunting. Figuring out what a deer’s diet consists of regarding the late season food sources on your property, can help you determine where bucks might be patterned.

You are essentially trying to figure out what the “green mush” of the stomach contents are and assign percentages of each “type” of food. You will be looking for the following food sources:  

  • Woody Browse – large high fiber stem and tree bud looking stomach contents. The majority of a deer’s diet will be woody browse which can be confirmed by a lot of fiber strands and broken down stems of plants. 
  • Forbs – herbaceous plants that can be seen as large green matter. Generally, you will not see a lot of forbs in a deer’s diet in the winter.  
  • Mast – broken and shattered acorn bits can be confused by corn often, but it will be a significant portion of a deer’s diet in areas with a lot of mast-bearing trees (oaks mostly).  
  • Crops – this is the one you want to try and focus on. Do you see a lot of corn/beans? In the case of this video, a large portion of the doe’s diet was winter rye or the cover crop on the property.  
  • Grass – slightly less fibrous plant material that will make up a small portion of a deer’s diet.  

The graph below is taken from Nutritional Requirements of White-tailed Deer in Missouri produced by the Extension Department of the University of Missouri.

 

If you can accurately identify food sources in the deer’s stomach contents you can then assume where the deer is spending the majority of its time. Remember deer will be mainly feeding in the late afternoon and early into the night. If there is a lot of acorns still in the diet, than oak flats may be where you want to spend time hunting. If its corn or another late season food source that can be easily hunted, start putting some late season trail camera setups in and around that food source.  

This tactic can turn you onto to an unknown food source on or close by your property. This can allow you to rethink your hunting strategy for the late season just in time to snatch success before the season ends.  

Want to Find Out More about this Tactic? Visit the Original blog here!

 

Images That Don’t Work When Scoring Deer with BuckScore®

Images That Don’t Work When Scoring Deer

Getting the perfect trail camera photo is hard enough. Add to it the pressure of trying to acquire a picture that would work to score with the BuckScore® program can feel next to impossible. This article’s aim is to clarify what pictures can be scored and what pictures cannot.

BuckScore® software scores deer based on the information you manually put in. The scoring starts with a reference feature. This measures the scale, angle, and other photo characteristics based on your manual measurement of the ear width, eye, or eye-to-eye measurement. After the reference feature, you will draw the other measurements on the antlers. This is why clear, crisp angles at correct angles must be used when using the BuckScore app.

Images That Cannot Be Scored Using BuckScore®

There are several images that won’t work when using the BuckScore® program, however they revolve around 4 main attributes.

  • Low quality 
  • Movement 
  • Angles  
  • Anatomically incorrect reference features (mounted deer) 

Low Quality

Why? – Lowquality images are simply too blurry or not detailed enough to accurately score with BuckScore®. Some cell phone pictures or any lowquality camera pictures, often from trail cameras, can lead to an inaccurate score. Inexpensive trail cameras with low megapixel images quickly become blurry when the deer gets further than 30 ft away from the camera. This is especially true if the image is captured at night. The “fuzzy” factor creates a lot of variation to exactly where a tinecircumference, or main beam measurement starts and ends. It can also throw the reference measurement off.

Photo: This image is low quality, but it also is at night. This renders the eye reference measurements useless as the glare exaggerates the eye location and width. This buck also has his ears laid back which does not allow the ear reference measurement to be taken.  

Solution – The obvious solution here is to get a better camera. Most medium price range cameras offer 8-12 MP images. However, that is not going to fly with most hunters on a budget! The best option, in this case, is to bring the deer in closer. You can do this by setting up the trail camera differently on the run or food plot or simply create a point of attraction. Bait, licks, or mock scrapes are all great ways to stop a deer for a close detailed picture.

Movement

Why? – This one is pretty self-explanatory…movement causes blurry images. Blurry Images cause inaccuracy in the BuckScore® program. Even a slightly blurry picture due to movement can throw off circumference measurements and reference point measurements by an inch or moreA camera with a higher trigger speed and the ability to freeze images with a quick shutter speed is needed to capture moving deer. Higher price range cameras do a fantastic job of freezing images.

  

Photo: The buck in this image is not only moving, but his head is also at an angle that could significantly alter the accuracy of the score.

Solution – Try a camera with a faster motion freeze/trigger speed. If your camera is on a run, try stopping them with a point of interest, bait, scrape, or deer scent. Essentially something to stop them in their tracks!

Angles

Why? – BuckScore® can accurately score images of deer at the 0°, 22° , 45°, 66°, and 90° angles. Essentially if the buck’s head is level and facing towards the camera the picture can be scored. Angles refer to not only deer facing away from the camera, but also the head being tilted forward, backward, or another variation that could cause variation in measurements. This means that bucks in the back of truck beds, lying flat on the ground, or pictures of bucks eating from bait piles cannot be scored.

Photo: In this picture, the buck is turned away from the camera. This can drastically overestimate the size of the rack and as a result, the BuckScore® results.

Solution  Making sure the trail camera is level is one easy way to make sure the deer’s head and the image is level. Of course, you can’t always get a buck to hold his head level, especially during the rut and images over bait. Having a higher burst photo mode or a video mode can allow you to make sure you drastically improve your odds of getting a shot of the buck’s head level and at the correct angles.  

Mounted Deer

Why?  Mounted deer give you the ability to take the perfect picture for scoring deer with BuckScore®. However, the mounting process might throw off the reference measurements. While the score of the antlers remain the same, the reference features (ear, eye, and eye-to-eye) could all be anatomically incorrect. This will throw off the BuckScore® results.

  

Solution Take a picture of the harvest according to the BuckScore® harvest photo guidelines. This will allow you to score a picture of a harvested deer.

5 Examples of Pictures That can be Scored

Of course, most photos can be scored by BuckScore®. These include pictures of harvested bucks or hero pictures. Take a look at some of the example pictures below. If you still have questions about scoring deer with BuckScore® contact us here.  

Photo: With good camera quality, even deer far away from the camera can be scored.

 

Photo: BuckScore® can adjust for velvet pictures. Just simply check the box that asks if the buck is in velvet.

 

Photo: If you film your hunts or have a great camera in the stand with you, you can take photos or screenshots of bucks encountered in the field. Video is the best option, so you can go back and screenshot when the buck turns his head to an appropriate angle for scoring.

 

Photo: A higher grade camera allows you to get a great night time photo. With high trigger speed, shutter, and great quality you are able to capture the buck without movement and an overestimated eye glare.

 

Photo: Taking a picture of a harvested deer can allow you to score the buck within minutes, without breaking out the tape!

Curious about how to take a picture of a harvested deer to score on BuckScore®? Check it out below!

  

  

BuckScore® Mobile | Score a Buck In Minutes!

Scoring a Buck In Minutes On Your Phone

BuckScore® Mobile now allows you to score deer with your phone! This now allows in the moment scoring! Within minutes of snapping a picture, you can have a score of the deer before he even offers you a shot opportunity! Before this technology, it was only possible to estimate a buck’s score from knowing how to field score a deer. An extremely loose fitting solution for estimating what a buck scores during an encounter or from a trail camera picture. Now, with BuckScore®, you can score a picture of a buck from a trail camera, taken from your cell phone during an encounter, or a picture of your harvested buck!

Don’t believe us…check out the video below!

How Does It Work?

Holding two U.S. issued patents, BuckScore® is the only science-proven program that allows you to score pictures of bucks in minutes. The app accurately estimates antler size including spread, beam length, tine length, and circumference all to calculate a Net and Gross score within 3% of the actual score. It does this by having the user set a reference point of known lengths such as the eye to eye reference point, ear reference point, or the eye width reference point. The user then simply manually enters points for the requested measurements and within minutes receives an accurate estimate of the buck’s score.

Check out BuckScore® Mobile here!