I’m a day late to wish my fellow Michiganders a happy opening day of bow season, but I hope everyone followed tradition and enjoyed their time in the woods. Watching the sunrise the first morning ignites a flame in our core. It’s the reason we come back day after day, and sometimes we bring others to share the experience. It’s symbolic of the opportunity that awaits – one that is a gift as much as it is earned.
Today, we are going to go over 5 simple things that can help make you a better deer manager without even letting an arrow fly. Yes, that’s right. You don’t even have to shoot a deer to do these 5 things. What it will get you is information that can be used to make harvest decisions and habitat management decisions.
- Write down the weather
Keeping a notebook with you is going to come in handy and will be a part of my first few suggestions. It only takes a minute to assess the weather conditions around you. Writing down this information and pairing it with other observational data can provide you with scenarios to help you better understand deer behavior.
Include the following information:
- Wind speed
- Wind direction
- Barometric pressure (if possible)
- Write down how many deer you see
Recording how many deer you see is a key component in observation data. It’s the best way to get a sense of how many deer are on the landscape which can directly affect how many animals you choose to harvest.
You can also compare this information to the reported weather and see if those factors may be contributing to deer movement in your area. This can be used to help you make decisions on where to sit and when.
The number of bucks you see could give you a decent estimate of the herd’s overall age structure, but remember that button bucks are often recorded with antlerless deer. Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
- Are you seeing any bucks at all?
- Are you see a majority of bucks in the 1 ½ age class?
- How many mature bucks do you see on average each time you hunt?
Here is a link to help you learn how to age deer on the hoof: https://www.qdma.com/aging-bucks-on-the-hoof/
- Observe and record movement data
It’s as simple as writing down what direction the deer are coming from and where are they going. On my personal property, we have picked out landmarks that deer regularly enter and exit a field from. Before noting this, we weren’t sure why the deer always entered the field at a boulder 175 yards from us at all times during the day.
We decided to take a closer look at maps of the property – a basic overview and a topographic map. We found that a small ravine started about halfway across our field and went right past the boulder at the edge of the field and then down into the woods. Do we know exactly why the deer tend to travel that path? Not necessarily, but if I had to guess I would say it has something to do with feeling more secure.
- Note the food source
What are your deer eating? This could be anything from what crops are still (or were) in the field you are hunting near or the browse that deer selectively eat. This knowledge can help you better manage your forests and fields for wildlife. Animals need food, shelter, water and space to survive. The more you provide for them in high quality, the better your hunting opportunity will be.
- Start thinking about a wildlife cooperative
Now that you have used your time in a tree stand or blind to record all of this information think about how powerful it would be if all of your neighbors were doing the same thing…and sharing it with each other.
Wildlife cooperatives allow for this kind of positive communication. Working together with other people interested in hunting and wildlife management is rewarding in conservation and in hunting success. Individual efforts are beneficial, but collaborative work can have a broader scale, positive impact at a landscape level for wildlife.
Being open to hunter relations can result in a jointly managed property. That doesn’t mean you have to necessarily let tons of other people on your property, but it does suggest that comparing property maps is a great idea. Maybe you have felt like you need to have every aspect of habitat available to wildlife on your property. As wonderful as that might be it’s not always possible depending on acres available and land characteristics. However, your neighbor may have some of those things that you don’t. Ideal for you? No. Ideal for wildlife in your area? Yes.
That’s where priority management comes in. Increasing the potential of your property and your neighbor’s benefits the landscape and its wildlife as a whole, which in turn increases the hunting opportunity of healthier animals. And you get to be a part of everyone’s success – it’s a win-win.