Archive for the ‘Deer Management Plan’ Tag

CWD AND ME   3 comments


Like most people who hunt deer species in North America, I have a minimal knowledge of the disease known as CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal (to deer species) neurological disease.  A misfolded protein called a prion causes the disease.

It passes from one deer to another through animal to animal contact. The shedding of prions through bodily fluids and/or the decay of infected animals creates a contaminated environment which allows the spread of the disease.

The disease does not pass along to humans or domestic livestock. But it can have a devastating effect on deer herds, especially if they are concentrated in a location such as those yarding up in winter and those in a breeding facility.

Biologists have tried numerous programs to limit the spread of the disease but as yet there is no known cure.

Most programs involve isolating infected areas and the sampling of brain tissue to find infected animals.

Last fall produced the harvest of the best deer of a 60-year hunting career. When told testing for CWD is required, anxiety set in.  Visions of some college kid working for the game officials butchering the cape to get at the brain tissue came to the fold.  Such was not the case.

Squaw Mountain Ranch where the deer was taken is also a deer breeding facility for sale of deer to ranches across Texas. In order to protect their property and herd, the ranch participates in a number of studies with the wildlife officials of the state.  It is no near any of the areas where CWD has been found in the state and the hope to keep it that way.

Any deer that dies on this ranch is checked.

Concerns about damage to the cape are unwarranted. Watching the process turned out to be a good learning experience.  Dusty, a guide on the ranch follows normal capeing procedures.  However as the cape is rolled toward the head, an incision is made at the joining of the spinal column to the base of the brain.

With some specialized tools he is able to remove a two inch section of the spinal column. He places the sample in a container and sent out for testing.  At the lab they section the sample and examine it under a microscope for any folded prions.

After two years of sampling every deer, this ranch has not found a single infected animal.





Many deer hunters see deer hunting as going to the same area each year and sitting in a tree. They hope for a deer to walk past and that they shoot straight. Successful deer hunting requires study of the quarry, its biology, and the effect that man has had on both.

White-tailed deer disappeared from Illinois around the turn of the last century. Reintroduced to Southern Illinois in the early 1930’s, reintroduction came in three phases:

The first deer came to southern Illinois and allowed to reproduce. The idea was to get sufficient numbers to allow the program to move to step II.

Step II involved the trapping and translocation of deer to a suitable habitat in other parts of the state. This was so successful that by 1957 some 33 counties opened to deer hunting. By 1975, some 98 counties had deer seasons.

Step III became the over population that has caused depredation of crops and homeowner landscaping. It also involves an increase in auto-deer accidents on area highways. By the 1980’s over population of deer in many areas of the state was becoming a significant problem.

In the 1990’s wildlife officials decided to stress maintenance of deer density that would be capable of sustaining deer hunting. It had to take into account the carrying capacity of the land.

Today there is emphasis in some areas to maintain trophy quality in the deer herd. But, deer hunting is more than just shooting a big deer. Deer hunters seek size and symmetry.

First is the preparation and anticipation of a hunt. Some say it is the most fun part of a deer hunt. Then there is the isolation of sitting in a cold treestand waiting for a deer to come past. Finally, there sometimes is the disappointment of being unsuccessful in getting a deer. To the deer hunter these are all part of the game.

Deer hunting is about leveraging experience and knowledge. All knowledge is cumulative. The more one hunts, the better hunter he becomes. The more he reads about hunting, he becomes a more informed hunter. The more videos about hunting he views, the more discriminating he is in selecting his quarry.

As knowledge accumulates, one sorts out valid theories to test in a specific type of habitat. One tests theories in the field. Then the hunter begins to develop his own theories and test them. That is how one becomes a better hunter. One can always learn if he just keeps an open mind.

This year, study your deer hunting area. Does it present the habitat that will attract and keep deer? If deer are present, why are they there and where do they regularly travel. By knowing why deer do what they do, one improves his chances of being able to be in position for that all important shot.

The huge expanses of public and private land available in southern Illinois attract hunters. The lack of overcrowding makes the area an excellent place to hunt. The Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations contains lists of all the public land hunting areas. It is available free from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources offices though out the state. It is also available anywhere place selling hunting and fishing licenses.



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How can you enfold tree plantings with your food plot program?  David Osborn explains in this third entry from his speech to the ODMA conference a while back.

Deer orchards are cheaper to install and maintain over the long haul as compared to other food plots.  They do not require installing and maintaining.  There is a lot of work up front but you do not have to plow the ground year after year.  Once you put them in that is your major investment of time.

The first couple of years you need to release them from grass complications.  Grass competes for water and soil nutrition.  Later on you may need to provide some fertilization.  But, maintenance is pretty low.

Some people plant an orchard and walk away from it.  Those orchards are seldom successful.  It is a commitment once you put in an orchard.  This is especially so for the first 2-3 years.  You still have to water some during drought periods.

“The amount of food that is available on the ground at any given time determines when deer come and use it,” according to Osborn.  Particularly mature bucks.  He reports, “They are more likely to come and eat from a small bait pile during the day than from a large one, according to a Michigan State study.”  The probable reason is a large bait pile, where there is plenty of food, teaches them there is plenty of food and they can come back after dark.  With a small bait pile if they wait, does and other wildlife will come and eat the food.  When the bucks get there at night it is all gone.

The same applies to orchards.  If you have trees that drop a lot of fruit over a short period they are going to feed nocturnally.  If you have something that drops a little bit of fruit over a long time then they are going to check it more frequently.

Large orchards put too much fruit on the ground at one time and are harder to hunt.  With small orchards you know where to look for deer to appear.  It is easier to get a feel for their travel patterns from bedding cover to the food source.  With a larger orchard they have too many options.

By isolating trees you cut down on the possibility of tree diseases transferring from tree to tree.

How does a tree orchard affect deer nutrition?  Most people think that dietary protein is the most important element in a deer’s diet.  It is important but the truth is that use more dietary energy than anything else except water.  Dietary energy is particularly important in summer and fall.  They need enough reserves to get them through the winter.  By planting a fibrous food source you help them get dietary energy to get through those times of the year.

Bourse (roughage) takes 14-19 hours to digest in a deer and does not provide dietary energy.   But if they have access to high energy food sources like acorns or fruits to help buffer the effect of the roughage it speeds up digestion so they can eat more food.  They can eat more of these high energy foods and better meet their energy needs over time.

Natural oak stands are typically not consistent producers of acorns.  You can improve production by having multiple species of oak.  Still during poor acorn years the deer still have a difficult time getting enough quality food to overcome the effects of low quality browse.

The acorn production can vary from one pound per acre to 800 pounds per acre.  You need from 90 to 108 pounds of acorns per acre per deer.  Deer will continually search for acorns even after all the viable ones are gone.

The time to have supplemental fruit forage is when they are searching for acorns.   The most valued use of a tree orchard is to compliment other food management practices.

Take an inventory of high energy food sources on your property.  With places like oat fields and clear cuts, take into account sources like food trees, berries, and high quality fruits.  Take into account all this food and identify times of the year when there is a nutritional gap.  Consider using tree orchards to fill the nutritional gaps.   Even if you do not find obvious gaps, it still may be just what is required to lure that big buck out of the brush and give you a shot at him.

Your local nursery can supply some of the domestic varieties that available.  You can select ones to fit the time requirement gaps in your nutritional needs.  There are varieties that produce fruit, early, middle or late.  Select trees that spread out food availability.

Do your homework and make sure these varieties will do well in your climate and area.


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As part of his presentation on use of soft mast in food plots for deer, David Osborn of the Warnell School of Forestry at the University of George explains some facts about deer movement.  “Habitat development will not have any effect on young bucks’ dispersal, such as moving away they mature,” asserts David.  “Their behavior is driven by herd social structure.”

If a food source is located just outside the deer’s core area they will shift their core area to use that food resource.  If the food source is located within their core area it does not affect the core area.  It might get smaller around something like a feeder.

If multiple sources of high quality complex food sources are present in their home range, the deer will either expand the size of the core area or they set up core areas around each of those sources and use them at different times.

Tree orchards are perfectly suited for small acreage.  If you have a small attractive food plot, deer are going to devour it.  Productivity of that plot is going to go down as it gets more use.  When you need it most it may not be very productive for you.

Browsing deer will damage young trees but it is not that costly to protect them with wire fence cages or tree tubes.  Eventually they will grow out of the reach of deer and their browsing will no longer damage them.

Once these trees mature and start producing it does not matter how much deer use them.  Deer eating fruit does not have any effect on future productivity.

Having established the need for soft mast as part of deer management on your land it becomes time to start planting.  David covers that too in his seminars.


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Planting trees is not new but it is an underutilized tool for attracting and possibly changing whitetail movement patterns on hunting property.  David Osborn is an advocate of growing more soft mast for deer.

Osborn in addressing a seminar at the conference of Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), he points out that most fruit trees we grow now are not native to North America.  They were not planted before about 1629.  Native Americans planted fruit trees to attract game animals to areas of the forest.  Their number one game animal was white-tailed deer.

David is a deer research coordinator at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources of the University of Georgia.  He oversees the Whitetail Deer Research Facility where he studies use of tree orchards for the purpose of attracting and feeding deer on hunting lands.  His seminar covered a great deal of information.  Therefore it is presented here in three parts.

Fruit orchards are forms of habitat management.  Tree orchards require a level of skill and stewardship.  “By knowing when fruit trees drop their fruit,” says Osborn, “we can select the time when deer will use those areas.  But, they are subject to crop failures and may not produce fruit one year.”

You cannot hunt deer over bait in many states but you can hunt them in tree orchards.

Once deer begin to be attracted to permanent food sources like an orchard, they return to it repeatedly over time.  Young deer learn the location from their mothers and will remember the location over time.  It is learned behavior passed from one generation to another.

Deer sometimes move seasonally from one home range to another.  It usually happens because there is something missing in the habitat.  It can also be because of intensive hunting pressure.   The more diverse the habitat it is less likely the deer will move seasonally.  A deer’s home range can vary from 100-acres to 3,000-acres.

What actually determines home range size can be sex and age of the deer, seasons of the year, and the location of the property.  As a general rule of thumb the better the quality of the habitat the smaller the range size.  With higher deer density the size of the home range is smaller.

A food plot has thermal cover and a variety of food sources for year around living it might minimize seasonal movement of the deer.  They need both lower and upper story cover.


IL Whitetail 0045Jeremy is a wildlife biologist who was instrumental in the development of Buckscore a computer program that aids in the ageing and scoring of deer from photographs.  Speaking to a group at the Quality Deer Management annual meeting, he presented Buckscore’s basic theory and development.

Today’s deer hunting community has developed an obsession with aging and scoring deer on the hoof.  They often refer to deer by the total inches of antler.  But there is a difference between a 150-inch 3-year old and a 150-inch 6-year old deer.

It is more appropriate to describe a deer by both antler size and age.  We need to thin when looking at a buck, is this deer old enough for harvesting and is it big enough to meet management goals in the area.

The recent explosion of the use of trail cameras has created voluminous collections of deer photos.  Managers can gain information about buck to doe numbers, fawn production and deer density.  In terms of bucks, we can learn the number of points the deer has as well as information on deer inventory of the management area.

In the past we used the ear, eyes and nose as reference points in measuring tine length, spread and beam length.

When it comes to aging a deer we tend to use the neck, the chest, the stomach curve.

Jeremy and the staff of Mississippi State University took these elements and put them in a user friendly computer program.  Regardless of ones skill or education you will be able to collective the data.  This led to the development of Buckscore.

There are three issues encountered when they began to score deer with photographs.  The first was the distance between the camera and the deer.  It is impossible to work estimates that are pure guess work.  They have to use physical features that nature provides.   Physical features on the deer.  This could be the distance between the eyes, upper and lower nostril width, the ear width, and the eye ball width.

Deer cover a wide geographical range.  Deer in Illinois are different than those in south Florida.  Buckscore partnered with a number of state and private agencies and sampled the five physical and facial features from almost 2,000 deer.  The data went into the program.

Still it is not as if they have the deer in hand.  Because they have a two dimensional picture they lack depth perception and curvature.  The photos cannot account for that.

They created a mathematical formula that corrects for depth perception and curvature.  That gives the measurement as if you have the deer in hand running a tape along the beam.

The last thing they had to account for is the angle of the deer to the camera.  It means they had to correct much more for the angle.  They developed a program for angles.  They program uses a straight on view, an angle or 45-degree view, and a side or 90-degree view.  If you can paint a picture of a deer in any of these three angles you can get a score of that deer.

The most consistent and most accurate physical feature to use in antler measurement seems to be ear width.  So that is where they recommend beginning.  Then the program takes you through a number of physical and geographical considerations with a final result that is very accurate measurement of the deer’s score.

In aging a deer the program considers 9 physical features.  Once you enter the nine features and you hit “go” everything is automatic and there age estimation is very accurate.  It bases he estimation on percentages and high probability factors.

The deer photo goes through a series of steps automatically presented as each step is completed.

There is a learning curve in the use of this program.  Flinn recommends running 5 or 6 photos through it to polish your skills in using Buckscore.

This is a simplified description of the program.  For more information on Buckscore refer to



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The new found interest in planting flood plots for attracting and holding wildlife has developed a whole new science of plant production.  Early on deer hunters planted corn and soybeans to attract deer to isolated hunting areas.  Later foreign species of grasses and vegetable species began to enter the picture.

Soft mast trees add significantly in attracting deer and other wildlife.  A conversation at the ODMA National Convention drilled that home.  The discussion involved several landowners and nursery growers.  Due to the nature of the conference the focus was on what soft mast (fruit trees) can do to enhance flood plots.

Coming away from this informal session instilled some ideas as to the planting of fruit trees in the more moderate temperature habitats such as the southern Midwest.  Most of the trees under discussion were apple and pear varieties but peaches also fall into this class.

When thinking of food plots most of us deer hunters think of the broad leaf vegetables such as turnips and some native grasses.  A number of commercial offerings on the market contain nutrient rich plants from other countries approved for planting in this country.

Pears are the easiest fruit trees to grow according to nurserymen.  Crabapples are the most productive of fruit.  The group consensus was that some of the apple subspecies are bred to be virus free and highly resistant to other problems.  They named a number of unfamiliar species.  Perhaps local nursery operators can aid in finding them for planting.

With a little maintenance during the first few years, planted fruit trees should begin producing fruit in about 2 to 3 years.  By way of contrast, oak plantings take 5 to 8 year.

The suggestions from the pros are that one learns what will produce in your area.  Nursery employees are a good source of information.  Be sure to purchase healthy stock and not just the least expensive plants.  It is advisable to plant different varieties of the peaches, pears and apples to make sure pollination occurs.  Do not plant just one variety.

If possible choose fruit that will fall at different times to insure a longer production season.  It keeps the wildlife in the area.

In recent years wildlife habitat has declined.  Food plots are a good way to bring it back.  But, do not forget soft mast species.  With some light maintenance in the first couple of years trees help to beautify the surroundings and improve the productivity of the land.

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