Pre-Late Breeding, Late Breeding and Post Rut Phases by TR Michels
From early to late December the does that did not conceive earlier may come into a late estrus. Older unhealthy does and does fawns may come into estrus at this time. Both the dominant and subdominant bucks may start cruising, scraping and chasing does again. By late December most of the breeding is done and the bucks may return to their core areas to rest up after the rut, and feed to put on the weight they lost during the rut, so they can make it through the winter.
Depending on the severity of the weather, the snow depth, and the availability of food sources, the deer may shift from fall home ranges to winter home ranges. In some areas they may migrate from less than one mile, to several miles. It’s time to buy your feed and supplements for winter-feeding. Locate the food sources and watch them to find out which ones the bucks are using.
One of the best ways to get deer to use your property is by improving the habitat. Contact your local forestry agent, Soil and Water Conservation Service agent, and wildlife specialists to find out what type of soil, and land types you have; what type of assistance you can get from the government; and what programs are available to you if you want to improve your habitat.
The local forestry agent can provide you with a map of soil and forest types, get you stated on a Forest Stewardship Program, and make suggestions on how to improve forest production. Mine told me to get rid of the box elder and buckthorn, thin some of the oaks, and plant forage shrubs in unused areas.
The Soil and Water Conservation Service agent can give you suggestions on habitat improvement. Mine suggested some controlled burns to improve forbes and wildflower production on the old fields and meadows, said I should keep the cattle out of some wet areas, and advised me to plant buffer strips between pastures/fields and stream beds to control runoff and improve water quality. He told me I could receive money from the government if I agreed to keep some of the wet lands out of agricultural use.
An agent from the Department of Natural Resources enrolled some of the property in the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP) and told me where I could purchase tree seedlings and shrubs at reduced prices. None of this advice cost me anything. I also have a friend who got the Army Corps of Engineers to build a trout pond on the stream that flowed through his property, because his property was one of the few remaining undisturbed stretches along the stream.
If you look closely at the suggestions of the experts I talked to, you will find a pretty good recipe for starting to improve your habitat without much cost. You can burn off old fields and meadows to allow native grasses, sedges and forbes to grow; keep marginal wetlands out of production and grazing; create buffer strips of wildlife seed blends between agricultural fields/pastures and watersheds.
You can also and cut back brushy areas or sapling re-growth (along deer trails and the paths to your stand) to produce more browse; get rid of non-native species (box elder, buckthorn) that compete with native species; selectively-cut or clear-cut some trees to allow more sunlight to hit the ground (which will promote the growth of trees, shrubs and forbes); plant shrubs that produce stems, leaves, mast or berries the deer will eat; plant browse (red or silver maples), mast trees (burr/white/sawtooth oak, beechnut, hickory), berry-bearing shrubs and trees (gray/silky dogwood, crab apples), or fruit-bearing trees (apple, persimmon) and shrubs (ask your local wildlife expert);
There is one factor that contributes greatly to deer nutrition and the growth of a buck’s rack that you can’t control, water. Available ground water, whether through rain, snow pack or irrigation is required for plant growth and the assimilation of vital nutrients for the plants. Too little rain means poor forage conditions for the animals, and poor growth conditions for racks. There isn’t much you can do about inadequate moisture in your area. You can provide more watering sources on your property by damning creeks and gullies to collect runoff water, and by digging wildlife ponds and wells. You could also put sprinklers on your food plots, but it’s expensive. What you can do is make sure that existing or new water sources have sufficient and easy access for the game, and clean them out regularly to provide good water.