October 30, 2011
Deer hunting has gone through a lot of changes since the first tenderloin was roasted by the first redneck Bubba sitting around a campfire in his loincloth, but there are some things that seem to stay the same.
This sport, more than any other hunting sport, is filled with myths.
The science of deer hunting is relatively new, and the main reason is mass development, clearcuts and other occurrences have created an environment with an abundance of forest, field edges and thickets that allow deer populations to explode. This explosion has been going on for years, and deer hunters have had the chance to observe, study and learn more about deer and their habits than ever before.
Yet some of the old thoughts, born from the days when just seeing a deer track was the zenith of most hunter's seasons, have remained. That's understandable when you look at the number of people who hunt deer, You can not get more than two deer hunters together without a certain amount of bull in their collective knowledge coming to the surface. But as hunters and biologists continue to study and learn more about deer and deer hunting, they are beginning to realize just how mythical some of that lore is.
The following are some of the more popular myths:
For years, hunters have looked for signs of the rut in the appearance of a buck's neck. A swollen neck, the theory goes, is a result of glandular enlargement and a sure sign of bucks being in the rut.
That's not exactly the case.
Rutting signs start appearing in summer as the buck's testosterone level increases and his antlers begin to develop. Instinctively, the buck knows he will need two things to succeed in the anticipated combat for the right to breed. While few hunters have actually seen bucks battle, this is a part of the deer's natural behavior. To get that breeding right and survive, he needs body size and antlers. Age and nutrition supply those, but he still needs strength.
So like an athlete training for the Olympics, he strengthens his neck muscles by sparring with harmless opponents, usually small saplings. That, coupled with raging hormones, causes many bucks to keep up a constant sparring with vegetation. The result is swollen neck muscles.
In reality, the buck may be ready to complete the breeding process, known as the rut, but a doe coming into estrus will actually signify the start of the rut.
Many hunters believe a cold snap will kick in the start of the rut.
What really happens is decreasing amounts of daylight trigger hormonal changes that get the rutting process started, basically a first step in the doe's estrus cycle.
Cold fronts do increase deer movements for a variety of reasons, and as a result the breeding activity is more obvious to hunters, making them believe it has been the cause.
While there has definitely been an increase in deer numbers, there is a myth that more doe in the deer herd means more fawns and thus more bucks.
It may seem like a contradiction, but more does don't always mean more fawns. Fewer healthy does can produce more fawns than a higher number of does competing for the same amount of food.
The key to that is the overall health of the deer herd. A healthy herd has a tremendous capacity to reproduce. Under the right conditions, a deer herd can double in size in two years. But as the population increases and the availability of high-quality forage becomes limited, productivity decreases. Does on a poor diet produce single unhealthy fawns or none at all.
That is why adequate harvest of does ensures a healthy herd by keeping it in balance. A good deer herd is not one that has more doe, but one that has healthy doe producing lots of fawn.
A common myth is the number of antler points is an indicator of age. A spike or four-point is a year old deer, a six-point is two years old, etc.
But antler points have nothing to do with age. As a matter of fact, deer are mostly predisposed to be 8-pointers. It is the exceptional deer has more points.
One-year-old bucks can be eight points or larger, but they will most likely be thin with very little of an inside spread. Deer hunters are fond of referring to the antlers as basket racks. That basket-racked buck with eight points could keep the same number of points for years to come. With age it gains mass, width and height.
Another myth is more than a few piles of deer droppings in a particular area signify a big population of deer.
But researchers have learned that white-tailed deer in many regions defecate somewhere between 20 and 35 times a day. So if you find an area that has an abundance of droppings, it may be the work of just a few deer.
Then again, it might just be from one deer that is as full of it as some of the myths about deer hunting.