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February/March Deer Management

February/March Deer Management by TR Michels
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White-tailed deer in the northern and mid-latitude states should be on their winter home ranges, looking for remaining/preferred food sources. In some areas there may still be some fawns getting bred. In the south they may still be on fall ranges, and still breeding.

Coping with Communicable Diseases
Because the spread of diseases such as Tuberculosis, Chronic Wasting Disease and Necrobacillosis is a concern in areas of high deer concentrations, such as the Midwest and Southeast, baiting and feeding has been banned in many states. Because of the fear of the spread of contagious diseases, you should probably no longer feed deer or provide them with minerals in those areas. If you want to increase the overall health of the deer in areas where the spread of disease is a concern you can still provide adequate winter nutrition by planting food plots designed for winter feeding and by providing adequate browse during the winter months.

A recent research paper from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Wildlife Research Center, in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Wyoming, in Laramie, Wyoming states, “Epidemics of contagious prion diseases can be perpetuated by horizontal, animal to animal, and maternal, dam to offspring, before or after birth, transmission, but the relative importance of each mechanism is unclear. Here we compare the incidence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in captive mule deer that is attributable to horizontal or maternal transmission. We find that horizontal transmission is remarkably efficient, producing a high incidence of disease (89%) in a cohort of deer in which maternal transmission was improbable. Our results indicate that horizontal transmission is likely to be important in sustaining CWD epidemics.” In short, this study has put to rest the debate about whether or not CWD is a transmissible disease. Deer can get CWD from their mothers, or from other deer.

In areas where the spread of diseases is not a concern you can provide the deer with supplemental feed and minerals in the winter. From March till spring green-up, the protein content of your supplemental feed for deer should be around 20%-30%. This can be achieved by mixing 1 part 30% protein to 1 part corn. The protein content of the food at this time should be around 12 percent. As February comes around more protein in the form of pellets should be added to the feed. As natural food sources are depleted during the winter the protein content of the deer feed should be increased by about two percent each month until spring, when it should reach roughly 20 percent.

Do Your Deer Need Winter Nutrition?
Before you begin a winter supplemental nutrition program or plan a winter food plot make sure these food sources will be used by the deer, or some other species such as turkeys. Deer in many northern and mountainous regions migrate out of their summer/fall home ranges during the winter. The deer you see in the summer, and hunt in the fall and early winter months, may not stay in those same areas during the winter. If deer or other hunted species do not use the area during the winter there may be no need to provide winter nutrition sources, especially supplemental foods, in that area.

Winter Nutritional Needs
If you haven’t already started a supplemental nutrition plan, late fall/early winter is a good time to start thinking about it, because late winter means a reduction in food sources for deer, while the nutrition needs of the deer increases. In northern climates cold weather, high wind chills, and damp weather cause heat loss in the animals. In order to maintain a high metabolism to keep warm the deer have to burn calories; they must either find carbohydrate and fat rich foods, or utilize their own existing fat reserves. Walking through heavy snow and ranging long distances in search of foods in the winter also burns calories, which means the deer must find food to maintain fat reserves and body heat.

In order for the bucks to get a jump-start on good antler growth they need to come through the winter in good health. But, because bucks use up so much energy during the rut, and lose so much of their fat reserves during the winter, they often come into the spring in poor shape, which hinders their antler growth. To help the bucks grow better racks, and come through the winter in better shape, you may want to provide the deer with food plots or supplemental feed. High carbohydrate food plots like corn and soybeans are beneficial to both bucks and does in early winter.

Legumes such as alfalfa, Austrian winterpea, berseem clover, crimson clover, hairy vetch, ladino clover (osceola, regal, tripoli,) and partridge pea can provide winter food sources for deer in the south. Some of these same legumes may also provide winter food sources for deer in the northern states; check with your local seed company, county extension agent or wildlife nutrionist.

Plants that are not often mentioned when it comes to food plots are forbes. Any good source of information on deer foods mentions forbes; forbes are often referred to as wild flowers. Some of the best forbes to plant for deer are birdsfoot trefoil, cicer milkvetch, crownvetch, kale, lespedeza (Bi-color, Kobe, Korean, Serecia), small burnett and rape.

With the coming of spring, minerals are needed by both the bucks and does, as the bucks develop new racks and the does continue fetus growth. To adequately provide mineral for all of the deer you should have one mineral lick for each forty acres of land. The licks should be placed in high use areas with adequate cover so that the animals readily find and use them. Minerals are most easily utilized by deer in a granular form. They should be supplied on the ground in a sheltered area where they won’t be washed away, or in a covered bin.

For both the deer and the deer manager, March is a time when things are in transition. Winter is giving way to spring, and the deer are loosing weight because many of the food sources are depleted. The deer may begin moving from their winter range to their summer range during late March. To abate their hunger the deer begin looking for new green growth. For the deer manager, now is the time to prepare for spring planting; get planting equipment ready, order seed and mineral. Scout for turkey hunting.

With the coming of spring, minerals are needed by both the bucks and does, as the bucks develop new racks and the does continue fetus growth. To adequately provide mineral for all the deer you should have one mineral lick for each forty acres of land. The licks should be placed in high use areas with adequate cover so that the animals readily find and use them. Minerals are most easily utilized by deer in granular form; they should be supplied on the ground in a sheltered area where they won’t be washed away, or in a covered bin. You can still scout and look for shed antlers.

Home Range
Before we can discuss feeding programs it’s necessary to understand how deer use the habitat and how their use of the habitat changes throughout the year. There has been a lot written and said about whitetail home ranges; most of it based on the knowledge of deer in particular areas, or in particular types of habitat. However, whitetails inhabit many different types of habitats: dense hardwood forests, mixed woodland and agricultural, prairie, southern swamp, northern tamarack bogs, open or dense coniferous forests, open agricultural, semi-open river bottoms, and various mountain types. Because of this wide range of habitats the daily habits of whitetails, their home ranges, core areas, and the use of bedding sites varies.

The deer herds in each area are usually made up of a doe and her female offspring, and their female offspring, etc. As long as there is available habitat, and there is not a lot of competition for home ranges, the young females usually remain in the area where they were born. With death from natural causes and hunting there are often available home ranges for the young deer to occupy. Both bucks and does may make excursions outside their home ranges, but they usually do so only to find a new home range, or during the rut. Young bucks are generally driven off the home range by their mothers when they are a year and a half old, usually before the rut. However, some young bucks may stay on their mothers’ home range until their second year, when they leave to find their own home range. These one and a half and two and a half year old bucks often end up on home ranges in less preferred habitat.

The geography of the area and the type of habitat often restrict the size of the home range; mountains, ridges, bluffs, rivers, ravines, wooded areas and open areas limit deer movement. The lack of cover in open prairies or agricultural areas restricts deer movement, particularly during the day. Because of this, deer home ranges are often confined to preferred habitat in valleys or river drainage’s and the surrounding hills and woods. Because of the limited size of the habitat, the home ranges of several deer often overlap.

The type and amount of food and cover determine how many deer the habitat can hold; and the number of deer in the habitat affects the size of the home range of the deer. Deer in prime mixed habitats, with abundant food sources, generally have smaller home ranges (from 60-1000+ acres) than deer in open coniferous forests, where food sources are low and widely scattered (up to 20+ square miles).

Climate directly affects the time of year, the length of the home range, and the use of the home range by the deer. In mild mid-west or southern climates whitetails may have home ranges no longer than two miles, and they often have traditional core areas. Deer in colder northern open prairie or foothill habitat may have larger home ranges (up to 120+ miles in South Dakota), and are less likely to have traditional core areas.

The climate and the number of bucks and does in the area affect the size of the home ranges of the buck, especially during the rut. Buck home ranges are generally larger than doe home ranges; often two or more times the size of local doe ranges; and the bucks’ use of their home ranges varies by the season. Bucks in mixed woodland/agricultural habitat in the mid-west may have home ranges of less than a thousand acres, to five or more square miles in size. During the summer adult bucks may use only a small portion of their home range. But, during the rut, adult buck home ranges often expand to include portions of several nearby doe and other buck home ranges.

Annual Home Range
The annual home range of each deer consists of the area used by the individual throughout the year. Non-migratory deer may spend both the summer and winter on the same home range. However, migratory deer in the northern states or mountainous regions may have two or more widely separated home ranges used during different times of the year. Dr.’s Larry Marchinton, Karl Miller and other researchers have found that the home ranges of whitetails are generally elongated, from two to four times longer than they are wide. However, deer in open coniferous or agricultural habitat may have irregular or circular home ranges.

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