Early Assessment of Habitat Conditions for White-tailed Deer
Take into consideration that during the last 3.5 years in Texas, with ongoing drought conditions, the lack of quality antler growth was directly reflective of the lack of abundant, quality native forage. Deer on habitats that were not properly managed prior to the drought suffered the most, likely producing low fawn survival if any and poor antler growth compared to those on habitats that were properly managed. In other words, if deer are not able to sufficiently meet their physical needs (skeletal/muscular growth, fat deposits, etc.) due to a deficiency of quality forage then antler growth will suffer as resources will be allocated to the body first and antlers second (perfect reason to have an early assessment of your White-tailed Deer habitat conditions). The same can be said for does, as body condition deteriorates so will the does ability to develop healthy fawns and subsequently take care of them after birth. From a hunting perspective, in this situation, where low fawn survival is likely occurring now, expect very low numbers of mature bucks to be present 3, 4, and 5 years post-drought years, when those bucks should be 4.5, 5.5, and 6.5 years of age.
Side Note: Why is supplemental feed (protein) for whitetails a big business in Texas? Unfortunately we tend to always be in some sort of drought conditions. Consequently our deer are generally not in top physical condition, thus not capable of producing their full antler genetic potential. Supplemental feed solves that problem to some extent by providing a high quality food source year round, benefiting both the bucks and does. I wish we could grow large fields of soybeans, corn, and alfalfa for deer to feed on but it just isn’t going to happen most of the time.
Antlers are termed secondary sexual characteristics. In the deer world, it is hypothesized that cow moose actually “choose” their mate (bull) based on the visual characteristics/antler symmetry of antlers a bull has grown that year. Now this would infer that the cow is “choosing” a bull that to her, visually displays (antler) an ability to survive and maintain good physical health….I’m not sure if any bulls get their feeling hurt in this process. Does mate selection happen with whitetails? It’s not likely, as whitetails have always shown to be more the aggressor with does when it comes to the mating relationship between the two.
From a deer managers perspective the 2016 season looks to be off to a very good start with rainfall occurring somewhat consistently this spring throughout the state. Continued rains through the spring and early summer will create abundant quality forage (on properly managed rangelands) for bucks throughout the antler growth cycle. If this situation materializes, that means bucks should be in peak physical condition and therefore able to fully express their true antler genetic potential. In other words, what you might see this year in regards to antler growth is likely the best that an individual buck is capable of growing at his current age. So whether you are looking for a mature trophy and/or trying to cull the herd of a few animals you deem genetically inferior regarding antler growth….this could be the year to harvest.
For more information regarding deer management on your property feel free to contact us at Hall and Hall.