I get calls every week by people asking me for help to grow large deer. Some are a result of seeing an article where a client put over 60 inches of antler in one year. I know many people are looking for a magic bullet or simple answer to this. The answers always will be as long as one has time to digest. You see, I come from a much different world and career path. My answers date back to the early 90’s and the start of my research career.
The first area I always cover with people is the term “compensatory gain.” The way I use it is perhaps different than it should be used. When I use this terminology, it involves “catching up” after being run down during a deer’s normal yearly life cycle. Bucks start chasing does during pre-rut and during the rut. This exerts many calories and burns off a lot of body fat reserves. There is also the depletion of the major minerals that are stored in the bone, muscle and blood. In many parts of the US an added stress comes from extreme weather conditions. When snow and cold set in, that adds another level of body depletion. I normally explain to people that when a buck’s body is run down, they use those early spring nutrients digested from from browse and alternative food sources to recharge their body. When they are doing this, that comes at a cost to maximum antler development. It isn’t that antlers are not being regrown, but the answers require a large quantity of protein, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium to add on density and size. When a buck comes out of the winter with better than normal body condition, you will see much higher potential for maximum growth. This is where genetic expression comes into play. Everyone brings up genetics as the most important factor in antler development, but that genetic expression is not a given. There are many factors in habitat management that affect how likely a buck’s genetic potential will become expressed.
I then explain to people how the most overlooked area of growing large bucks is the winter season. This is also the area most food plotters are failing. Very few plotters have excess browse from the habitat because much of this habitat is being depleted because of poor supplemental forages and poor deer carrying capacity. Some will bring up browse as quality forages. I won’t cover this in this blog but at a future time. Quality nutrition comes with digestible fiber, increased energy densities and palatability.
Some in the wildlife industry point at purple top turnips, daikon radish, sugar beets and other bulbs as winter energy sources. While they are, they are not always quality. At other times, they are really hard to get at by deer. If they are buried below a foot of snow or under a sheet of ice. Some point to soybeans. Many times, there are very few that make it into the winter season because of early season over browse. At other times, we see soybeans still in the pods and deer still not utilizing them even when they are standing during the winter. That is another topic I at times cover and explain to people as to the why of that.
Stockpiled winter forages. The term stockpiling is one that I have been using since the start of my career. My clients always were trying to find creative ways to leave extra forages across their pastures, paddocks or areas of grazing. Some forages are more easily stockpiled. Planting higher yielding forages can be another way to get ahead of the animals during the season and allow extra forages that can be browsed on at a later date. We also educate people on how to grow more energy dense forages no matter what those forages area.
Deer eats to meet their energy requirements. Say for example if we plant clovers, brassicas, soybeans and other common food plot forages that grow to become an extra 10-20% higher in energy than normal, how many extra bites will that acre of food plots produce. It’s like in our own diets. How many cookies or cups of beans can be eaten before we feel full? How much iceberg lettuce can be consumed before satiated?
As you see there is science behind stockpiling forages for deer to consume during the winter months. I will cover more of the tricks and overlooked tips during my next blog on this topic. I hope I have you some food for thought.