Brad Harvey: Looking ahead into deer season 2014

December 30, 2013 

Growing up outside of Clover, a deer sighting was big news. We just didn’t have deer in the area.

When I was in high school, I regularly drove an hour into Fairfield County just for the opportunity to hunt, and it was possible to go through the entire fall without getting a single shot opportunity.

I vividly remember the first deer track I ever saw in my parents’ neighborhood and at first was convinced that someone was playing a joke.

It was the summer of 1989, and I had walked around one end of the lake that sits behind their house. While looking down for nothing in particular, there it was. A small, beautiful track from a young deer gave proof that these critters had actually infiltrated our part of the world and I couldn’t have been more excited.

Fast-forward to today and oh, how things have changed. These days, deer run rampant all around western York County and I rarely drive home to Bethany without spotting one.

Just yesterday I saw the carcass of a doe that had been struck on S.C. 49 right in the middle of the four lanes that make their way to the Buster Boyd Bridge. It’s truly hard to believe just how far we’ve come.

Still, as a hunter, I’m constantly made aware of how much better things could be when I venture to other spots within the United States.

The farm that several friends and I lease in Kansas is so full of deer that just spending a few hours in the stand almost guarantees that you’ll see as many deer in that single sitting as you’re likely to encounter in an entire season here. What this means is that each deer sighting while hunting at home is even more valuable to me and anything that I can do to improve the odds or the overall experience is worth the time and effort.

As deer season closed yesterday , many hunters immediately put thoughts of antlers and spending hours in a tree to the back of their mind.

Some are already thinking of April’s turkey season while others are ready to break out the rod and reel and hit the lake. Those who truly want to have a good deer season next fall, however, would start laying the groundwork now.

The savvy deer hunter knows that forming a plan for all of the months off from deer season and following it will result in a number of things, all of them good.

Are you even sure of the quality of bucks you have roaming your hunting grounds?

More than likely you haven’t even seen the best bucks out there as those old, smart ones tend to keep their movements isolated to the darkness of night when they feel safest.

Since this is the case, finding their shed antlers can be the only way to know they exist, but roaming the forest to find them can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Believe it or not, there is actually an easy way to retrieve those sheds.

Shed traps are nothing more than three posts and some grid-wired farm fence that form a corner. Placing a small pile of corn on the inside corner of the trap forces the buck to poke his nose in there to get at the corn which, in turn, causes his antlers to come in contact with the fence wire.

Since this is the time of year that a buck’s antlers loosen and drop, this means that the odds are quite high that he’ll lose them right there since getting at that corn is all he’s focused on.

Making several of these traps and keeping them baited will give you a ton of information about the bucks wandering around. For example, main beam length is a great indicator of a deer’s age.

As determined by a study performed by Mississippi State University, a 2 ½-year-old buck will have a main beam that measures, on average, 15.8 inches. A 3½-year-old averages out around 18 ½. Those older, mature 4 ½-year-old and older bucks that we’re all after measure greater than 20 inches.

By using shed antlers, a hunter can quickly get a good feel for what the average age is for the deer on their land, and a sound management plan can be tweaked from year to year to grant better opportunities to harvest the mature ones.

Are you providing the deer everything they need throughout the year to help them grow bigger and healthier?

Every year I hear hunters complain about the quality of deer that they’re seeing, but those same folks will let the spring and summer pass without doing anything to improve the situation.

Providing warm-season food plots that are high in protein will go a long way toward giving the deer what they need to grow healthy with big bodies and antlers.

If planting isn’t something you’re able to do, consider supplemental feeding with products such as Record Rack deer feed in a weather-protected feeders.

Is your ground overrun with growth that isn’t a good browse for your wildlife? Maybe prescribed burning is something that you need explore.

Putting a plan together and pulling off these tasks are things I’ll be discussing in the coming weeks in hopes we all can see better deer and better deer hunting when the fall finally rolls around.

Just know that if you don’t get off the couch, you’ll likely find yourself complaining again 12 months from now.

Let’s make 2014 the year that we all make a difference for the deer.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors

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