My top draft pick for the '14 season is the college senior shown below. As with most ready to make the jump to the pros, there are several questions that will require us to wait and see. I think this guy has a lot of up side, but everything must fall into place for his success to end up on my wall next season. His rookie season could even require some bench time, causing me to wait until his second year as a pro. Here is a list of things that must go right:
As mentioned on a previous blog, the number of deer has declined. This has obviously caused the number of bucks to drop drastically. I pulled the camera cards on Dec. 28, which had sat since Dec. 8th. Upon reviewing all of the pictures, this was the biggest buck captured twice four days apart. Hopefully other mature bucks will filter into the property and be added to the draft board for the '14 season.
As I reflect on the past three seasons, it is critical to evaluate common threads and distinct differences associated with the three bucks harvested. I hope through this process to better understand the property and how to improve my hunting skills to focus on more mature deer in future seasons.
To begin the process, I had to outline the three individual bucks and the details around each hunt, which has been completed with the links found along the right column of this blog page under the title "Successful Hunts". Below are the common threads and distinct differences to develop my conclusions on how to improve.
In conclusion, the above clearly helps me understand what I have done well and what I need to work to improve. I hope through this process others have learned or at least will conduct a similar review on buck harvests. The additional or background information below is broken out by category with details on each buck. This information was used to help determine the above common threads and distinct differences.
Date of Harvest:
Location on Property: The images below illustrate where each buck was shot on the property and includes the associated tree stand location.
Travel Direction and associated Topography, Terrain, and Vegetation:
Wind Direction / Location of Buck to Stand:
Camera Evidence or Sightings to Understand Travel Patterns:
Crossing of In and Out Trail:
Score and Age:
For some time now, I've held a long standing secret and I think it is time to share with the world. For years there has been a myth about Rudolph The Red Nosed Deer. Today I want to confirm that Rudolph exists and explain some of the background associated with this holiday story.
As a QDM Landowner, I was very surprised one day years ago when I pulled camera cards in the Spring. There he was.....a little fawn that had a red nose. I thought to myself what in the world is this? As years passed, this resident buck began to grow and mature. Each trail camera picture of him was easily recognized with that red nose. You can't miss it as illustrated in the several pictures below.
As I hunted each year, I would see this buck and realized how he was so special. What I had not planned on was his disappearance each year around this time. Then last year, he left my property and did not return. I have not seen him in over a year. Where did he go? Was the quality of my cover, food sources, etc., not good enough?
Then I met another QDM Landowner, he is listed on forums as St. Nick. He informed me that he recruits special deer from many states. Now you would think, he would target states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. But, he informed me that he takes deer from all over, even West Central Indiana. When I asked if he had recruited a deer near my land, he informed me of a special deer that had a red nose. I was extremely excited to learn that this deer had not been poached, hit by a vehicle, died from EHD, etc. He is alive and well.
What is so incredible is the work this QDM practicing land owner from the far north accomplishes. I think we all could learn a lot from this guy. Funny I haven't seen him at any conferences or expos. He has a fantastic food plot and supplemental program. And the minerals he provides is a formula that companies would kill for. This learning brings into question the whitetail home range studies from the past. The fact a deer has been identified with a range from Indiana to the North Pole shatters the previous beliefs.
The training of the deer is extraordinary. He has even taught these deer to fly and pull a red sleigh full of toys. Imagine that! Imagine the strength these deer must have to fly all over the world to deliver toys and pull a sleigh while flying?
St. Nick told me he flies his deer every Christmas Eve all over the world to deliver toys. When I asked about his QDM program, he was reluctant to tell me the details. I guess I understand why to a certain extent. If we all had these secret formulas, just imaging how hard it would be to successfully hunt deer that fly? It is hard enough to get a mature buck in front of me each year. If they flew all over the place, I would probably have to give up this hobby from the constant failure.
Tonight is Christmas Eve and you can bet that Rudolph from West Central Indiana will be flying high and pulling the sled. Please make sure you let him go so he can grow. If you get a chance to talk with St. Nick, ask him what his secrets are so we can all share and further the QDM cause.
Deer hunting has been something I have thought about and worked hard for since I was 13 years old, or over the past 30 years exactly. For the first season I can ever remember, there seems to be a huge emphasis and discussion about the deer herd numbers. The question at hand is if the whitetail deer numbers are increasing or significantly decreasing? Concerns are pointed out about numbers dropping, while there are also articles like the December 9th Issue of Time Magazine, with a doe on the cover indicating this is "America's Pest Problem".
I've seen a large number of posts on various forums where others state emphatically that the deer numbers are down. What is driving this belief? Is it the outbreaks of EHD over the past couple of years? Is it simply a decrease in deer sightings from the stand or absence of mature bucks from trail cameras? Is it fawn predation from coyotes and other natural whitetail predators? Are we finally realizing the effects from the serious '12 drought across the Midwest? Are the large number of doe tags allowed by states finally making an impact (e.g., in my Indiana county, I can take 9 does)? My personal feeling is that it is tough to deny the numbers are down. Then again, I continue to have other hunters at work show me photos of extremely large bucks taken this season so how can the numbers be down?
The recent spread of EHD in many ways is a classic method of nature controlling or preventing over population of whitetails. There are constant sightings of deer vehicle accidents and dead deer along the side of the road. So the question can be raised or it be suggested that the numbers are too high and bring risk to all of use who drive. I do believe that to a certain extent. I fear running into deer and have studied deer crossings on my daily route to and from work. But I do feel during the rut, there were fewer sightings when I was driving of bucks chasing does.
But is EHD going to be the end of whitetails? Is this the one illness that takes our prized wild game to the brink of extinction? I don't believe this to be the case. I also don't believe the conspiracy theorist who have suggested that EHD is something contrived by wildlife agencies in conjunction with the insurance industry lobbyist. Indiana DNR indicated that the number of EHD counties for '13 had dropped to only 15 counties, compared to 67 counties in '12 (Refer to 2013 Deer Harvest may not exceed record of 2012).
Personal observations that makes me concerned about the deer numbers include fewer does seen from the stand this year and the second occurred last weekend. I visited the property after the first significant snow fall of the season. It snowed on a Thursday and I checked the cameras on the following Sunday. It had stayed cold the entire time so there was not much snow melt. As a result, I expected to see serious tracks and activity in the food plots.
To my surprise, I saw very few tracks in the snow of any kind. I found a couple sets of fresh dog tracks, a few rabbit tracks, but hardly any deer tracks. If you recall, I had planted brassicas in the south section of the Main Plot. Plus, I had a mixtures of clover / chickory and clover / alfalfa in the bulk of the available plots. As a result, it would be expected to see a lot of tracks and spots where deer had dug through the snow to access the clover and turnips (however, my herd doesn't seem to like turnips). When I cleared the snow with my feet, there was quite a bit of clover in the east plots in particular. The only serious sign seen was under a large Pin Oak along the path I drove in on. It was evident they were still working hard to get into the millions of small acorns from the Pin Oaks. But, this was only one small area disturbed. Was this the food source that all of the deer were seeking? I didn't venture into the woods to look for more sign. Were the deer primarily hitting the agriculture fields around our property? Most of the ag fields have not been plowed under due to how the harvest ended and the weather patterns dictated wet or frozen conditions. Regardless......none of this is making sense.
I've never experienced this lack of activity so late in the season on my 63 acres. Not at all! Usually the gun season and muzzle loading season brings more deer to the property since I limit pressure and strictly bow hunt. So where did they go? In many respects, this lack of obvious sign makes me side with those online. Maybe everyone's concerns about the dropping numbers is correct? I guess there is only one way to try to measure this problem. I need to do an official camera survey using corn to bait them to the camera (obviously after hunting season). I don't really want to spend a lot of money to feed the coons, but I don't see any other way.
So is all of this seriously misleading? I believe the Time magazine article is misleading unless you only apply it to urban zones. I believe any talk about conspiracies are misleading. I believe statements that all of this is from EHD is misleading.
Serious doubt, I do have. I seriously doubt deer numbers are as high as they were on my property in years past. I seriously doubt I will work hard to take numerous does as done in the past. I seriously doubt the deer are preferring other forages off of my property as this has never happened before. I seriously doubt it will take long for those of us who practice QDM to convert strategies of reducing doe numbers to balance herds to conserving does to increase fawn numbers.
I want to focus on the last sentence to close out this blog. Doe conservation is going to be a 180 degree shift for many of us. I do believe deer numbers are down. I feel all of the factors discussed are reducing or impacting deer herd numbers. EHD is a significant contributor. Increased doe harvest, fawn predation from coyotes, drought, reduced habitat, deer vehicle collisions, and any others I left out are starting to turn the tide.
So my plans are to lay off of the does. I will also focus on trapping and shooting coyotes to help preserve the upcoming fawn births. I could be proven completely wrong and pull camera cards to find 20-30 deer in the plots, but I seriously doubt it.
Andy Hayes is a devoted husband and father of 4 kids living in West Central Indiana. Outside of his family, his passion is hunting whitetails. He does not claim to be a professional hunter, but simply wants to share what he learns during his quest to improve whitetail habitat and hunt mature bucks.