How to Keep Your Deer Here and Up Your Game
This article shares some time tested information mixed with some common farm knowledge, and a few myth busters are sprinkled in. It is a long read, but almost anyone can pick up some useful ideas or derive concepts for their wildlife herd.
You don't need a lot of land for whitetail management. Anyone can have a hand in it, the mindset being, managing any whitetails that visit the kind of property you own. This means that everyone's needs will be different. Whether you have two deer or two hundred, there are a few simple things to keep in mind.
Always respect and follow the laws. Buy tags and permits even if you hunt secret private land. The money from these programs helps keep public areas open to give everyone opportunities to pursue wild game. The more public land there is, the less encroachment you get on private property.
Taxidermists require legal tags to mount your trophy, and nothing is more satisfying than telling your trophy story, knowing you did everything above the board. Homesteaders sleep well at night, knowing they have a pile of tags to cover their red-meat possession and inland ivory if the game warden should ever show up asking questions.
GOATS SHARE SIMILAR BEHAVIOR
Owning goats will teach you a gold-mine of information about how foraging ruminants act, mate, and eat. Knowing how to care for their digestive systems helps keep them feeling good when they are on your property, so they tend to return. Food plots provide forage and cover for all deer but especially fawns, and the big boys tend to hang out where the ladies are, but food plots are not necessary.
DUMPING GRIAN KILLS DEER
Dumping grain into piles can kill whitetails or any ruminant. Anyone who owns cows, horses, goats, or sheep understand how a sudden all-out gorge of grain can set off a domino effect in health. It seems enticing to dump a 50-pound bag of corn or sweet feed to bring in the deer if that is legal in your state, but when a ruminant overfeeds on grain or sweet-feed, they develop something called toxic acidosis. The gut can not digest all of the grain the animal has consumed, and it ferments, creates gas, and bloating. Sometimes the fermenting process can create alcohol, which would lead to the appearance of deer acting or running drunk. I have seen a few videos on the internet of these poor deer on their death bed as people laugh behind the camera. The bloat can quickly get so bad that it puts pressure on organs and can kill a ruminant in a matter of hours. If it doesn't kill them right off, they may have to combat days of diarrhea from the gut, trying to get rid of the toxins. The dehydration from this can also kill if they can't access a safe water source while recovering.
You may have noticed soft, clumpy, or runny stools around your feeder when you go back to fill it after putting it up in fall as their guts are adjusting to the grain. Healthy deer make many individual "nanny-berries," like rabbit excrement, only larger. If you see clumps of "nanny-berries" stuck together, your deer are having a hard time adjusting to the change in diet. Dumping grain can potentially kill trophy deer that stop to gorge while on the search for hot does. Dominant bucks forgo food while in rut but may not pass up a "killer of a meal" that will do just that.
If whitetails remember getting ill on your property, they aren't likely to return if they survive because of the bad experience. You wouldn't go back to a restaurant where you got food poisoning—the same thing.
Irregular corn piles that magically show up near deer sign are likely only to get traveling deer, so if you see a monster buck at your corn pile, it will just be passing through, unlikely to be a resident that is accustom to a constant source of feeder supply. Corn piles give you a one time shot - not second chances or multiple hunts for a certain buck like sprinkle feeders do. Timed feeders work best. If you want to feed them a lot, set your feeder low and for multiple feedings to keep them around but healthy.
FEEDER NOISE DOES NOT SCARE DEER
Sure, it does the first few times, but we have seen feeders bounce corn off of their heads over the years after they get used to it. Some deer scatter only to return a few minutes later. Most deer come running when they hear the spreader ringing out the dinner-bell on the metal feeder legs. Supplying them with a few tasty kibbles is still way more affordable than letting grain rot in a pile that creates another deadly animal and human pathogen called aflatoxin. The majority of their diet is still wild browsing, keeping them low in untasty fat and high in bio-diversity to benefit your health. Limiting the endless "corn chow" is healthier for them and you when consuming the meat.
DOGS DON'T RUIN A HUNT
Don't give up on a hunt if dogs or even coyotes run through your area. Deer have to see them or directly smell them at close range. We have had feral dogs come in and pee on our decoy only to have bucks knock it down an hour later. Coyote howls also have minimal effect, if any, on them. We attempted to use a coyote call to get a young bedded-down buck out of our food plot so we could exit our blind. No matter how loud we called, we couldn't budge him. Deer on our farm are never too afraid of our dogs, often winding them at the house and knowing they are at a safe distance. I have photos of deer taken from between my German Shepherds ears as we sat watching out the open back door late one season to see if the big bucks made it through rifle season. We were only thirty-five yards away.
Decoys are fun and do work. Somewhat of a pain to tote around and erect before a hunt, they usually create an extra excitement element. Full-size female decoys are often mounted and broken apart, which generally ends the hunt due to the oddity. Does tend not to like how a decoy will stand its ground on her turf and stomp and charge, often giving up plenty of time for shot placement.
DEER ARE LAZY
Deer by nature, are lazy. Make trails for them. Even in your old dirty shoes... just scuff up a nice trail right under your tree stand from tree line to tree line. They much rather take the easy route, and after a few hours, your scent has faded to a non-danger level for them. We have made tons of trails this way in tight spots and just used the zero-turn mower in others to keep them moving through the property. Your sent doesn't linger long in the woods. We have filled up feeders after a sweaty day of fieldwork, and deer, including big bucks, are captured on the game camera sometimes, only 40 minutes after we have left. So remember that when you think your cover is blown. Wait. Time in the woods is wholesome. You have nothing to lose. You are still gaining peace of mind while waiting on that deer and a second chance.
SHORT GRASS IS BETTER
In our tenure with goats and deer, we discovered that ruminants prefer short grass. Goats and deer have sensitive, nimble hooves and hate to have wet feet or legs. This is another reason they choose to walk trails instead of just wandering through thick brush to forage. Staying dry also helps maintain body temperature in the colder months with morning dew or show on tall prairie grass. The biggest reason for the short grass is social activity. Deer enjoy grazing together during mating season, and when the grass is too high, they can not scan the horizon for predators while they have their noses to the ground feeding. When the grass is short, they can see each other as they graze and feel secure while knowing there are more eyes out to sound an alarm if danger is spotted. This gets more deer feeding in the same location for safety, which always tends to lure in a dominant buck to chase off rivals to secure more does. The short grass concept is why you see deer at the edges of the field where the crop has been eaten short. They can see better and can plan a clean getaway from there.
Mineral is necessary for hydration, especially on a diet with elevated grain levels. Wild animals can dig for natural deposits in the soil, but again... deer are lazy and would rather visit a salt block. We have always had great success using regular $8.00 brown mineral blocks that the local feed stores sell for cows. They won't get much use most of the year, but the deer know they are there. Spring is when they use them the most. Does need the mineral to hydrate appropriately to make milk for fawns. It will keep them coming around even when fresh sweet spring foliage is abundant everywhere.
FOOD PLOTS CAN BE EASY
You can make food plots as easy or as difficult as you choose. If you are running a million-dollar whitetail ranch balancing calcium and phosphorus levels in your food plot for giant racks makes sense. Still, for the average person who doesn't own a $7,000 seeder, there is an easier way to increase the health and the bone in the area with supplementation.
If you have at least one arm and a lawnmower, you can put in a food plot. On low cut, grassy areas or bare ground, pink or red clover seed broadcast-spreads easily by hand or with a regular push lawn seeder. Clover can grow in some areas where grass can't. The roots help adjust nitrogen in the soil making the soil healthier for all future plants. Clover grows great in shady and or damp areas, so it is ideal for pasture edges. When seeded heavily, it can quickly choke out less desirable grasses. As the deer consume the sweet flowers, they continue to spread the seed for you. Even a small patch can be enough of an encouragement to get deer to visit or stay for a while if passing through regularly. The local feed stores or co-ops can get you a 50-pound sack of nitrogen coated red clover seed (called red but is pink) for around $80.00, it is enough for seven to ten acres. The nitrogen coat helps the seed germinate and set when it is broadcast spread by hand or seeder. Feed stores cost only a fraction of what they charge for food-plot seed in commercial outfitter stores. Be sure to put your seed down on the last snow or two of the year if you are planting on bald spots or bare soil to beat out competing grass, otherwise, before spring or fall rains. Go back and re-seed thin areas as needed to keep your carpet thick and watch it spread all over your property.
KIDDIE POOLS ARE A SAFETY NET
Deer need to drink daily, more so in spring when they are using the salt blocks and floodwaters dirty the sources that make approaching some waters dangerous. Predators often set ambushes along creeks and ponds. Kiddie pools out in the open, even near natural water sources, fill with rainwater giving deer the option of not visiting predator hunted or dangerous areas as long as they hold water. Open spaces also provide for clean getaways. These pools also provide for other wildlife, including turkeys. Place a few heavy rocks or cinderblocks in the bottom to help small critters escape and keep the wind from taking the pool. They last for years without kids jumping in them. Don't fret about growing mosquitos. Unlike city settings, woodland environments are usually filled with habitat for dragonflies that feed on them and other small pests.
FOOD BLOCKS, SUGAR BLOCKS, AND GRAVITY FEEDERS DON'T WORK
Food blocks, dumped sugar feeds, and drop feeders enable deer to feed nocturnally. This is why you see so many of those awesome game camera photos at night. Lure them out into daytime habits with sprinkle feeders. If you are still concerned about them scaring off big bucks, set them for the late afternoon and hunt in the evening. Goat protein-blocks make for great raccoon food, but the deer here never touch them.
Whitetail - The Filet-Mignon of the Woods
If you don't like the taste of whitetail or find it gamey, it is likely processed improperly... and if you take it to a butcher to have it processed, you will get gamey flavored meat. Deer fat, sinue, tallow, and tendons all have a flavor - none of it is good. Try some from your next hunt. Cut some off and fry it up with butter in a pan. The flavor will surprise you, and if you like it, I tip my hat to you, who could eat about anything.
Why would you want that mixed in with the rest of your meat that tastes like back-strap? The whole of a deer, ALL of the red meat tastes like back-strap, rivaling a lean filet-mignon on the taste pallet, but if your butcher grinds all of that white stuff in... or makes sausage out of it... you are going to need huge amounts of spices to try to drown out the rank burnt rubber flavor.
If you have the time and the patience to properly clean your deer down to nothing but clean red meat, a large doe harvest is just as exciting as packing your freezer with high dollar organic grass-fed, grass-finished beef.
This video is of me processing a deer quarter over a four hour period that it takes me to get the meat clean, to my liking.
Dumping Grain can Kill Deer
Dumping corn into piles can kill the deer that gorge on the grain. Any farmer that owns ruminants knows sudden grain gorging causes toxic acidosis and bloating.
Deer have a four-chamber stomach and a rumen that allows for feeding heavily. The deer bring up the food to chew and digest later. The problem with corn is that it ferments quickly in the deer stomachs' warm and wet environment creating ethanol.
The fermenting process also creates gas, which causes bloating, leading to pressure on the organs that eventually shut them down.
This video is of a buck, likely suffering from toxic acidosis. We spotted him stumbling over farm equipment before he approached the fence line only 10 yards from our truck.