Know Whitetail Biology To Up Your Odds

When it comes to knowing about and hunting deer, most of us probably consider ourselves pretty well versed.

I have found one person, however, whose knowledge and experience goes far beyond my own on this subject. C.J. Winand is one of America’s top whitetail deer biologists. This man knows as much about deer as Jimmy Dean knows about sausage. Seriously though, he does know his stuff about deer. Much of this biological and behavioral knowledge can come in handy to deer hunters.

Knowing something about deer behavior and biology helped the author and his son Caleb take this impressive Missouri 10-pointer. (Photo by Bruce Parsons)

Much of the deer behavior I learned in my youth was either substantiated by C.J. or totally shot down. The best example of the latter is how I was taught that does always urinate in scrapes. According to C.J., that may happen, but it is not the usual thing for a doe to do. When a doe runs across a fresh scrape, she may just stay in that general area waiting on the buck to return, if she is in estrous. A buck does not have to put his nose in her urine to know she is around and to know she is “in season.”

Hunters: Shoot Does!
While we are talking about female deer, let me give you C.J.’s No. 1 tip for herd management: “SHOOT DOES!” Here is his rational. When young deer, say 6 months to 8 months old, are still with their mother, they follow her every command. As these small deer begin to mature, the old does will run them off, literally. She chases them off with such vigor that most often the young bucks leave this home area, never to return.

If this doe had been harvested before the youngsters were chased-off, the chances are very good that the young deer would stay and mature in this area. If you are managing for trophy bucks, and you see an immature buck trailing a doe, there is a very good chance that she is his mother. By legally harvesting her, you increase the odds that he will stay in and mature in that area.

As this buck matures, his need to reproduce grows. As estrous approaches, he will begin to make scrapes on the ground underneath overhanging branches. C.J. says he has documented three types of scrapes. The scrape that bucks make very early in the season is called “preliminary scrapes.” These are possibly territorial markers, similar to tree rubs. These early scrapes are seldom regularly revisited.

Identifying rubs (shown) and scrapes are good clues to help a hunter zero in on an area with buck activity.

As the peak of the breeding season grows closer, the buck’s scrapes may become more concentrated and more routinely checked. These could be “breeding scrapes.” This might be an area where the buck wants to find and breed his doe. These scrapes are freshened regularly, especially after a rain or very heavy frost.

The third type of scrape is called a “satellite scrape.” These are done away from the breeding area and are believed to be similar to the “preliminary scrapes,” but are made later in the season.

The rut is the hormonal peak of the year for mature bucks. For immature and sub-dominant bucks, that peak may come about a month after the primary rut. The secondary rut is a true and documentable phenomenon. This may be the time that young bucks carry-on the bulk of the breeding.

The Secondary Rut
When there is a high buck-to-doe ratio, like we have here in Illinois, it is very difficult for the dominant breeding buck to service the entire herd the first time they come into estrous each year. If a doe is not bred on her first cycle, 28 days later she will come into estrous again. By this time, the dominant buck is exhausted. He is spent. This gives the younger bucks a chance to breed during this secondary rut. Most likely these younger bucks will be breeding a doe close to their own age. Theoretically, the subsequent ruts could continue, every 28 days, until all the does have been bred.

Another myth that C.J. dispelled was about spike bucks. C.J. said, “Nutrition, age and genetics, in that order, is what it takes to produce trophy bucks.” A spike buck may have been born later and not had the best, most nutritious milk to suckle. The nutritional requirements of his mother may not have been adequately satisfied during gestation. If that spike buck gets a balanced diet and time to mature, the chances are very good that he will develop a full, normal rack.

Doe harvest also effects buck size from another nutritional standpoint. Deer compete for food during the winter. The more deer, the less food they get. By maintaining an adequate doe harvest, there is more food available for the bucks and the does that were not harvested and are gestating.

From behavioral and biologic viewpoints, the whitetail deer is an amazing creature. Their ability to live and adapt along side civilization is truly remarkable. We almost lost the whitetail deer in the early 1940s. Let’s get together to help preserve it now, in the new millennium.

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