So many people in the wildlife industry are about magic bullets and smoke and mirrors. The one topic I’ll address in today’s blog is growing big bucks. Here is my viewpoint as a ruminant nutritionist and agronomist.
So many people think the use of deer mineral will put on added inches of antler growth and that is a very simplistic view on things. Most deer minerals offer a low level of nutrition and bioavailability. So many people also are not aware that it takes time to get maximum response from your deer nutrition program. A depleted animal will need 3-6 weeks to get their reserved rebuilt. It’s all about the groceries. You get what you put into the animal. If you are supplying only 10-20% of a deer’s daily requirements from a deer mineral or supplement, you can’t expect that to make a lot of impact in their nutrition.
Knowing it takes time to “refill the tank”, the most important area of deer mineral is the 30-60 days before a doe drops its fawns. You want to get the nutrition down well in advance of that to get that doe set up for producing a lot of milk and top quality milk. The doe also should have top quality forages that are high in calcium and protein and those are huge factors in milk content, quality and volume. You want does to be built up before dropping fawns as that is a time of added stress. Having the doe set up beforehand also affects the size of the fawn being dropped.
When that doe produces heavier, the fawn will get into the fall and winter being of larger body size. If we continue to have a readily available source of browse and supplemental forages, that fawn will not lose as much weight during the winter. When that deer comes out of winter in good body condition, they will not go through “compensatory gain.” What this means is the buck will not have to use as many nutrients they are consuming for rebuilding their bodies but for antler growth. This is a major reason why we saw “Dave’s 202” 3.5-year-old buck put on around 60 inches of growth from shed to harvest.
Therefore, I always say no one has too much winter feed. There are also added benefits of the extra forage and bulbs that are not consumed. They can become organic matter for the soil and they can sequester nutrients that can be rereleased in the spring. These areas also can be great for finding sheds.
So, the cycle continues from 1.5-year-old buck to 2.5-year-old buck and down the line. That buck fawn’s growth curve was established even before it was born. Once it was born, the environment it was born in and the ability of the doe to produce, became major determinants of the future.
Yes, genetics is perhaps the #1 factor in determining how many inches of rack can be grown but so many people overlook that the buck is only 50% of the genetic determination, the doe is just as important of influence. How many of you have observed your does closely? Do you look at trail camera pictures and see which does look like they are heavy producers and better mothers?
So, yes we can put 10-15” on most deer if mother nature is friendly to us and if we make some minor changes with our soil and forage programs. If we rely on supplemental minerals and or proteins in areas where it is legal, we can also put on that 10-15”. Expecting to be the next “Dave” will not happen by purchasing products and it also will not happen if you don’t start your program until May or June. That rack needed the groceries the previous 365 days.
My challenge to all of you is to rewire your brains and don’t focus on the NOW but focus on the future. Have patience and above all make it fun. Let’s cherish in our successes by being realistic and honest with ourselves. Know that there is no 1 magic bullet but every extra step we take in the journey will tilt the tables in our favor.