3 Deer Research Discoveries to Apply to Your Deer Management

Even though Mother Nature may have other plans so far this spring, warmer weather is right around the corner. And the onset of spring means new life. Trees and flowers are blooming, morel mushrooms are growing, and turkeys are gobbling. But outside of shed hunting, deer hunters may not think there’s much for them to do to prepare for their fall hunts. Luckily, deer research shows that there’s plenty for hunters to do during the off-season months.  Here are three recent deer research discoveries that you should know for your deer management this spring and summer.  

1.) Fawning Cover

It’s easy to get excited about planning for our fall hunts, but each hunt in the fall starts with fawns being born in the spring. Bringing new fawns into the population each year is obviously an essential part of maintaining a population, but what can you do to maximize fawn survival? Luckily, there’s been tons of research conducted to determine what contributes to fawn survival. The first thing you probably think about regarding fawn survival is predator control. Yes, research has shown time and time again that coyotes are usually the top predator of white-tailed deer fawns. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that coyotes are limiting a deer population from growing. There are two things to keep in mind here. First, most research that reports very low fawn survival comes out of the Southeastern US. This is an area where coyotes are a relatively new predator and deer may just need time to adapt to their presence. Second, there are some studies out there that have actually looked at how effective coyote removal is on increasing fawn survival. Unfortunately, the results are mixed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Other research helps explain why coyote removal doesn’t always work. When people conduct predator management, they are usually only doing it on a single property so coyotes on surrounding properties are unaffected. This means that removing coyotes from a property essentially opens up a new area for other coyotes to move to. Unless predator management is being conducted on a scale much larger than most people can conduct it at, it will likely be ineffective.

Moving on from predators, what else affects fawn survival? Well, it turns out that there are some other habitat characteristics that come into playResearch has shown that increasing the amount of edge (area where two habitat types meet) increases a fawn’s chances of surviving. Similarly, increasing the amount of cover habitat also increases a fawn’s ability to survive. Why? Well, these findings likely relate back to predators. By increasing the amount of edge habitat that’s available to fawns you are also likely decreasing a coyote’s ability to effectively hunt for fawns while giving fawns more areas to run to and hide from a coyote if it’s being chased. So even though you may not be able to consistently remove enough coyotes to improve fawn survival, you can definitely improve fawning habitat to decrease a coyote’s ability to hunt for them.

Article: The Importance of Good Fawning Cover

So how do you know if you have quality fawning habitat on your hunting property? It’s actually pretty simple if you have a basketball. Walk out to an area on your hunting property that you think is good fawning cover with a friend. Have your friend cover their eyes, throw the basketball, and have your friend look for the basketball. You don’t need to throw the basketball very far. If your friend can’t immediately find the basketball, then your fawning cover is probably pretty good. But if the basketball sticks out like a sore thumb, then you have some work to do.

2.) Mineral Stumps

One of the most common ideas in deer management is providing deer with some type of supplemental mineral. This makes perfect sense, right? Bucks probably need an increased amount of mineral when growing their antlers and bucks and does both obviously use mineral sites. One reason why deer use these mineral sites so often is because sodium (salt) is generally lacking in their diet. This becomes particularly important during the spring when water content is high in plants and deer need sodium to keep their body in balance. But what about antler growth? Well, one study addressed this very question and found that the only two minerals used at an increased rate by bucks during the antler growing season were phosphorous and calcium. Regardless, research on how supplemental minerals affect antler growth is still pretty slim and providing supplemental minerals doesn’t seem to do any harm, unless doing so is illegal in your state. 

So what can you do if providing minerals is illegal where you hunt? Are you out of luck? Absolutely not! Preliminary research out of the MSU Deer Lab shows a more natural way to provide minerals to our deer herds and all you have to do is cut down a tree. Some tree species such as elm, maple, and aspen tend to produce several sprouts from their stumps after they’ve been cut down. These sprouts have increased amounts of those important minerals such as phosphorous and even increased crude protein content when comparing them to the same species of tree that’s growing as a sapling. This increased amount of nutrients creates a “mineral stump” and makes even undesirable species of trees preferred forage for deer when growing as a stump sprout. Why? It all has to do with the size of a trees root system.

When an individual tree is growing, the size of its root system is proportional to the size of the main stem (or trunk) of the tree. But when you cut that tree down and have several sprouts growing, the trees root system is much larger than those individual sprouts. This mismatch in size between the root system and sprouts means that the roots can uptake much more nutrients from the soil and, in turn, concentrate those nutrients at a much higher rate for each sprout. These mineral stumps can be an important source of nutrients not only for bucks when they’re growing their antlers, but also for does when they are producing milk for their fawns.

3.) Spring and Summer Food Plots

It’s pretty easy to develop tunnel vision when thinking about food plots. After all, most hunters are simply trying to put the odds in their favor by planting a food plot to hunt over in the fall, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what about the deer hunters who are also interested in managing their deer herd? These are the hunters who are thinking of ways to diversify the type and amount of food they can provide for deer on their hunting properties.  

Spring is the time of year you may not necessarily be thinking about food plots. After all, you’re only weeks away from a flush of green vegetation taking over the woods. There should be plenty of food for deer to eat, shouldn’t there be? Although deer food may seem plentiful during the spring, there’s also a lot going on for deer at this time of year and over the summer months. The obvious thing to most hunters are bucks are replenishing their fat reserves and the faster they do that, the faster they can start putting energy into growing antlers. But what about does? This tends to be a tough time of year for them as well. They are entering their last trimester of pregnancy at about the same time as things are greening up in the woods. And they are also experiencing their most energetically demanding time period when they are producing milk for their fawns. In fact, research has shown that the nutrition a doe has available to her while she’s pregnant and producing milk can actually affect the antler size of her buck fawns! This is where habitat management and planting spring and summer food plots can come into play.

Article: Doe Nutrition and Buck Fawn Antler Size Research

Ensuring that there is woody browse (tips of woody vegetation such as saplings or shrubs) available as a food source during winter will help your deer herd, particularly if winter runs long like it is this year. Spring food plots can also help ensure there is enough food to go around as often times they will be one of the first things to green up during spring. There are several things you could plant that will provide food for deer during early spring and summer. For example, winter wheat is a great crop to plant as it will be one of the first things to green up and planting ladino white clover is another great option that, in addition to providing spring food, will also provide you with a place to hunt in the fall. But remember that food plots should only supplement your deer herd, not be their only source of food. Habitat management is still the best way to ensure there will be enough food to go around during each season.

The next time you find yourself day dreaming about deer hunting in the fall, remember that there is still plenty to do in the spring and summer!