Deer season for gunners opened Saturday, but hunters might consider picking up a good book to read during evening hours.
Considerations from gauging deer movement during the rut to setting up landscapes for growing good whitetails all come together with vivid illustrations, keen insights and helpful tips throughout the recently released book, “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun,” that son Neil Dougherty and dad Craig Dougherty penned and published in time for upcoming seasons.
Ten years ago the Doughertys published their first NorthCounty Whitetails text “Grow ‘Em Right: A Guide to Creating Habitat and Food Plots,” based on their managing a 500-acre plot in Steuben County hill country.
In this book, hunters, land owners and all involved in managing properties for greater deer numbers and sizes have bountiful sources for information about planning, setting up and producing the proper spaces and forages to best grow whitetail deer.
In a foreword to the book, Quality Deer Management Association biologist Brian Murphy wrote, “This book is not simply an updated version of their previous one. It is a monumental leap into a new area of whitetail knowledge - how to think like a deer, not like a deer hunter.”
Neil and Craig have done just that; “think like a deer” went into virtually every page of the new text that focuses on both growing the right habitat and applying the best hunting skills to harvest the right numbers and sizes of does and trophy bucks — whatever a land manager deems trophy-deer holding status.
At the very start the emphasis is on soil. “When it comes to deer nutrition, it is all about the soil,” the text posits as a basic ingredient and stresses, “It’s been said that antlers are grown of soil.”
If body and antler mass is one’s ultimate goal, the book suggests heading to the Midwest in areas from Illinois to Iowa. “But this book is about deer, not antlers. Not everyone can hunt in Iowa, Illinois, and Buffalo County Wisconsin,” Neil and Craig said of the ideal depths and contents of soils found in the Midwest.
Hunters need not live in the Midwest. Good soil and growth can be developed close to home in Western New York with the right planning. “Studies show that even in areas of high agricultural production, roughly 60 percent of what a deer eats is comprised of native vegetation,” they noted.
Planning plots with the right opening for sunlight, wind movement and water all contribute to better deer habitat. As for water presence, they observe, “You either have too much water or too little, and it’s a great year when you have just enough,” adding “You take it as it comes and basically ‘deal with it.’ ”
Deer drink from all possible water supplies, lakes and ponds to swamps and mud puddles. Digging ponds for deer management is not productive. They conclude, “When it comes to spending ten or twenty grand on a pond for the deer, ‘Forgetaboutit!”
What deer basically need are locations with food, cover and security.
While deer have been known to eat virtually everything, planning of plantings and clearings for growth and cover can call for some fine tuning. The Doughertys stress that weeds, the right kinds, are essential in some open areas. The word “forbs” (understory or wild field crops) appears often in this section of the book.
As a planting suggestion, only about 3 percent of a landowner’s managed area should be cleared for planting food plots. When buying seeds for plots, they suggest avoiding “seed deals” found at feed stores that are “forages designed for feeding cattle.”
Instead, look for crops that will be nutritional for deer and other wildlife, not for commercial livestock. The key to planting seeds is to consider that other 97 percent and look at soil composition of open planting areas.
“The key to good woodland habitat for whitetails is plenty of direct sunlight,” noted for high hardwood and over-story areas with growth higher than 6 feet, beyond reach for feeding deer.
Using a chainsaw to make clearings between forage trees is best, better than clear cutting or just leaving mass acres of pole timber. These opening created are referred to as “browse cuts.”
For hard-mast forage, “acorns are the kings of hard mast.” Both white and red oaks grow well in our area, but deer prefer white oaks. Red oak acorns have more tannins, which exude a bitter taste.
For soft mass, fruit trees dominate. While apples are best known as welcomed deer food, pears produce the most sources of soft mass in deer diets.
Shrub growths are good too, but because deer eat everything in its growing stage, a caging or fencing program should be set up for protection.
While creating these open spaces, a part of the property should be left as pure cover. By definition, these areas are ones a walker cannot get through. They stress, “blocks of thick cover will go a long way toward sheltering fawns from coyotes, bears and bobcats. The most practical solution to predation is habitat, not bullets and traps.”
Buying the right kind of deer-growth property can be tricky. They write, “The average Realtor doesn’t know enough about hunting properties to be selling them. … The only time to rely on a Realtor is if they specialize in hunting property.”
As for selecting the ideal site, their suggestion is to buy, or buy into, “a piece of ground with a great history of hunting.”
The Doughertys note, “It is one thing to create a great deer property, and still another to kill a big deer on it.”
The second half of this book shares information useful to hunters working their own managed properties and anyone afield and hunting wily whitetails.
Reading the rut can be confusing for all — expert hunters and experienced biologists. The Doughertys divide the rut into two peaks — the “Hunters Rut” and the “biological rut.” What hunters see are deer chasing. What biologists measure and cite is the estrus phase in the does along with the testosterone buildup in buck deer. A handy chart shows when bucks move most, conception phases and buck visibility from October to January.
Careful observations are offered about a deer’s need to feed and breed. Hunting approaches take in air movements, thermals and stand placement for hunting deer in general.
A concluding section offers a detailed section on hunting effectively for trophy deer. This book is worth its price for just the seven habits of highly effective deer hunters.
A note on predator and doe control concludes views and insights all deer property devotees could find useful while planning and afield. The last page is a camp-stew recipe called “Kindred Spirit Venison” well worth trying.
For more information about property selection, deer-plot planning and hunting or to order this NorthCountry Whitetails text, call Neil at (585) 314-5583 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for a detailed summation of DEC Deer Check Station results and first-week successes on next Sunday’s Outdoors Page.