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Late Summer Afternoon Hotspots
by David Morris

With summer winding down, the does are well along in rearing their fawns and the bachelor groups of bucks are fast on their summer feeding pattern.

Late summer, especially late August and early September, is one of the best times to sit on major food sources (fields) in the waning minutes of the afternoon and get a good handle on your deer herd and what the coming season may bring. If hot agricultural food sources, like soybeans, alfalfa, or cowpeas, or warm-season food plots, especially legumes, are available, a few afternoons of judicious field watching should allow a good look at contented feeding bucks now sporting fully developed antlers. (Watch out for over-estimating the size of bucks still in velvet.)

On many occasions, this is when I have found the buck I want to target in the fall, especially during the early archery season when bucks in many places are still on the tail end of the summer feeding pattern, before the bachelor groups breakup and the bucks scatter, only to become more nocturnal and invisible. The countdown for the breakup when the mature bucks start to again behave like mature whitetails, i.e., secretive and wary, is the shedding of their antler velvet and the return to the hard antlers of fall.

Once this takes place, higher testosterone levels and mounting aggression cause the old pals of summer to start looking at each other crossways. They now view each other as competitors for breeding rights during the all-powerful coming rut and start vying for their place in the herd hierarchy. After bucks shed their velvet, it’s usually less than two weeks before the summer feeding pattern winds down, the bachelor groups breakup and mature whitetail bucks retreat to their secretive, solitary life. For those lucky enough to be able to hunt while the summer pattern is still underway, there’s a good chance to catch a wise old buck unaware and still on his predictable summer routine.

Deer Manager's
For the deer manager, this late summer feeding time is also one of the best times to gather herd data. The fawns are now old enough to follow their mothers to the food sources, allowing an observer to get a good idea of the reproductive success of the herd, expressed as a percentage based on the number of fawns per adult does.

In other words, a total count of 6 fawns and 10 does means a 60% “recruitment rate”, meaning pretty good reproduction. Much less than that might indicate a problem with excessive predator loss, overcrowding or environmental stress. With the bucks heavy on the food sources, late summer is also a good time to gather data on both the buck:doe ratio (1 buck per 2 does is a 1:2 buck:doe ratio and about right for most areas with a reasonably balanced harvest) and the buck age structure (number of bucks within each year class).

In herds that aren’t overhunted, you can expect at least 25% of the buck population to consist of bucks 3.5 years old and older. So right now is a very good time to get a leg up on the coming deer season and to gain a glimpse into the shape of your deer herd … and perhaps to find a big buck soon destined for your wall!

Posted by David Morris on 08/26 at 04:25 PM
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