Deer Hunting - The Most Popular Hunting Season in Oklahoma
Forget football, in Oklahoma deer are king. Come fall there are 200,000 hunters headed out to the woods to participate in the most popular single sporting event in the state - deer gun season. That is more than all the fans at Boone Pickens, Gaylord Memorial and Chapman stadiums combined.
It’s no wonder so many Oklahomans have caught buck fever - our state is a sleeper destination when it comes to having a great chance to take home a trophy. We have known it for a long time, that there are big deer in the woods, but the word is now getting out to the rest of the nation. Oklahoma is now routinely featured on national hunting shows and is showing up on the bucket list of deer-crazy hunters everywhere.
It didn’t happen by accident, Oklahoma has a long tradition of forward-thinking big game biologists. From Cy Curtis who took the lead in trapping and transplanting deer, to Mike Shaw who oversaw phenomenal growth of the deer herd, to the current leader of the big game program Erik Bartholomew, one of the brightest and well respected young biologists in the deer community.
There is something here for every deer hunter. Whether you want to see lots of deer or you have your sights set on a wall hanger- we have it all! This diverse assembly of deer hunters is blessed with equally diverse habitat in which to pursue their sport. Dense cross timber oaks, wide open mesas, pine-covered hills, rolling plains, or bottom land cypress swamps, all can be found in Oklahoma. And if you do not have access to private land, no worries as dozens of Wildlife Management Areas are scattered across the state offering some fantastic whitetail hunting!
All those deer and all those deer hunters add up to a big impact on the state’s economy. From the largest outdoor and sporting goods stores in the major metropolitan cities to the smallest of cafes in rural outposts all over the state, deer hunting is big business for Oklahoma with an estimated total economic impact of over $600 million a year!
Fueling that deer hunting popularity is a management plan that serves our diverse hunters’ interests by providing region-leading season lengths and bag limits along with a strong education component outlining the benefits of balanced sex ratios and selective buck harvest. That balanced voluntary based approach has gained national attention as it has improved the buck age structure over the past decade. Our success has prompted the Quality Deer Management Association to list Oklahoma as one of the top five states showing declines in yearling buck harvests and led Kip Adams, the QDMA Education and Outreach Director to say “I think Oklahoma has done a tremendous job protecting yearling bucks and improving the age structure of their deer herd.”
Chances are, if you are reading this information, you are already a deer hunter! But, if you have not been deer hunting and want to give it a try, just talk with a neighbor, an uncle, a nurse or teacher - there’s a good chance that one or all of them is a die hard deer hunter and can tell you everything you want to know. Just don’t wait till November to talk to them - they’ll probably be in a tree stand.
Buck Harvest Report by County
2015-2016 Harvest Report is updated weekly. Sportsmen have the option to exclude their name; however, your deer harvest information will still appear on the report. The report uses an asterisk (*) in lieu of excluded names.
Watch Deer Videos from the ODWC
|The State of Deer and Deer Management in Oklahoma||Managing for Deer 101|
|Habitat Show||Wildlife Food Plots|
|Fire and Wildlife Management||Landowner Conservationist|
Deer Articles from the ODWC
In the early days of Oklahoma’s deer seasons, archery was viewed by most as just a “novelty.” A 1932 headline from The Daily Oklahoman that read “Many Ha Ha’s End; Archer Gets Deer” is a case-in-point.
The story detailed the remarkable feat of J.S. Farmer, who harvested a seven-point whitetail buck with a bow and arrow. The story was issued by the Associated Press and was likely reprinted in newspapers across the entire US. After trying for years, Farmer took his buck near Junction City, Texas, with a 75-lb. bow and steel head. The harvest was believed to be the first legal archery deer kill (in the post Stone-Age era, that is) in the state.
Evidently the “Ha Ha’s” were the laughs of ridicule by many skeptics at the time that thought nobody could really successfully harvest a deer via bow and arrow. Maybe they didn’t believe that an arrow could penetrate a deer’s thick hide and body, or perhaps they thought even the most accomplished target archer couldn’t ever hope to sneak up close enough to a wily whitetail in order to get a shot.
Who really knows why, but back in the 1930s, 40s, and to some degree even today, there are skeptics who have their doubts about the efficiency of bowhunting. But just look at history. Undoubtedly, Oklahoma’s first Native American residents were efficient in both hunting and combat with the bow. In fact, their lives very likely depended on it. Oklahoma’s Archeological Survey has found whole arrowheads and the leftover shards of flint throughout every corner of the state. And even prior to the story of Texas’ first archery deer kill, another article appeared not only in the Daily Oklahoman, but around the world detailing a unique archery hunt that occurred in America’s most famous national park — Yellowstone. The May 27, 1920 Oklahoman article tells the story of a Californian named Art Young, who along with his hunting partners Dr. Saxton Pope and Will “Chief” Compton, got special permission from park officials in Washington D.C. to bowhunt grizzly bears at Yellowstone. The special permission was granted so the bowmen could collect specimens, which would be prepared by taxidermists to display in the California Academy of Sciences Museum. The bowmen collected five grizzlies with the bow, including a giant male that fell to Young’s 80-lb. longbow. The huge bruin weighed an estimated 1,000 pounds. Years later, Young commented on the skepticism of archery as a legitimate hunting method. “At first we archers hunted squirrels and rabbits, and the doubters told us we could not kill
deer. We killed deer, and they raised the ante to bear. Right straight through the list we went until we had killed every species of American game fairly, including the grizzly bear of our Rockies and the brown grizzly of Alaska."
The chronicles of Pope and Young’s Yellowstone adventure, along with other hunts in California and Alaska, can be found in Pope’s 1923 archery classic, Hunting with the Bow and Arrow. Still popular today, particularly among traditional archery enthusiasts, the book also contains detailed accounts of Pope’s friendship with “Ishi.” Ishi was the lone survivor of a Northern California Indian tribe (Yahi) who in 1911 walked out of his Stone Age existence and into the industrialized world of the white man. Ishi gained notoriety as the “Last Wild Indian in North America” when he came to live at the UC Berkeley Anthropology Museum, which was next door to the university medical school where Pope taught surgery.
In addition to providing a window into ancient cultures for the Anthropology Department, Ishi put on public demonstrations of primitive fire making, flint knapping arrowheads and shooting his handmade bow and arrows. Pope became enamored with Ishi’s archery skills, which led to the development of a close friendship. In the hills above San Francisco, Ishi would pass on his hunting techniques to Pope, Arthur Young and Will Compton, which would be so important in their future archery adventures. In Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, Pope writes of the experience.
“Hunting with Ishi was pure joy. Bow in hand, he seemed to be transformed into a being light as air and as silent as falling snow. From the very first we went on little expeditions into the country where, without appearing to instruct, he was my teacher in the old, old art of the chase...”
Ishi was estimated to be in his late 40s or early 50s when he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1916. In his short time at the museum, his knowledge and skills passed onto his friend, “Popey,” may have been long forgotten had it not been meticulously documented in Pope’s book.
Today, the Pope and Young Club (appropriately named after Dr. Saxton Pope and Arthur Young) is the foremost bowhunting group in North America. In addition to promoting conservation and wise use of natural resources, the club maintains big game records of the major North American species taken with archery equipment. Today, the names of Pope, Young, Compton and of course, Ishi, are regarded by avid bowhunters as the “Founding Fathers” of the sport.
Despite newspaper articles and books such as Pope’s Hunting with the Bow and Arrow that gave indisputable evidence as to effectiveness of archery equipment on everything from squirrels to 1,000-lb. grizzly bears, many state wildlife agencies were slow to establish specific seasons designated for archers. In Oklahoma, the first legal gun season for deer came in 1933. Not until 13 years later did a handful of dedicated bowmen finally realize their wish of getting a special archery deer season. The year was 1946, and it’s likely that among the bowmen who participated, were several who had just recently returned from the European or the Pacific theaters of World War II. For the vets who picked up their recurves or longbows for the state’s first archery season, it was a special day for more than one reason.
For one, Oklahoma’s very first designated archery deer hunt was a one-day season on November 11, 1946 — Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day). And as far as deer hunting was/is concerned, what better holiday to go out bowhunting for Oklahoma whitetails than Veterans Day? Additionally, many Oklahoma bowhunters believe the peak of the whitetail rut, (when the bucks are the most active and at their least wariness) occurs sometime around the second week of November. Personally, I’ve spent every Veterans Day over the past 15 years or so some 12 to 15 feet off the ground — in my treestand! For Oklahoma’s first deer archery hunt in ’46, bowmen were allowed to hunt the counties of Atoka, Haskell, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha, which were the only areas open to the regular gun season. The regular gun season for that year opened the day after the inaugural archery season and ran from Nov. 12 thru the 16. After the close of that season, a total of 595 bucks had been taken. But unfortunately for the archers, they all fell to the bullet and not the arrow. Although their broadheads were sharp, the fact that not a single deer was taken by an archer didn’t dull their enthusiasm. For some unknown reason, the Oklahoma Game and Fish Commission didn’t authorize a special deer archery season in 1947, although there is some evidence to suggest that participants in the regular deer gun season could use a bow and arrow as a legal means of taking. Nevertheless, no archery harvested deer were reported.
In 1948, archers were given a six-day season unto themselves. The season was established for late November and was limited to only Latimer County. According to newspaper reports and articles within the Oklahoma Game and Fish News (precursor to Outdoor Oklahoma magazine), a crowd of more than 50 archers encamped at Robbers Cave State Park for the hunt; but again not a single buck was brought back to camp.
In 1949, and for several years thereafter, the Game and Fish Commission established a special five-day archery deer hunt only at Camp Gruber. On the first day of the hunt, November 2, a buck finally fell to an archer’s arrow, but it wasn’t a whitetail. Roland Barber, a champion shooter in field archery from Tulsa, harvested a fallow deer.
Who really knows how long it’d been since the last Plains Indian loosed a cane arrow with a stone head or primitive metal “trade point” on one of the few remaining deer that hungry white settlers hadn’t managed to down with a muzzleloader for the stewpot. The buffalo were gone by the 1870s (and probably the deer at about the same time period), and certainly the civilized tribes (exiled to Oklahoma in the 1830s) would’ve soon started using firearms for subsistence hunting. Therefore, Barber’s might have been the first deer taken with a bow in more than a century.
A native species of Europe, deer like Barber’s fallow buck (Dama dama) were widely stocked throughout North America both on public and private lands beginning in the 1800s. Along with Bartlesville oilman Frank Phillips stocking fallow deer onto his Woolaroc Ranch in the ‘30s, the US military also released fallows onto Camp Gruber. By the time of the 1949 archery season, Gruber’s fallow herd had grown to a population of 50 or 60.
Not to diminish Barber’s accomplishment, but the fallow deer didn’t seem to be quite as wary as the native whitetails in the area.
After winning nearly every junior archery competition he entered, Ralph Hedrick of Oklahoma City was just a teenager when he began deer hunting with a bow. According to Hedrick, who participated in Oklahoma’s first archery season and several seasons thereafter, Camp Gruber’s fallow deer were still a challenge, but not like a whitetail.
“Sooner or later you were going to see the fallow deer on Camp Gruber,” Hedrick said. “In fact, I got a small buck one time (1951 season) when it wandered through our camp as we were eating lunch. But the whitetails were a different story. They pretty much stayed inside the woods and didn’t stick around long if they smelled you. We all hunted from the ground. There wasn’t any such things as treestands or compound bows in those days, so putting a stalk on a whitetail within bow range was mighty tough.”
In 1950, nobody took a deer during the "season" at Gruber. However, during the hunt, the OK Bowhunters Association held their annual business meeting to elect new officers. Roland Barber (the hunter who took the lone fallow deer in the Gruber hunt a year earlier) was elected the new president, replacing Ralph Hedrick, who had been called to active duty with the Navy.
Hedrick wasn’t gone for long, however, because in the ‘51 hunt he was back at Camp Gruber when three deer fell to the archers’ arrows. The first deer taken that year holds particular significance.
Early in the hunt, little did Larry Embry, Jr. of Muskogee know what chasm of history his arrow would travel on its way toward a young deer. Although the shot placement wasn’t textbook, it still dispatched the three-point buck. The deer wasn’t very big, but it was a whitetail!
Embry’s whitetail buck marks the beginning of an era for today’s Oklahoma deer archery hunters. Unless there’s proof that an Oklahoma archer took a whitetail while carrying a bow during the previous deer gun seasons (1933 through 1950), then Larry Embry, Jr. took the very first whitetail deer by an Oklahoma archer since the days when Native Americans hunted deer for subsistence. Not bad for the dedicated archers of that time, but quite an accomplishment considering Embry’s age of a mere 13 years. On the final day of that season, Alfred Jennings from Salina took a 6 pt. whitetail buck weighing 160 lbs., and Ralph Hedrick took an 85-lb. fallow buck (the one that walked into camp).
Today, Oklahoma has nearly 192,525 deer gun hunters, of which many also bowhunt. However if all 74,194 deer archery hunters in the state also gun hunt, then that says that the majority (61 percent) of gun hunters have yet to pick up a bow. Perhaps there’s still the age-old skepticism that a bow really isn’t an effective hunting tool. Or perhaps, many gun hunters feel it’s just too difficult to get close enough to a wily whitetail to get a shot. Well, I’m not saying it’s easy, but once upon a time a 13-year-old kid from Muskogee proved it was indeed possible.
One of the best things about today’s Oklahoma deer archery season is its length; a whopping 107 days from Oct. 1-Jan 15. An archer can take all six of his combined season limit of deer with a bow, of which no more than two can be antlered. And new for the fall 2008, the last 15 days of the deer archery season will be open to either-sex hunting, which in previous years were only open to antlerless harvest. Need a place to hunt? No problem. Of Oklahoma’s more than 76 wildlife management areas, more than half are open to the archery season for the entire 107 days. Another quarter of the remaining areas are open for 88 to 105 days! To be sure, the Department’s WMAs and other public areas offer some terrific bowhunting opportunities, and every year more than a handful of Oklahoma’s better archery bucks are taken on public areas.
But let’s not forget about the best reason to pick up a bow this upcoming fall. Most avid bowhunters will tell you that time spent in the treestand is never wasted. The challenge, solitude and connection with nature is what bowhunting is all about. Dr. Pope, in his closing comments from Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, captured the essence of bowhunting when he spoke of wandering through the “forest glades to seek the bounding deer,” lying in “deep meadow grasses,” watching the “flight of birds,” smelling the “fragrance of burning leaves,” casting glances toward the “unobserved beauty of the moon,” and of having the strength to “draw the string to cheek, the arrow to the barb and loose the flying shaft, so long as life may last.” That says it all.
And in Pope’s own words, “farewell and shoot well!”
When it comes to deer hunting in
the Sooner state, few places are revered and esteemed so highly by Oklahomans — and by sportsmen all over the nation, for that matter — as the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in southeast Oklahoma. Not only does it offer civilians a rare glimpse of one of the military’s most important installations (especially for wartime explosives production), but it’s also a deer hunter’s paradise.
Through the Wildlife Department’s Controlled Hunts Program, sportsmen from across the country have had the chance to visit the “Ammunition Depot” for a primitive archery or shotgun hunt, and they can attest to that sensation — that “mystique,” as one previous Outdoor Oklahoma article puts it — that a sportsmen only feels when he knows he hunting somewhere special. And one thing that makes the area so special is its extraordinary deer population. That and the fact that such a hunt is still thriving even with so many post 9/11 security issues across the nation. It is only thanks to Army commanders who value the opportunity to maximize public access to this federal facility that it even exists as an opportunity today. And its crucial that sportsmen continue to be good stewards of that opportunity if they wish to see the hunt remain a part of the Oklahoma Controlled Hunts program.
It’s the quality of deer found on the grounds of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant that gets a hunter’s heart pounding, and the anticipation of knowing theirs could be one of some 1,400-1,800 names drawn for six weekend deer hunts held throughout the year.
The ammunition plant got its start in wildlife management in the mid 1940s, when a small number of deer trapped in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge were released on the area. Then known as the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot, the area is still fondly referred to by its nickname, the “Depot,” at hunting camps and in sportsmen’s circles across the state. It was a reserve in which hunting was not initially permitted because of the area’s military status, but it was the hope of the Oklahoma Game and Fish Commission (now the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation) that the stocking would help replenish surrounding areas for restoration and hunting purposes. Plans at the time included removing “surplus” game from the area once capacities were exceeded, and relocating it to other wildlife-depleted areas in the state.
But by the early 1960s, deer reproduction on the area was so successful that trap and transplant efforts were no longer enough to maintain healthy, sustainable numbers of deer. Enter what would eventually become one of the most desired hunts in Oklahoma. In the early ‘60s, the first draw hunt was conducted on the base, and 124 deer were harvested. Today, the area is home to bucks that most hunters only dream about, and while the mission of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant is still to produce ordinance to supply the United States military, they have found a way manage deer by allowing as many civilians as possible to hunt the area without jeopardizing that ever-important military objective.
McAlester and Its ManagementEvolution
Bill Starry came on board as a volunteer helper on deer hunts for the “Depot” grounds in 1977 and was hired as a paid employee about four years later. “I was a died-in-the-wool deer hunter,” said Starry regarding the year he started as the paid manager, but far fewer days are spent hunting now, and many more are consumed with managing this legendary herd. He emphasizes his belief in the importance of having hunted deer in order to manage them, but he never hunts on the base and is more content these days with watching his grandkids hunt than going himself.
The road to legendary status took time to navigate, however. By 1984, base personnel had noticed a decline in antler development and, according to Starry, who says he’d much rather see visitors on the grounds harvest deer than to harvest them himself, they just stopped seeing as many “good bucks” as they did in previous years.
Hunter success on the area was unstable. For example, in 1977, before compound bows, the success rate was at around seven percent, but by 1984 (around the time that tree stands and compound bows became popular and hunting equipment began improving in technology), there was a 24 percent success rate. As hunters became more successful, they also became more selective in what they harvested. And as all this took place, the age class of deer in the area decreased while the buck to doe ratio went on the rise. There were more deer, the animals were younger and the doe ratio was “out of whack.” Something had to be done to stabilize harvest success rates and capture that alluring quality that the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant reflects in the eyes of today’s hunters.
With a goal in mind to “allow whitetails to reach a population structure similar to what it was before statehood” (about one buck to two does), while still allowing as many civilians as possible to hunt the area, Starry implemented several key practices that he says are instrumental in the success of management on the base grounds. Along with holding antlerless hunts and issuing a “quality pass,” which allows deer hunters who harvest a doe to return the next year without going through the drawing, compound bows were prohibited. The idea in a nutshell is that, by limiting hunters to primitive archery equipment, more hunters can see and hunt the area, but success rates will be more stable than before. Primitive equipment is less advanced than compound bows and can greatly decrease effective shooting ranges; so naturally, fewer deer are harvested with primitive bows and hopefully fewer are injured from misjudged, long distance bow attempts.
According to Starry, this important policy not only affords young bucks more time to grow to maturity (and thus trophy status), but in doing so it also improves the age structures and gender ratios in the herd.
“It’s just a management strategy,” Starry said. “It wouldn’t work everywhere, but it does here.”
And oh, how it does. Starry reports that today, there is a “natural herd balance” with good age structures and good buck to doe ratios. The proof might be found in the more than 100 rocks planted in the headquarters lawn, one for each buck taken on the Ammunition Plant grounds that has qualified for Pope and Young trophy status. Or maybe the proof is evidenced by the “10 most wanted list,” a collection of “Depot” bucks noted by unique characteristics — such as antlers, scars or other interesting qualities — that make them highly sought-after by hunters. Either way, it’s no secret that drawing out for the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant hunt is a near euphoric dream for hunters everywhere, and not without reason.
As in most everything else, though, “to get a little you have give a little,” meaning that, while the herd age structure is evenly distributed, boasts healthy buckto- doe ratios and includes plenty of bucks in their peak age of 7-8 years, and while a large number of hunters get a chance to hunt them, there are always trade-offs with any management system. And McAlester — as good as it is — is no exception. According to Starry, such “trade-offs” include a lot of fighting between bucks in the area, which can lead to death, injury or, at best, loss of trophy antlers. Additionally, Starry said many bucks simply leave the base in search of does outside the base grounds. But it’s all part of the process of achieving management goals without compromising military objectives. Still, Starry said these issues are something he and Ryan Toby, Wildlife Department biologist on the base, would like to address since one of their primary management goals is to grow animals that hunters can pursue and harvest. This management team is constantly considering new ideas and potential changes to fine tune the deer management on the “Depot.” As good as it is, they want it better.
Deer management on the base is a year-round job. Population surveys start in January and include brood stock counts. In March, browse surveys are performed, with special attention given to green briar, winged elm and sumac plants. Deer that are counted are classified into buck, doe and fawn categories in August, which is when buck-to-doe and doe-to-fawn ratios are determined. Base personnel also rely on observations outside of these yearly efforts.
“We’re out there every day, January through August, so we make adjustments based on what we’re seeing versus solely relying on numbers,” Starry said. Among other practices, management on the base includes burning about 3,000 acres annually by prescribed fire, which Starry said has improved habitat conditions more than any other effort.
When it comes to hunting on the base, sportsmen enjoy a 13 percent success rate, good odds considering the statewide archery success rate of 21.3 percent during the 2006-07 season. Last season, sportsmen from 16 states hunted on the base. Starry said many hunters arrive with a misconception that there’s a deer behind every tree, as they have heard the celebrated stories of outstanding hunting in the area. Because of this, they tend to find an area with good deer sign, set up, and then move their stand when they don’t quickly see deer. This, Starry said, is the biggest mistake hunters make on the base. The belief that deer appear out of every nook and cranny is not true, said Starry. Additionally, the deer on base endure a lot of hunting pressure. As in any hunting situation, patience is an important key.
According to Starry, it doesn’t matter whether you hunt early, mid or late season — the hunting is good and the experience is rewarding.
And if having the opportunity to hunt trophy deer on the base isn’t enough to excite a sportsman, there comes with each hunt the opportunity to see other types of wildlife, including eastern turkeys, bobcats and even river otters. And, since good food can be as important a staple as ammo for some hunters, it should be noted there is no shortage good eating in the area for when the hunt is over. Few Oklahoma towns know fine Italian dining like the nearby towns of McAlester and Krebs. There’s also great steak, barbecue and Chinese and Mexican food available as well as all other important amenities.
The unmatched appeal associated with the buck population at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant points to the success of the Oklahoma Controlled Hunts Program and the benefits of sound management, not to mention the joint cooperation between the United States military and the Wildlife Department. Ultimately, the result is one of the most wildly popular controlled hunts offered by the Wildlife Department along with many satisfied civilians who get the opportunity to hunt the buck of a lifetime in pristine deer habitat that some individuals can only hope to one day see.
Quinton Picone never had been on a deer hunt before. The 23-year-old Army specialist had not rested well the night before – he’d only had two or three hours of sleep. Perhaps the excitement of the coming day’s hunt, and all of the commotion in the camp area, conspired to foil a good night’s sleep.
Picone wasn’t alone in anticipating the next day’s hunt. Several hundred other lucky hunters were gathered at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant for a special archery deer hunt Oct. 12, one of seven special hunts held over seven weekends.
Getting drawn into these special hunts on the base is a goal for many Oklahoma deer hunters. Each year, more than 20,000 applications are turned in. Only 1,500 are selected to hunt. And of those, only about 13 percent will successfully harvest a deer.
But the abundant population of trophy bucks roaming the 45,000-acre bomb-making and storage facility in southeastern Oklahoma make these special hunts among the most sought-after deer hunting experiences in the region.
Picone had made it to the hunt, albeit by special invitation. He was ready to go. In the predawn of that Friday morning, Picone donned his hunting garb, grabbed his crossbow, lifted himself into his wheelchair and rolled himself out the door.
A Life Changed
Less than a year earlier, Picone was in a different kind of shooting situation. The Panola High School graduate was serving with the 11 Bravo Infantry in Afghanistan. He joined the Army in March 2010, and on Nov. 30, 2011, he found himself leading a dismounted patrol, clearing a path of threats in a war zone.
It was then his life changed forever. An improvised explosive device went off, causing serious wounds on both his legs and his right hand. Picone had his left leg amputated right above the knee, and his right leg amputated just below the knee.
Picone became a Wounded Warrior.
The Army sent him to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he began therapy for his injuries. Picone said he has had good results rehabilitating his right-hand injuries, and cited that fact in his ability to participate in the McAlester deer hunt. “It’s a good thing that trigger finger still works,” he quipped.
Shortly after Picone arrived at Fort Sam Houston, he received a visitor. Col. Timothy Beckner, commander of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, wanted to see the Wounded Warrior because Picone’s parents, Vincent and Sherry, live in McAlester, and Picone’s dad is employed at the ammo plant.
“Quinton is a great kid, and what a great attitude,” Col. Beckner said.
In his visit with Picone, Col. Beckner mentioned the special deer hunts that would be held on the base, and he suggested Picone find out about attending a hunt in his hometown area.
“There’s a good group of guys and volunteers that make it possible,” Col. Beckner said of the special hunts. This past year was the 50th anniversary of cooperation between the Army base and the Wildlife Department in offering the deer hunts at the ammo plant, and more than 50,000 hunters have enjoyed being able to participate over the years.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that deer hunting here is going to have another 50-year run,” Col. Beckner said.
Wounded Warriors in Action is a nationwide program that offers various outdoor experiences to veterans who have been injured in service to the nation. Bill Starry, natural resources manager at the McAlester ammo plant, said his base has hosted Wounded Warriors for both deer and turkey hunting the past four years.
Starry said the Wounded Warrior hunts require extra effort to organize, as there are 200-plus other hunters in the field at the same time. But he praised the Wounded Warriors program for giving heroic war veterans an opportunity to experience deer and turkey hunting trips, despite their physical setbacks. He said, “It’s a good thing and well worth it.” Hunt organizers along with Joe Hemphill, Wildlife Department southeast region supervisor, arrange to have several Wounded Warriors participate in the hunts each year. For this year’s deer hunt, Picone and two others – SPC Stephen Peterson and SSG Roger Benton – were able to attend. The Oklahoma State Game Wardens Association donated the money for the warriors’ hunting licenses, fees and tags.
“We wanted people who were in treatment to be able to enjoy hunting here,” Starry said. And while nothing is ever guaranteed in a deer hunt, it is always possible that something special might happen and that “it couldn’t happen to a better bunch.”
Out of Nowhere
As a “white hat” volunteer, Michael Marlow gives of his time to help organize and operate the special hunts at the ammo plant. The wildlife biologist lives in Colorado, but he hails from the McAlester area. This year, his 12th as a white hat, Marlow jumped at a chance to accompany Picone on the young man’s first deer hunt. When the two first met the night before the hunt, Picone seemed unsure about knowing when to shoot at a deer. Marlow assured him: “You’ll know it when you see it.”
The next morning, Picone and Marlow headed out to the field. Awaiting them was a hydraulic lift deer stand, a 2003 donation to the Wildlife Department from the Paralyzed Veterans of America organization. The device allows hunters with physical challenges to roll or crawl into a compartment, which then can be raised to serve as a deer stand. Once settled into the stand, the two men waited. An hour passed. Nothing was in view but the dirt ruts of an infrequently traveled roadway outside the compartment.
At about 10 minutes past 7 a.m., Marlow whispered to Picone.
“We need to get that buck.”
Picone looked out but saw nothing. He slowly moved his gaze from behind a window post, and finally the buck was in sight.
“It just appeared out of nowhere,” Picone recalled. “It was like Houdini.”
The nine-point buck was quartering down the roadway ruts toward the blind. Picone raised his crossbow, but Marlow told him the shooting angle was not good. Marlow watched as Picone held his bow steady.
“It was incredible how rock steady he was for three or four minutes,” Marlow said. Finally, as the buck approached to within about 15 yards, Picone let the bolt fly.
“It hit him in the shoulder, and I said, ‘You just shot a monster buck!’” Marlow said.
After the buck ran, the men waited. Picone was nervous. “I was pumped up,” he said, but he was unsure whether his shot had been a success. “It’s always hit or miss, but I kept a positive outlook.”
That was a good thing to do, because it turns out Picone did indeed deliver a good shot.
Marlow relayed word that Picone had been successful in taking a “big buck.” Soon, the prize was delivered to the camp area. Weight on the hoof: 197 pounds. Dressed weight: 175 pounds.
A new base record! By two pounds.
“It’s crazy,” Picone said. “This one is definitely going on the wall.”
Marlow, who is an avid deer hunter himself, said he had a feeling this buck was something special. “It was as rewarding for me to be a part of it as if I’d harvested the deer myself.” Marlow was certain the scoring of the buck would qualify it to be included in the Pope and Young Club record book for bowhunting.
This would also grant Picone a special privilege at the base: He would be able to “plant a rock” to represent his trophy harvest later that weekend.
Picone continued to find success. The next day out, he managed to harvest a doe. His fellow Wounded Warriors also scored. Peterson and Benton each killed bucks, and Benton also killed a doe and a hog.
The planting of a rock has become a tradition for all hunters who harvest a Pope and Young qualifier at the ammo plant. Dozens of rocks stand upright along the roadside in the camp area. To qualify, the deer must attain a measurement score of at least 125.
Picone’s record buck scored 136 6/8. He would get his rock.
The next day, Marlow helped as Picone’s rock was planted along the roadside in the camp area. And while this particular rock may not be the largest in the line, the story behind it will always stand tall among the deer hunting tales at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
Without question, harvesting any game animal with archery equipment presents a worthy test of archery skill and woodsmanship, but particularly the whitetail deer. The keen senses of a whitetail deer make them one of the most challenging of all North American game animals to hunt. But while it isn’t easy, taking a whitetail with a bow is hardly impossible. In fact, in the fall of 2009, 88,089 state archers set an all-time archery harvest record of 19,887 deer for an overall harvest rate percentage of almost 23 percent! So in the grand scheme of hunting, successfully taking a deer with a bow is absolutely within the realm of possibility, particularly with today’s modern equipment and of course, public lands to hunt.
Still yet, the fact remains that the annual number of archery hunters heading to the woods represents less than half of the total number of deer gun season participants. And although there are some deer hunters who exclusively hunt with a bow and not with a firearm, the percentage is very, very small. Therefore, it’s a pretty safe assumption that most archers also hunt deer with a firearm, so why is it that so few gun hunters haven’t made the choice to also hunt with archery tackle?
While the odds of success may not seem good enough for many rifle hunters to purchase a bow, remember that the more days a bowhunter can hunt, the greater his/her chance of successfully taking a deer, and due to the lengthy season, there are plenty of days to go hunting. Oklahoma’s 107-day deer archery season is only surpassed in length by the 262- day squirrel season and 166 days of rabbit hunting. Beginning annually on Oct. 1 and running through Jan. 15, archers might start the deer archery season wearing nothing more than a long sleeve T-shirt and jeans and end the season wearing two or three layers of long underwear under a couple of wool sweaters — all beneath a goose-down parka. The long season also is great for those hunters who can’t get away during the week due to work obligations because, throughout the season, there are usually 15 full weekends available to hunt. Without question, the state’s long archery season is a great incentive to get involved. Additionally, archers may harvest up to six (6) deer throughout the full season (of which no more than two may be antlered).
Another plus for bowhunters is the availability of public lands open to archery season. Although hunting deer with firearms is limited to controlled hunts on many of the Department’s public lands, the same is not true for archers. No matter what part of the state you call home, there’s at least one (and often multiple) public hunting area within reasonable driving distance that have open deer archery season days.
In a recent analysis of Oklahoma’s 95 different Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), Public Hunting Areas (PHAs), Game Management Areas (GMAs), Wetland Development Units (WMUs), Waterfowl Refuge Portions (WRPs) and various other public land units, 51 are open for the entire 107 day season. Of the remaining 44, nearly half (21) allow bowhunting from between 88 and 105 days. Of the remaining 23 public units, 12 allow open archery hunting from between 12 to 69 days. With public lands totaling more than 1.5 million acres across the state, a hunter should never worry about not having a place to bowhunt deer in Oklahoma.
Some public areas do get a fair amount of bowhunting pressure, but due to the nature of archery and the hunting style to which it lends itself, this doesn’t tend to present a significant problem between bowhunters. In most cases, bowhunting involves hunting from a stationary location whereby the hunter waits for deer to present themselves in that immediate area and in very close range.
If you’re like most deer archery hunters, you hunt from an elevated stand and, once you climb into your stand, you tend to stay put for several hours whether you’re hunting in the morning or evening. For these reasons you aren’t likely to encounter many other hunters in the field even if there might be a number of other hunters on the same management area in the same time frame.
Although whitetail deer might move at any time of day, all things considered, deer tend to move best in the morning and evening hours so bowhunters should consider refraining from walking around on the ground during those “prime” hours. Although it requires getting up extra early to make it to your stand in the predawn darkness, the best way not to agitate other hunters who may be sharing your area is to arrive at your hunt location before shooting hours. Furthermore, when you do climb into your stand, try to remain quiet and come prepared to stay for several hours if possible. Too many cups of coffee or not wearing enough warm clothes have sent more than a few bowhunters down their tree just an hour after first light much to the chagrin of a nearby bowhunter they didn’t know was there. In conclusion, Oklahoma has some terrific opportunities for deer archery hunters. So if you’re still one of those six out of 10 deer firearm hunters who have yet to pick up a bow, then you’re definitely missing out.
It was November 19, 2006, the second day of rifle season. The alarm would be blaring any minute now. I thought to myself how nice it would be to just turn it off and sleep in for change, but a little voice inside my head said, “No, you better go. Today might be the day.” I listened to that voice. After all, my husband, Jeff and I had seen several deer the previous day. A little reluctantly, I rolled out of bed and began preparing for another day of whitetail deer hunting.
A half hour later, we emerged from our comfortable suburban home into the early morning darkness. It was cold and there was no wind at all. Jeff commented that these were the perfect conditions for the deer to be moving. For the second time that morning, I thought to myself, “Yes, today might be the day.”
During the drive to our place in the woods, my husband thought aloud about the deer we had seen yesterday. He had 30 years of deer hunting experience, so I listened, but I was glad he let me choose the spot on the hill overlooking a deep ravine. Was it the best place to see a deer? I couldn’t be sure, but the view was as pretty as a picture. If I was going to be sitting there for the next four hours in the chilly fall air, I might as well enjoy the scenery.
Just as the sun began to illuminate the horizon, I climbed off the back of our four-wheeler to get situated, and Jeff continued on to the spot he had chosen about a quarter of a mile away. With the help of my small flashlight, I quickly found a tree to sit under. I would be on the ground and was thankful for the seat cushion which I placed next to the tree. With minimal movement, I was in place and satisfied with my position. The ground was sloped so that with my feet out in front of me, I could bend my knees for the perfect height to rest my Winchester 270. For comfort’s sake, I could not have picked a better place to hunt.
As the sun crept up in the morning sky, I listened to the woods come alive. Two owls called out to one another as they flew from tree to tree above me. A squirrel scampered about in the oak leaves just a few feet away. Various small birds whistled and chirped as they darted in and out of the nearby brush. Brilliant colored leaves crackled as they occasionally fluttered to the ground. Every now and then a shot could be heard in the distance, but not near as many as I had heard the previous day. I was thankful for my surroundings and silently said a prayer of praise for this beautiful fall day and asked the Lord to allow me the opportunity to see a buck.
After about an hour and a half, the cold began to be a hindrance to me. It wasn’t a bone chilling, finger freezing, toe numbing cold, but it was enough to make me need to blow my nose. I didn’t want to make a move that might be seen, but I finally had no choice. I had to lower my gun and reach into my pocket for the pack of tissues I had brought.
I blew my nose as quietly as possible. Then as I lowered the tissue and returned it to my pocket, I caught a glimpse of a doe approximately 150 yards away as she turned and took flight.
Anxiously I scanned the forest with my eyes, but did not see or hear her again. For a little while, I kept my gaze fixed on the location where I had seen her. I had been told that during the rut, bucks would travel a few minutes behind a doe. After 10 minutes or so without another sighting, I became a little disheartened. Had I literally blown my chances of seeing my first buck?
I sat thinking about how I came to be in this place. Even though I had been married to a hunter for 20 years, I had only been involved in hunting for the last three. When our daughters were small, it never occurred to me that hunting might be something I would enjoy. Then a few years ago, my husband and I became painfully aware that we no longer had anything in common. We had lost the closeness we once shared. But our strained relationship changed for the better when my husband asked me to go on his annual hunting trip to Colorado. I went as an observer, but to the surprise of both of us, I loved it. Riding through the aspen-covered mountains on horseback was like nothing I had ever experienced. In no time at all, I was spotting elk, deer, and turkey in their natural habitats. As a younger woman, I would have never considered hunting, but I did not understand the important role that hunting plays in wildlife management. Going hunting with my husband made me see things in a whole new light.
Upon returning to Oklahoma, I enrolled in one of the Wildlife Department’s hunter education courses so that I could get in on the action. I was surprised that there were other women and a young girl in my class with the same desire to hunt.
I sat right beside my husband the first year that I actually carried my own gun to the woods. The second year we hunted a apart but still close by each other. He got a doe, but I didn’t see a thing.
Today, though, I was totally on my own. But I had learned enough from watching Jeff and the numerous hunting shows on television that I was comfortable in my surroundings and knew what I should and should not do. I had learned that being still and quiet was essential to being a successful whitetail hunter, so that is what I focused on.
Then I saw him!
At the exact spot where the doe had been half an hour earlier, only about 150 yards away, stood a buck. I thought I was seeing things when I counted at least eight points. When I clicked off my safety, the buck raised his head and looked toward me. Then I began to shake, and for a minute, I thought I would be overcome by buck fever. I took a deep breath, offered up a prayer, and pulled the trigger.
The next few seconds seemed to pass in slow motion. The animal jumped straight up in the air and bolted into the dense brush. No longer being able to see or hear him, I stood up to get a better view and watched the buck go down. Unbelievable! I had killed my first deer.
After dancing for sheer joy, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This was indeed the day I had been waiting for. I wondered if Jeff had heard my shot. Would he ride up momentarily on the four-wheeler? Should I stay here and wait for him?
The anticipation was too great. I slung my rifle across my back and started to make my way across the ravine and through the thorny brush. It took me about 30 minutes of searching, but I found the buck. In disbelief, I counted not eight, but 11 points!
At that point, emotions came in a flood. The tears started coming and wouldn’t stop. I had to find my husband and tell him what I had done.
I may have been cold all morning, but now I was burning up as I struggled through the waist-high grass in heavy boots and thick coveralls as I made my way to where Jeff was hunting. When I thought I could go no further, I just started calling out his name. After a brief time, I heard the idle of a four-wheeler. Then my husband came into view. He took one look at the tears running down my face and asked what had happened.
I could barely speak, but managed to convey my message. “Eleven point,” I said.
He accused me of joking. Then his jaw dropped to the ground when he realized I was serious. His look of awe turned to elation, and he hugged me and bombarded me with a barrage of questions.
“Where did you shoot him?”
“How far away was he?”
“Where were you sitting?”
“Were there other deer with him?”
“Are you sure he is down?”
“Can you find him again?”
I hardly had a chance to answer one question before the next one was out of his mouth. He wanted to know everything, and I was glad to tell him.
When we got back to the impressive buck, Jeff could not stop grinning as he shook his head in disbelief.
“I have been hunting for 30 years and never even seen a buck this big, much less to have a shot at one,” he said.
He was truly amazed when he examined the shot placement, which was right where I aimed. I told him that if not for having such a good teacher, I would never have succeeded.
After field-dressing the deer, we transported it to the nearest hunter check station and then to a local meat processor. A couple of Jeff’s friends met us there when they heard the news. I don’t know who was more proud – me or my husband. He contacted a taxidermist immediately.
For the next few days, my thoughts were consumed with the details of that hunt. I will never forget that moment or the emotions I experienced. I had started that day with some reluctance, but thankfully I listened to that voice that told me, “Today might be the day.”
It was indeed! I had not only been blessed with the sight of a big buck, but had actually harvested my first deer.
Three years later, my husband and I are still hunting together. We have also discovered other outdoor activities that we enjoy like boating and fishing. All of these hobbies help us stay connected year-round. In addition, our two teenage daughters regularly join us in our outdoor adventures. The youngest has recently expressed her interest in taking a hunter education course.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would someday be a deer and elk hunter, I would have said, “You’re crazy!” I only wish that I had considered the prospect earlier in my life. Even when my children were small, it would have provided a welcome respite from the demands of work and running a busy household. I now look forward to every opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy what nature has to offer. To this day, I carry a picture of that mounted deer with me on my cell phone, and I welcome the chance to tell women and men about how hunting has benefited my family.
—Gina Rumbaugh is a 5th-grade teacher who lives with her husband and two daughters in Broken Arrow.
Theresa Hendrix harvested a buck during the 2010 deer gun season that had a special distinction: it was the largest typical buck ever harvested in Oklahoma by a female hunter per the Cy Curtis records program, grossing just over 180 inches and netting 170 6/8. Theresa's story is just one of many memories being made in the field by women these days. In October, four teenage girls harvested black bears during Oklahoma's third black bear archery season, one of which field dressed well over 400 lbs. The four young women accounted for 13 percent of the 2011 black bear harvest.
Additionally, as reported in a previous issue of
Outdoor Oklahoma magazine, Oklahoma hunting license
sales to women has seen increases in recent years,
and programs designed to introduce women to the
outdoors have been busy helping women build outdoor
recreation skills. As you'll read in Theresa's
story, told here in her own words, some of today's
female hunters are discovering their interest in
hunting after years of missing out on a hobby they
didn't know they would enjoy, until someone
introduced them to it.
—Michael Bergin, associate editor
I had never been hunting until I met my husband, John, when I was 23 years old. I don't think I would have ever started to hunt if it wasn't for him. Although I grew up living in the country and being outside, hunting just wasn't part of my family's tradition.
John seemed to think hunting was a really fun thing to do so I agreed to go with him. We went on a bow hunt and since there were two of us we ended up hunting from what John said was actually a rifle stand. I am pretty sure we didn't see any deer and I remember thinking, “This is the most boring thing I've ever done in my life!” John and I continued seeing each other and he finally convinced me to give muzzleloader shooting a try. On my first hunt I didn't have any hunting clothes, so I ended up wearing his dad's hunting clothes and my tennis shoes. As we were leaving town for our morning hunt, the thermometer read 11 degrees! John told me several times that if I got cold to let him know and we would go back to camp. I'm not sure how long we sat in the stand or whether we saw any deer but I did get cold!
I'd finally had enough so we got down out of the tree. As John had taught me, I went ahead and put a cap on my gun before we headed to camp. It was a good thing because I took a couple steps when four does ran directly away from us. John quickly said, “Get ready!” About 100 yards away, all four does stopped and looked at us. He said, “You better shoot!” I told him I was going to shoot the second one from the left. Not sure why I chose that deer, but I did.
All I remember was the kick of the gun and lots of smoke. We weren't sure if I had gotten one but I'm pretty positive John thought I had missed. We went to where the deer were last standing where low-and-behold there was my doe! I was impressed with myself and, from that moment, was hooked on hunting. I have had a lot of fun learning to hunt since that first muzzleloader hunt.
Two years later, John and I married and moved to the panhandle of Oklahoma for his job. We found a whole new way of hunting by moving from northeastern Oklahoma to the Panhandle. It was different for sure, but helped me hone my hunting skills.
I had never bow hunted but I figured it was time I tried. John set up his dad's old bow for me and then found a spot for me to sit behind a sage brush bush overlooking a trail. That's right, a sage bush. Nothing like putting a beginner at a total disadvantage against a whitetail's keen nose and sight. However, sure enough, a short time later, a couple of does came by. I drew back and let the arrow fly! The doe ran about 100 yards and lay down. I couldn't believe it. I had harvested my first deer with a bow.
As with many hunters, John and I have spent countless hours shooting, scouting and dreaming of hunting. We have invested many hours in improving our techniques and skills.
All these hours led to one fateful day in a stand this past season. We had recently moved to a new town much farther from our usual hunting spots, so I had not been able to hunt. In the previous years, I had missed very few hunting days so I was feeling depressed about the lack of hunting I had been able to get out and enjoy.
John had been able to go quite a bit, but it was finally my turn to get away. I had hunted only a half-day of that rifle season so far and had one more day to hunt. I always try to “mix things up” when I'm hunting and do the unusual. I decided — with John's encouragement — to go sit in a bowstand even though it was rifle season. I just thought doing something different might pan out. And, in the back of my mind, I remembered John telling me about seeing what he thought was a 180-inch deer from this same stand the week after muzzleloader. We also had trail camera photographs of a deer we had named “The Ghost” due to his only appearing at night and the photos having a slightly blurred image of his rack making it difficult to determine for sure how big he really was.
I got in the treestand about 3 p.m. It's a particularly beautiful spot with an open meadow to my left. To my right, it was all wooded except the small trail I walked on to get to the treestand. I could see down the trail about 100 yards.
I had been sitting for about 20 minutes when I heard what I thought could be a buck chasing a doe. It was somewhere in front of me and it seemed to be getting closer. Soon, I could see some does with a small buck following them. They were about 75 yards away, moving away from me through the timber. It got my blood pumping a little bit and had me hoping for more action.
Just a minute or two later, I could hear a deer trotting down the same trail toward my right. I thought that little buck had circled back and was looking for more does. But, to my amazement, I saw a larger buck walking down a trail about 60 yards away. This looked like a nice deer, and I would try to take him.
Slowly I slipped into a sitting position on the floor of my treestand so I could use the seat for a rest. The buck came into the trail opening and stopped. I put the cross hairs slightly behind his shoulder and pull the trigger. As I saw him run off, I realized the rack was quite a bit larger than I had previously thought! Could this be the deer that John had seen? Could he be “The Ghost?”
I lost sight of him after he had moved about 100 yards. My heart sank because, quite frankly, I thought he had kept running. I kept replaying in my mind how I must not have made a good shot, and I could not believe I had just wounded a nice deer. I was down on myself.
John was home with the kids nearly 60 miles away, but I had 20 years of hunting experience and had harvested numerous deer, so I knew I needed to wait to go searching for the buck.
I could hardly take it. I was worried, and when I first arrived to the location where the buck had stood when I took the shot, I didn't see any blood or hair. I called John to let him know what had taken place and he called a couple of friends to see if they could get there to help me look for the deer before dark. Neither was available, so now onto Plan B.
Wounding a deer and not finding it is the worst thing ever. I didn't even want to consider that, but it was in the back of mind. Plan B called for John to drop the kids off at my mother's and then to head my way. It took him a couple of hours, which meant it was just about dark when he arrived.
As we have done before, he had me go to the tree I was sitting in and point him to the exact spot where the deer was standing when the shot took place. This is always a good method to use, because when you climb down out of that tree, it is easy to miss the exact spot by several yards if you are by yourself.
I pointed John in the right direction. He found what appeared to be fresh tracks heading down the trail and within a few yards he found blood.
Soon we discovered a good blood trail. I took the lead as we eased cautiously along the blood trail, scanning now in the dark woods for the sight of a white belly. It seemed a long ways but it was only about 60 or 70 yards when I could see him!
This was the largest buck I've ever taken — a deer of a lifetime for sure. The Ghost was all and more than we ever thought he was. John was so proud, and I was glad he had encouraged me to sit in that particular spot. I didn't hunt until I was 23 years old, but now I can't imagine not hunting. Although I'm tremendously proud of the deer I harvested, I can't wait to take my daughter, Mackenzie, on her first deer hunt this fall. Hopefully, she will get a chance to harvest her first deer, and in a few more years, I hope to be with my son, Easton, when he harvests his first deer. He is just three, but it won't be long. He is always saying, “I wanna get a big buck like you, Momma.”
Hunting is now a family tradition for me, and passing on the tradition of hunting to my kids is as important to me as harvesting a trophy buck. However, I've got to be honest when I say right now I'm pretty proud to say that I've taken the largest deer in the family! It just goes to show that all the years you dream about that big one walking down the trail can really happen — even when you only have a day-and-half to hunt.
1. At this point there is no known cases of CWD in wild deer and elk in Oklahoma.
2. There has been no known transmission of CWD from deer or elk to any other animals or people even in states where CWD is found.
3. It is always wise to use common sense when handling any meat or when dealing with sick or injured animals.
For more information about CWD log on to www.cwd-info.org
"In 2006 more than 1,626 hunter harvested deer and elk were sampled in Oklahoma and all tested negative for chronic wasting disease. To date, some 7,088 animals have been tested statewide as part of The Wildlife Department's monitoring program and all have tested negative for CWD. The Department will continue to monitor the state's deer and elk herds through additional testing."
What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?
It was 35 years ago and the biologists were baffled. Blood work showed nothing unusual, liver and kidney tests turned up negative for all known diseases, but the mule deer were still wasting away to skin and bones. It could have been straight out of an episode of “The X Files.”
A few of the captive deer at the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s research facilities in Fort Collins had begun to lose weight on a diet that sustained other deer. They drank incessantly and spent much of their time standing listlessly in their corrals. The biologists knew they had a unique syndrome on their hands, but it was like nothing they had ever seen before.
Captive deer at Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Sybille Research Unit were soon showing signs of the mystery disease. Because the Colorado and Wyoming facilities regularly traded deer and elk, the appearance of the disease in Wyoming came as no great surprise.
Over the next 10 years, researchers worked to understand the origin and causes of the affliction, but their studies led to more questions than answers.
One thing was certain, the disease was deadly. Between 1974 and 1979, 66 mule deer and one black-tailed deer were held captive in Colorado and Wyoming research corrals. Of those, 57 contracted the strange disease and not one survived.
The search went on for the cause of the disease. Viruses, bacteria and nutritional deficiencies were all ruled out. Biologists named it "chronic wasting disease” (CWD), identifying the disease’s most devastating outward symptom, irreversible weight loss.
The first break in the case came in 1978, when wildlife veterinarian Beth Williams began analyzing tissues of affected animals. She found microscopic holes in brain and nerve tissues of the deer. The disease was turning the brains of these deer into Swiss cheese.
This finding put Chronic Wasting Disease into a small category of diseases labeled transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). As pathologists looked into CWD further, they began to see similarities between it and scrapie, a TSE that affects sheep.
Sheep and goats have been affected by scrapie in Europe for centuries. In all those years, no other type of animal has ever come down with the disease, including generations of shepherds who work with their flocks daily and consumers who eat their meat and drink their milk.
Although they now knew CWD was related to scrapie and other TSEs, this helped little because at the time pathologists knew little about the cause of this disease either. The scientific camps began to stake their claim on the origins of these enigma diseases. Some thought it was a genetic illness, others assumed it was a virus too small to be detected by existing techniques. Several different scientists were pursuing proof of their favorite theories.
In the meantime, unsettling news was reported from the field. In March 1981, biologists in north Colorado brought in a sick elk that turned out to be suffering from chronic wasting disease. The disease had somehow spread from captive animals into free-ranging herds.
Cervids (animals such as white-tailed deer and elk ) seemed to be the target of CWD, no other animals including cattle, horses or humans have been affected by CWD. The disease spread incrementally through northcentral Colorado affecting mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk. In 1986, CWD claimed an elk in southeastern Wyoming, the first confirmed case of the disease in a wild animal outside of Colorado.
Although this was not exactly a raging disease outbreak, the spread of the disease had started and wildlife vets and biologists were concerned. They knew little about it, and knew nothing about how to stop it.
Today, 34 years since the disease was discovered, pathologists have learned more about the disease, but still have much to learn before they fully understand it. However slowly, CWD has continued to creep across the United States and Canada, currently impacting either captive or free-ranging deer in nine states and a pair of Canadian provinces. This includes a closely monitored captive elk herd in central Oklahoma.
It is now generally accepted that prions, naked proteins with the ability to duplicate and multiply, are the culprits to blame for CWD and other TSE’s. There remains no known cure or even a reliable method of disinfecting contaminated areas. Biologists in Fort Collins, Colorado, where the disease was first discovered, found out how resilient these prions can be. They set out in an intensive effort to rid the research facilities of CWD. All captive deer and elk were killed and buried. Personnel then plowed up the soil in the pens in an effort to bury possible disease organisms and structures and pastures were repeatedly treated with a powerful disinfectant. A year later, 12 elk calves from the wild were released in the sanitized holding areas. In the next five years, two of these elk died from chronic wasting disease.
Fortunately, Oklahoma’s free-ranging deer herd is not known to carry the disease. Over the past three years biologists and veterinarians have examined almost 400 deer and elk taken during Oklahoma's hunting seasons as part of the Department’s CWD monitoring program. All samples obtained from animals taken from the wild have tested negative and biologists will continue to closely monitor the deer and elk herd for signs of the disease.
Currently, detecting the disease is far from simple. The only acceptable test is a microscopic examination of an animal’s brain stem. There are no live animal tests and only a handful of laboratories and pathologists are qualified to administer the brain test.
If there is a bright side to chronic wasting disease it is that it reminds how valuable our deer are. It wasn’t that long ago that deer seemed headed down the same path as the buffalo and the passenger pigeon, over-exploited and pushed out by land-hungry settlers. Through the tireless work of biologists and sportsmen, deer have been restored to once unthinkable numbers in Oklahoma and across their native range.
A deer is a symbol of grace and it provides a succulent, nutritious meal. It is that and more, it is a wild animal that makes the woods a better place just for being there. It is as American as they come, inhabiting just about every ecotone on this continent.
To know that a disease as serious as CWD is spreading should pain everyone who has ever marveled at a deer slinking over a barbed wire fence. But it is no surprise that it was hunters who were the first to step up to the plate for the animals. In Oklahoma, a CWD monitoring program is in place thanks to funds provided through hunter’s licenses. In Wisconsin, it is hunters who have taken on the grim task of thinning out the deer herd to prevent the spread of CWD, and across the United States it is sportsmen who are carrying much of the financial burden to pay for biologists, veterinarians and pathologists to study the disease.
Is Venison Safe to Eat?
According to current research, there is no scientific evidence linking CWD to human diseases. It is recommended that hunters practice standard safety practices when handling any wild game, or any meat for that matter, as general precautionary measures.
These practices include washing your hands after handling raw meat and cooking the meat at an appropriate temperature.
"In my opinion, venison is just as safe as any other game meat," said Mike Shaw, head deer biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Even in the parts of Wyoming and Colorado where chronic wasting disease is found, less than six percent of deer are infected.
A few precautions are recommended:
1) Don't shoot an animal that is acting abnormally or looks sick.
2) Wear rubber or latex gloves when you field-dress your animal.
3) Don't eat deer brains or spinal cord.
4) Bone out your deer meat and discard the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, and lymph nodes.
Prions: New germs
In 1972 neurologist Stanley Prusiner lost a patient to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a TSE that affect humans. Prusiner was serving his residency at the University of California’s School of Medicine and was astounded by the lack of information about the rare disease.
Two years later he set up his own laboratory at the University of California-San Francisco and set out to get to the root cause of scrapie, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and other TSE’s.
He took two known facts about the disease and came up with an astounding conclusion. He knew that scrapie infected tissue showed no signs of foreign DNA. He also knew that the only disinfectant techniques that affected the scrapie "germ" were those techniques that broke down not only DNA, but also proteins. From these two facts he assumed that the scrapie "germ" was a simple protein without DNA.
The notion seemed impossible in scientific circles. Since the 1950’s scientists had been working on the basis that proteins were duplicated using a blueprint provided by DNA. Prusiner was saying that these proteinaceous infectious particles, or prions for short, could recreate themselves without ever using DNA. His theory was accepted with just about the same enthusiasm that early mapmakers shared with Columbus when he told them the earth was round.
Prusiner spent the next two decades proving his theory and his efforts were rewarded in 1997 when he won the Noble Prize for medicine. Although a few skeptics still remain, it is now generally accepted that prions play a causative role in CWD and other TSE’s.
The Worth of a Healthy Deer Herd
Wildlife agencies across the United States are scrambling to protect deer herds in their areas from the ravaging effects of CWD.
It is no wonder why. Not only are deer a beautiful natural resource and part of a rich hunting heritage, they also provide a significant economic impact. The annual pilgrimage of hunters into the woods each fall means big bucks, in more ways than one. In Oklahoma alone, 261,000 hunters, most of which are deer hunters, spent over $2.6 million on hunting expenditures according to a recent survey. While hunters are after deer, they spend money to gas their vehicles, eat meals and purchase equipment. These dollars go back into Oklahoma communities, particularly those in rural areas.
In an effort to keep Oklahoma’s deer safe from CWD, the Wildlife Conservation Commission has suspended the import of live deer and elk into the state from states that have CWD in their free-ranging deer herds. By suspending import of potentially infected animals, the Department hopes to avoid the consequences of the disease and the potential costs of controlling CWD. The detection of the disease has had immense economic impact on states such as Wisconsin where the disease was discovered last year. Within the first month after detection, the Wisconsin wildlife management agency spent approximately $250,000 in control and public information efforts and will spend upwards of $2.5 million this year as a result of CWD control efforts. The agency continues to try to control the spread of the disease and has publicly outlined plans to kill all 30,000 estimated animals in the focal area where infected animals have been found.
Wisconsin is not the only state fighting CWD. As an example, a supplemental appropriation of $300,143 has been made in Colorado to help combat the disease and more appropriations are being considered. Saskatchewan has spent approximately $30 million in attempts at eradicating the disease in infected commercially operated game farms.
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Some hunters are interested in using antler scores to help them make harvest decisions. Software created at the Mississippi State University Deer Lab allows accurate scoring of a buck’s antlers by using a game camera photo of the buck. For details about Buckscore, go online to BuckScore.com
Younger Buck• Appears to be a doe with antlers.
• Has legs that seem too long for body.
• Often lacks good definition in muscles.
• Has a slender neck and body.
• Has antlers that tend to be thin.
Mature Buck• Has legs that look proportional to the body size.
• Has a neck the same width or wider than face.
• Is proportional from front to rear of body.
• Has a belly and a back that are flat and tight.
Older Buck• Has legs that look a bit short for body size.
• Has rippled skin around neck and face.
• Might have some gray visible around muzzle.
• Has a belly that tends to sag.
• Has a neck and chest that seem to be 1 large muscle.
• Has a forehead that’s usually darker than the muzzle.
How Old are these Deer??
(PHOTO CREDIT: Gee, K. L., S. L. Webb, and J. H. Holman. 2014. Accuracy and implications of visually estimating age of male whitetailed deer using physical characteristics from photographs. Wildlife Society Bulletin 38:96–102.
ANSWER: Each one of the deer shown are the same age! They all are 3.5 years old!
Photographs of 3, wild, 3.5 year-old male white-tailed deer (of known-age status) showing variation in physical development; all deer were photographed during January in south-central Oklahoma. All deer were captured as fawns or yearlings, so age was known during later photographic recaptures by reading ear tag numbers. Photos taken at bait stations in conjunction with an infrared triggered camera survey. Supplemental feed and/or food plots were not available except during surveys.
Pokeweed easily has over a dozen different common names, from pokeberry to poke salad to just plain poke. But no matter what it is called where you live, pokeweed is an extremely valuable soft mast and late-summer forage component for white-tailed deer throughout the eastern United States and Canada. Pokeweed is also a large, native, herbaceous perennial that has a rich history in both traditional and modern medicinal uses, though it can be poisonous to people (if prepared incorrectly) and livestock.
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) thrives in deep gravelly soils with moderate moisture and is most commonly found in disturbed sites, forest openings, edge habitats and new forest plantations. It can also become a weed of landscapes, nurseries or agricultural crops. Pokeweed can grow in a wide range of soil pH conditions (4.7 to 8.0). It grows well in sun or shade, reaching heights of up to 3 to 10 feet, and can readily survive periodic fire events due to its well developed root structure. In fact, older plants have a taproot over a foot long and 4 to 6 inches thick, allowing some plants to persist after canopy closure in maturing forests. New plants dispersed on undisturbed sites, such as no-till crop fields or uncultivated areas, are capable of becoming better established as their taproots develop. Pokeweed is spread mainly by birds due to its highly sought-after fruit, and seeds can stay viable for at least 40 years.
The leaves of pokeweed are alternate, smooth, oval, and 3- to 12-inches long, typically decreasing in size towards the top of the plant. Mature plants are shrub-like in appearance, with either single or multiple red- to purple-colored branched stems, which are smooth and hollow. During winter its stems begin to decay, turning black or dark brown, and eventually tan. Seedlings emerge again in spring, and within five to nine weeks after emergence brand new seedlings can develop a taproot that is capable of re-growth (the plant becomes perennial). Pokeweed flowers appear in early to mid-summer opposite the upper leaves on 3- to 6-inch long, narrow stalks called racemes. Flowers are arranged cylindrically along the raceme, are small (¼ inch), consisting of 5 white, greenish-white or pink petal-like sepals, and several green carpels folded together in the center. The shape of the central carpel resembles a miniature pumpkin. After the flowers die, the carpel eventually develops into pokeweed fruit. When ripe, the fruit becomes dark purple to black, shiny, and contains a reddish purple juice that is capable of staining everything from clothing to surrounding vegetation. Each fruit has 10 smooth, lens-shaped, glossy black seeds.
Pokeweed roots, seeds, stems, leaves and fruit all contain some level of toxins (in descending order), which can cause gastrointestinal problems, damage to red blood cells, and even death for humans and livestock. However, many species of wildlife display some level of immunity and will readily consume the fruit and/or browse safely. In fact, pokeweed fruits have considerable ecological value to over 15 species of songbirds and its seeds are an important fall and winter diet component of the mourning dove. Dozens of insects and hummingbirds seek pokeweed nectar, and bees collect their pollen. The fruit are also a vital late summer food source to some mammals, including the raccoon, opossum, grey fox, coyote and black bear. Of course, both the fruit and foliage are highly preferred by deer because of its ease of digestibility (as low as 12 percent acid detergent fiber) and high crude protein content (up to 32 percent).
You can encourage pokeweed with seasonal disking and prescribed burning regimes. In most cases, pokeweed is not a bad plant to see in your food plots because of its value to deer, but in high densities it can be very competitive to row crops. Since it is a perennial, a single herbicide application will only initially set pokeweed back in established populations. Effective management must include both mechanical and chemical means. Tillage will control seedlings after five to six weeks of emergence; however, when plant size and ages vary, a direct application of herbicide may be needed with tillage.
Did you know? Every issue of QDMA's Quality Whitetails magazine contains profiles of two naturally occurring plant species that are important to deer and other wildlife, helping you learn to identify and encourage quality forage and cover for whitetails. This article is reprinted from a previous issue. To recieve every issue of our magazine, become a QDMA member today!
Ever wonder which oak trees produce the most acorns where you hunt? Well, the key to improving acorn production in your oak stands is first and foremost identifying the best producers. Unfortunately, not all large, healthy-looking oaks produce impressive crops of mast on a consistent schedule. In this article, I’ll explain a visual survey technique that is simple to conduct and effective at identifying good acorn producers. Once identified, you can encourage the best, most consistent acorn producers in the stand to become outstanding producers with a few timber-management techniques.
Identifying Oaks with Superior Acorn
In this survey, you will calculate the average number of acorns produced by each tree by literally counting the number of acorns within 24 inches of the tips of a few healthy branches. You then rank acorn production as either: excellent, good, fair or poor (see the table). Trees ranked as excellent or good producers are marked as the best producers in the stand for the year of the survey. The survey is conducted once each year and should be conducted for three years (not necessarily consecutive) prior to any timber harvest that ultimately will thin the oak stand. A three-year survey is best because it enables you to identify between 85 and 100 percent of the best acorn producers in your stand. If you can’t devote the time to a three-year survey, a one- or two-year survey is better than nothing. However, surveys conducted for less than three years can miss one quarter to one half of the excellent producers in the stand. Remember, the best producers may not produce acorns every year nor may they be the best producers every year they produce a crop. Thus the need for a three-year survey.
Conducting the Survey
The best time to conduct the survey is between August 10 and September 5. During this time, acorns are developed enough to been seen from the ground, and acorn predators (birds, insects, etc.) won’t have eaten your entire crop. Surveys don’t need to be conducted in consecutive years, but at least one survey should occur during an abundant crop year. An abundant crop year is one where nearly all trees produce at least some acorns and most trees have clusters of acorns distributed throughout their crowns. Ideally, the survey should be conducted by the same person(s) each year to allow for a consistent survey between years.
To conduct the survey, all you will need is the ranking procedure, a good pair of binoculars and a way to mark your trees. I’ve found that a bright-colored spray paint, found in any hardware store, is a cheap, convenient way for temporarily marking trees. The paint is quick to use, easy to see, it can’t break like plastic flagging, and it won’t damage your trees. Also, paint usually fades from view within three years, so it will last long enough for your survey but won’t be permanent.
Start your survey at the first oak you come to in the stand. Identify if it is in the white oak or red oak family. Next, look at the top third of the tree and use your binoculars to estimate the average number of acorns growing within 24 inches of each branch tip. In the white oak family (see photos in Gallery below), mature acorns are located near the tips of the current year’s growth, so white oak acorns are best viewed from a location where you can see the outside edges of the tree crown. In the red oak family mature acorns are located on last year’s growth and appear to be clustered tightly against the twigs, so they are best viewed from directly below the tree crown.
Next, use the ranking procedure mentioned earlier to determine if acorn production for that tree is excellent, good, fair or poor. If you determine it is excellent or good, mark the tree with the spray paint. If it is fair or poor, the tree remains unmarked. Move on to the next tree, and continue the survey. Once you get going, the process of counting acorns and marking trees will take about 45 to 60 seconds per tree.
When you mark an excellent or good tree, I suggest using a dot of paint placed about chest high on the tree. I mark each tree with a total of four dots, one dot on each “side” of the tree. This allows me to see marked trees regardless of the angle I approach them. I make the paint dots just large enough to see from a distance. To help keep track of which trees you have surveyed in the stand, you can place a small dot of paint near ground level on fair- and poor-quality trees; any tree without marks at chest height is a candidate for removal from the stand.
Conduct the survey the exact same way each year, ranking acorn production of all oaks in the stand and marking excellent and good producers for that year. Use a different color paint for each year of the survey to keep track of which trees were consistent producers and which year each tree produced a good acorn crop. For example, over a three year survey the trees that have three marks in your oak stand should be your best, most consistent producers.
Once you have identified the best acorn producers in the stand, it is time to conduct a timber harvest to improve acorn production. The efforts you have taken with your acorn survey, combined with the appropriate timber management steps, will encourage consistent, abundant acorn crops from your oak stands. I'll follow up with a second article offering guidance on timber thinning to improve acorn production, but in the meantime you can get busy with your acorn survey.
The information for this article was originally published in QDMA's Quality Whitetails magazine, authored by Matthew Tarr – University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Wildlife Specialist – and is shared here as a sample of the information QDMA members receive. To start receiving Quality Whitetails, join QDMA today.
The reaper is coming to my family’s farm in Southeast Georgia, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a tree reaper, also known as a feller-buncher. It will be joined by skidders, loaders, log trucks and men with chainsaws. In a Disney movie, this event would be depicted like an invasion of evil, destructive aliens bent on annihilating the talking animals of Earth. But in the real world, this invasion is going to do fantastically good things for whitetails and other wildlife at Grace Acres.
The truth is, we’re overdue for a visit from the reaper. A total of 70 acres of our 500-acre farm feature loblolly pines planted in rows (known as “planted pines” in the South), most of it planted more than 15 years ago. And what is this acreage producing for wildlife right now?
When a clearcut or opening is first planted in pines for timber production, quality deer habitat is the result – for a few years. Unless herbicides are used to prevent them, early successional plants will produce dense cover and forage among the young pine seedlings. Then the pine trees meet, darkening the ground, and soon nothing is being produced in this stand except pine straw and shade. In this stage between planting and timber harvest, many landowners turn the pine straw into cash, but if your goal is producing high-quality wildlife habitat, dense mature pine plantations are mostly wildlife voids. They are empty zones that deer and turkeys sometimes pass through but do not use (see the photo above, taken at our farm, to see what I’m talking about).
For a long time, these stands on our farm have been unproductive for wildlife. The solution was to thin them, but timber prices have been flat or declining for several years (See the five-year trend in sawtimber, chip-n-saw and pulpwood prices, provided by Timber Mart South). Many of our planted loblolly pines are now big enough to bring chip-n-saw prices (about 10 to 13 inches in diameter) instead of pulpwood prices (6 to 9 inches). But still we waited, hoping prices would rise.
Luckily, while we waited, early successional cover and forage were not in short supply on the farm. In 2001 and 2002, my dad converted 140 acres of former agricultural fields to longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) under the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Longleaf Pine Initiative cost-share program. Longleaf, the once-dominant native pine of the southeastern Coastal Plain, is a completely different beast from loblolly when it comes to habitat management. Longleaf thrives under early and regular prescribed fire; loblolly – not so much. You can burn longleaf as early as two years after planting. Plus longleaf needles and canopies are less dense than loblolly and admit far more sunlight. In short, planting longleaf pine was like establishing 140 acres of “old field” habitat – and that is still true 10 years after the trees were planted. Nevertheless, whenever I looked at those dark, empty expanses of pine straw in the loblolly plantations, I couldn’t help but itch to crank a chainsaw. When you’re trying to produce quality wildlife habitat and great deer hunting, it galls to watch 70 acres of land sit unproductive for wildlife.
This year, Dad saw an opportunity – a slight bump in pulpwood and chip-n-saw prices. Still not as good as before 2008, but you have to consider that we are also losing timber value by waiting. The sooner these trees are thinned, the sooner the remaining trees will pick up their growth rates again, reaching sawtimber size (and value) sooner.
So, here’s the plan, worked out between my brother Rans (who is a wildlife biologist), my dad, me, and a licensed forester.
First, we’ll put a “fifth-row thinning” on 50 acres of planted loblolly pines, meaning every fifth row is taken by the loggers – 20 percent of the stand. This will dramatically restore sunlight to the floor of the stand, resulting in renewed early successional plant growth in the cut rows, as well as in the uncut rows. It will also leave plenty of choices for quality trees we can harvest in a second thinning-cut some years from now. Another 20 acres of older loblolly pines will be marked by hand for a shelterwood cut.
Second, there are three areas on the farm where loblolly pines grew up or were planted along old fencerows or ditches that are now within the stands of longleaf. We’ll cut those loblollys out completely. This will leave linear openings about 20 yards wide, and one of these is more than 300 yards yards long. We plan to establish these new openings in “old field” habitat of native grasses and forbs for bedding cover, though this will likely require killing bahia grass first – a non-native invasive pasture grass that lurks in most of the roads and small openings.
Third, we are removing mature loblollys and pond pine (Pinus serotina) that are mixed with mature longleaf and American turkey oaks (Quercus laevis) in a 30-acre stand. This renovation cut will restore the stand to pure, native longleaf pines and create an open longleaf and oak “savanna,” the type of upland habitat that once dominated the Coastal Plain and that is excellent for quail and a number of threatened non-game species, like indigo snakes and gopher tortoises. After this cut, we’ll be able to maintain the early successional savanna with fire.
Fourth, we are making six strategic, 1-acre clearcuts along the border between the high ground and the hardwood bottomland that dominates half the farm. We are getting cost-share assistance to perform these cuts under the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The practice is designated “PLT17 – Creating forest openings to improve hardwood stands.” Pines and low-quality mature hardwoods will be removed in these 1-acre clearcuts, allowing hardwood regeneration. We’ll direct this regeneration by planting preferred species like swamp chestnut oak in the openings and controlling undesirable species, including any invasives like Chinese privet or Chinaberry that appear. Of course, while hardwoods are regenerating in these clearcuts, these areas will offer additional bedding cover and forage.
I can’t wait to watch the results of these timber harvests unfold. I expect we’ll see an immediate response from turkeys, especially next spring. Turkeys love to feed and bug in the earliest stages of vegetation recovery after a timber thinning. By next summer, this cover will be producing quality deer forage and fawn bedding cover. And by next hunting season, these changes will have created new deer travel patterns and hunting opportunities. Stay tuned to QDMA.com, because I’ll report more on this project as it develops.
So, don’t fear the reaper! From small-scale jobs involving you and your chainsaw to big jobs involving skidders and log trucks, cutting trees can be a very good thing for deer habitat. Take a tip from us and always use the services of a licensed forester to represent and guide you through a timber sale, and also visit your nearest NRCS office to learn about potential cost-share programs that might actually pay you to improve deer habitat.
Looking for something to do outdoors this spring? Gotta shed some unwanted pounds put on overwinter? Or better yet, want to satisfy both and get a better handle on what’s happening with your deer population? Consider a browse impact survey.
A browse impact survey involves walking along evenly spaced lines or “transects” through your hunting land and stopping at intervals to evaluate the browse pressure on select deer forage species. This survey method is an additional tool to estimate overwintering deer densities and gives you an annual measurement of deer impact upon available browse. Basically, you are looking for indications that forage and browse (at different preference levels) are in short supply relative to deer density, like the severely "hedged" plant in the photo above. Even worse, that plant is beech, which is generally not a preferred deer forage - symbolizing in this instance something to the effect of "Houston, we have a problem!"
How are the results used by the pros? Typically, organizations, hunt clubs and landowners use habitat impact survey results to help them understand the present condition and relationship between the deer herd and its habitat. Understanding the make-up of your deer herd and its impact on the habitat is actually an essential component of any QDM program.
The results of browse impact surveys can help deer hunters determine if the deer population needs to be reduced, or habitat quality increased, based upon the ability of the forest to produce deer forage and browse as well as trees to replace those that will eventually die or be harvested. Next, managers can keep tabs on the quality and relative quantity of browse as its availability changes from year to year. Finally, managers can determine if regeneration of tree species is of sufficient quantity and of the desirable species to conduct timber harvests.
To find out how to conduct a browse impact survey, check out our Free Downloads page for a how-to guide to this useful habitat monitoring method.
Start talking about planting trees for wildlife and the first question asked is bound to be: “Which tree species is best for me to plant?” Many people are hoping to hear there is one almighty tree species that can turn their hunting land into Whitetail Nirvana, and the truth always disappoints those folks. My advice is to “Plant what you don’t have.” Considering the major groups – soft mast, hard mast in the white oak family, and hard mast in the red oak family – find out which ones are well represented where you hunt, and don’t plant those. Instead, plant the locally adapted species and varieties that should be there, but aren’t.
Many hunters overlook the importance of ensuring tree-species diversity, especially among oaks. If it produces a big acorn or heavy fruit that pulls deer in during hunting season, it gets attention – as do many species in the “white oak family.” If it produces a small acorn that doesn’t seem to attract much during hunting season, it gets noticed like a Trekkie seeking a date for the prom. A lot of species in the “red oak family” end up in this group.
Before we proceed, let me define the two groups a little more clearly.
Acorns in the white oak family mature (from flower to falling off the tree) in only 6 months, and a few well-known examples of this family include white, swamp white, overcup, bur, swamp chestnut, chestnut, chinkapin, live and post oak.
Acorns in the red oak family mature in 18 months (there can be two age-classes of acorns on the tree at once, including those from the current year’s flowers and those from last year’s flowers). Well known examples include northern and southern red, water, willow, laurel, cherrybark (seen in the photo above), pin, shumard, scarlet, bear, shingle, bluejack, turkey, blackjack and nuttall oak.
Acorns from trees in the red oak family generally have higher tannic acid content than white oaks, making them more bitter. This is why, given a choice between the two, deer will eat the white oak acorns first and turn to red oaks only when the others are gone. But it also helps explain another fact: Red oak acorns remain viable, and edible, far longer on the ground than white oak acorns. In fact, long after white oak acorns are gone or rotted, long after hunters have put their camo back in the closet and settled by the fireplace, long after fall food plots have stopped growing and corn fields have been looted, deer may still be feeding on red oak acorns if any were produced that year.
This is why you encourage a diversity of tree species: To cover as much of the calendar as you can with deer food. Though you don’t hunt deer every month of the year, supplying deer nutrition every month of the year helps you maximize enjoyment of the hunting months.
The best illustration I ever saw of this was a story from David Moreland, a wildlife biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife, now retired. On June 3, 2004, David was called out to investigate the mysterious deaths of two deer. One was a mature doe and the other was a buck about one year of age, and they were lying 6 feet apart. Here’s what the scene looked like:
David considered the evidence, including a thunderstorm the night before, a freshly lightning-struck water oak tree nearby, and streaks of scorched hair on both deer. Clearly, the deer had been killed by lightning while standing beneath the water oak.
Just to be sure no other factors were involved, David performed a full necropsy on both deer, including a look at their stomach contents. Both deer were full of water oak acorns – in June! Here’s a photo of the sorted stomach contents of one of the deer, showing just how many acorns were found:
Water oak is a common member of the red oak family, but it is rarely noted as a great deer-hunting tree, except in years when more attractive acorns experience crop failures. Yet, in its native range this low-key tree is doing good things for deer, especially when it is filling nutrition gaps that other trees, forages or food plots don’t fill.
Months after they fall from the tree, acorns in the red oak family may still be available, and deer will seek them when other foods become scarce. Don’t overlook this group when deciding what trees to plant on your hunting land. If native members of the red oak family are scarce where you hunt, plant them.
The term "rut" is often used to describe a boring, monotonous routine or a trench worn in the ground by a wheel. However, if you hang around much in white-tailed deer hunting circles, chances are that it means something completely different. Many people use the term rut only in reference to the peak of the breeding season, but it really applies to a much more extended period of time. The rut refers to all behaviors and activities associated with the breeding season.
There are several behaviors associated with the rut. Rutting behavior typically begins around the time that velvet is shed from the antlers (coinciding with decreasing day length and increasing testosterone levels) and ends when antlers are shed (coinciding with declining testosterone levels). The first sign of rutting behavior is often sparring among bucks. Sparring may take place between bucks of equal stature or between a dominant and subordinate buck. Initially, these are usually short-lived, low intensity, pushing and shoving matches. These sparring matches may help establish the dominance hierarchy among males. As the peak of the breeding season approaches, sparring matches may give way to full-blown antler fights. These generally take place between bucks of similar hierarchal status.
Two other behaviors associated with the rut are "rubbing" and "making scrapes." Both serve as scent signposts for olfactory and, perhaps, visual communication. A lot of rubbing behavior takes place shortly after velvet is dried and/or shed, but continues throughout the rutting period. A rub is initially made by a buck rubbing his antlers and forehead (for scent deposition) on a shrub or small tree. Once created, a rub may be used by several bucks or does. Generally, bucks begin "making scrapes" several weeks after the first rubs appear. This activity increases as the breeding season peaks and then declines throughout the remainder of the rutting period. A scrape is made by a buck pawing a spot of ground, usually to bare soil, and rub-urinating in that soil. A scrape is often associated with a low, overhanging branch which is often broken by the buck biting and/or pulling on the branch. Scent from the forehead, preorbital gland or mouth is often deposited on the broken branch. Much rubbing and scraping behavior is nocturnal.
In our service area in Oklahoma and Texas, the peak of the rut is generally in mid-late November. A common belief is that cooler weather is responsible for the increased rutting activity at this time; however, photoperiod is the primary contributor. During this two to three week period, most does come into estrous for the first time of the season. Does are receptive for around 24 hours. If they are not bred during this time frame, they generally recycle in three to four weeks. A doe will recycle several times; however, failure to conceive during the first or second estrous period may indicate an improper buck to doe ratio. As the peak of the rut approaches, there is an increase in bucks chasing does (usually before she is receptive) and bucks tending does (usually during a doe's receptive period). These activities are often witnessed by hunters and are often what hunters are speaking about when they talk about the rut. Most antler fights occur during this period as well; however, most male encounters are settled without physical altercation. Frequency of antler fights declines after the peak of the rut.
By Ken Gee, Samuel Roberts Noble
Antlers. For some folks-they are the stuff that dreams are made of. To many hunters, harvesting a large antlered buck represents the ultimate accomplishment. However, many people hunt their entire lives without getting the opportunity to realize this goal. Why is this so? To answer this question, let's look at what it takes for a deer to grow a set of large antlers.
Three things contribute to antler size – nutrition, genetics, and age. Nutrition is certainly a key ingredient. Adequate year-round nutrition is necessary for a deer to reach its antler producing potential. Spring and summer nutrition are especially important because most antler development actually takes place April-September. Poor forage conditions during this period can take its toll on antler growth. Sound habitat management and deer population management can facilitate good nutritional conditions. Another piece of the antler size puzzle is "genetics." It has been demonstrated that antler size is a heritable trait. The degree to which this information can be used in a deer management program is largely case specific. It is my opinion that very few deer management programs are at a point where "culling" inferior antlered deer is beneficial – or in fact, possible.
To be able to manipulate the gene pool in a deer herd, one would have to define "inferior deer" (experts are still not in total agreement on this term), be able to identify an inferior deer in the field (a difficult task at best), and be able to remove "inferior" animals from the herd in sufficient numbers so as to impart a change on the gene flow in the herd. These requirements make true genetic manipulations on free-ranging deer herds very difficult.
The third piece of the puzzle is "age". In our area, this is probably the most limiting factor relative to antler size. Most bucks harvested in Oklahoma are less than 2.5 years of age. The same is true in many parts of Texas. Research on penned deer has shown that maximum antler size is attained anywhere from 4.5 to 6.5 years of age. That is a far cry from 2.5 years of age. An additional 1-2 years of age can make a tremendous difference in antler size. The obvious way to address the age factor is to allow younger age class bucks to reach the older age classes.
In other words, let the young bucks walk and harvest only the more mature bucks. Take up the venison slack by harvesting some does. If you are worried about the neighbors getting the bucks you pass up, try to persuade them to adopt similar guidelines. The bottom line is – even if you have the best deer food available and good antler related genetics – a 2.5 year old buck is still going to have suboptimal antlers.
ByWill Moseley, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation
When summer turns to fall, many folks start to think about white-tailed deer hunting season. With the 2011 drought in the Southern Great Plains, many people are curious to know if conditions have affected deer populations and if there is anything to be done to mitigate potential effects.
The drought has caused at least some negative effects on forage quality and quantity. Deer rely heavily on forage such as forbs during summer and spring to meet nutritional demands associated with lactation and antler growth. If nutritional needs are not met, fawn survival is jeopardized and antler growth may be compromised for body maintenance. Reduced fawn survival can cause short-term reductions in overall deer population numbers because there are fewer fawns to replace adult deer mortalities. The lack of nutrition could also result in more spikes this year. Yearling bucks that are spikes in a drought year could end up becoming trophy bucks if they are able to meet their nutritional needs in successive years. Increased fawn mortality and reduced antler quality may be more prevalent in areas that did not receive rains early in the growing season. Timely rains early in the growing season probably created conditions where deer were able to meet or exceed their nutritional needs.
If the drought continues into this fall and winter, doe body condition could be poor enough during winter and spring that some does may not carry fawns to full term, potentially reducing the fawn crop in 2012. Similarly, bucks could be in poor enough condition going into spring that antler quality is compromised next year because it will take them longer to recover from the effects of the rut and because of reduced forage due to drought.
If vegetation was significantly reduced during late summer or early fall due to drought, August/September spotlight, camera and/or daylight cruise surveys may have reflected higher deer densities compared to previous years. Most likely, this is not because deer densities increased; rather, there was better visibility during surveys or better response to bait during camera surveys than in past years. Survey results can be deceiving, so remember that surveys are only estimates.
As managers, we can have an impact on white-tailed deer populations through selective harvest. If necessary, adjust deer harvest depending on management goals and the condition of the deer herd. So what should we consider regarding buck and doe harvest during the upcoming deer season?
Buck Harvest Bucks have higher natural mortality rates than does, which is one reason why most knowledgable managers try to harvest fewer bucks than does on a yearly basis. If managing for trophy-quality antlers, buck harvest should be conservative and only bucks with desirable antler size or configuration should be harvested.
Doe Harvest If the goal of a manager is to reduce the overall number of deer in the herd or to balance buck-to-doe ratios, he or she should capitalize on the opportunity that the drought created to have more impact this year and aggressively harvest does. This might be a year when a manager can really have a significant impact on the overall population through doe harvest. However, if deer densities and buck-to-doe ratios are suitable, consider reducing doe harvest during at least the upcoming season to reduce the risk of adversely changing population parameters.
Deer populations have endured drought in the past, and they will survive this one. However, managers should remember that white-tailed deer will endure drought better on properties with good to excellent deer habitat than on properties with lower quality habitat.
ByRussell Stevens, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation
While fraternizing within deer hunting circles, have you ever heard the saying, If you shoot does, you kill the factory? If so, you can bet the person who says that doesn't know much about deer population management. The next time you hear people make that statement, ask them if they know the deer population density, fawn crop, and buck : doe ratio on their property. Also, you may find their response interesting if you ask them how much time they think it would take to harvest a doe with a bow, black-powder rifle, or modern rifle.
In southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, it would be unusual for shooting does to kill the factory. If a doe is shot, she sure won't be producing any more fawns, but the deer population as a whole responds differently. The only way to monitor this response is to collect data on estimated deer numbers, buck : doe ratios, and fawn crop, which is also called production. Over time, this information can be used to look at deer-herd trends that help determine the effects of doe harvest.
The table depicts deer population information collected on the Walnut Bayou Deer Management Association (WBDMA) property.
The WBDMA is in Love County, Oklahoma, and one of its goals is to balance deer numbers with habitat quality by increasing doe harvest. Deer numbers on the WBDMA exceed the number desired to improve deer quality, i.e., body weight and antler growth. Doe harvest increased since 1996, yet estimated doe numbers also increased from 1996 to 1999, dropping only slightly in 2000 (figure 1).
It's unclear whether the slight decline in doe numbers is due to harvest pressure, imprecision of the spotlight survey technique, recent drought and its relation to habitat conditions, or other variables. The WBDMA includes 12,500 acres, so the 2000 doe harvest represents one doe for every 147 acres. Future harvest and population data will help us determine an adequate doe harvest quota, but it may take a harvest of one doe for every 100 acres, or 125 does, for deer numbers to begin to decline.
Such a harvest is a substantial undertaking, considering the amount of effort involved in harvesting a doe. Most deer hunters think it's easy, which may be true if they harvest only one doe every year, but what if they are trying to achieve a doe harvest quota? Information collected from hunters willing to shoot a doe at every legal opportunity on the Coffey Ranch was analyzed to assess the effort involved in harvesting does. Keep in mind that these data are a good estimate of how much time it takes to harvest a doe but do not include all of the time involved with field dressing and processing. On average it took 49 hunts to harvest a doe by using a bow, 15 by using a black-powder rifle, and 8 by using a rifle (figures 2, 3, and 4).
Hunts averaged about three hours each. Another way of looking at it would be that doe harvesting takes, on average, 147 hours with archery equipment, 45 hours with black-powder equipment, and 24 hours with a modern rifle. Also note that in general, as doe numbers increased, harvest efficiency increased, and vice versa.
Let's apply these numbers to the WBDMA's goal of harvesting 125 does. It would take an average of 6,125 hunts, 74 hunts per day, or one hunter on every 169 acres each day of Oklahoma's 83-day archery season to harvest 125 does. It would take about 1,875 hunts, 208 hunts per day, or one hunter on every 60 acres each day of our 9-day black-powder season. And because our enrollment in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Deer Management Assistance Program allows 16 days of antlerless rifle harvest opportunity, it would take about 1,000 hunts, 63 hunts per day, or one hunter on every 198 acres each day.
Considering current deer population levels, hunting season structure, and the amount of effort it takes to harvest a doe, legally harvesting enough does to kill the factory would be difficult even for serious deer managers.
A detailed report about the Walnut Bayou Deer Management Association is available onwww.noble.org) or by mail from our publications distribution department.
By Grant Huggins, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation
Many deer managers have goals for their deer herd that require an increased harvest of does. The Noble Foundation's wildlife specialists have used various methods to increase doe harvest on Foundation properties, and have communicated with other managers concerning the methods they use.
The following are some ideas you might incorporate into your operation:
Hunter Education No other approach yields as many benefits as an educated group of hunters. Hunters who understand deer management, the goals for the ranch, and the fact that doe harvest is in their own best interest, are invaluable. Time spent educating hunters is a great investment. Create educational opportunities for your hunters — show videos, distribute good publications, invite a wildlife professional or other successful deer manager to a meeting, or attend an educational meeting with your hunters.
Conservative Buck Limits Hunters who cannot fulfill their desired level of venison harvest from bucks naturally shift that harvest to does.
Doe(s)-First Rule Require hunters to harvest a doe or does, either within a year or within an individual season (archery, primitive or rifle), before they are allowed to harvest a buck.
Doe Quota Require hunters to harvest a minimum number of does from the management unit.
Harvest Ratio Require hunters to harvest does as a multiple of the number of bucks they harvest. For instance, for every buck harvested, three does must be harvested.
Fee Rebate Where deer hunting privileges are leased, charge a relatively high price up front, with the opportunity for hunters to earn a rebate of a portion of the lease fee with a certain level of doe harvest.
Special Group Hunts Find ways to allow access to the property for additional doe hunters. Youth groups, women's groups, physically-challenged groups or others can sometimes fit with existing hunter groups during specific time periods. However, such hunts tend to be relatively inefficient in harvesting does, although they can be good public-relations events.
ByMichael Porter, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation
All venison is not equal. Venison can be consistently excellent table fare, or, with poor handling and preparation, can be about the quality of a boot sole. Many people who do not like to eat venison had bad experiences with improperly handled or prepared meat. Many factors affect the quality of venison, including deer species, deer age, stress prior to harvest, field dressing, contamination of meat, cold storage temperature, excessive moisture during storage, aging of carcass, butchering and packaging.
To keep things simple, these comments focus on the meat of wild, free-ranging white-tailed deer and mule deer. Some of these details would be different for large deer species such as moose, elk and caribou or non-native deer such as fallow, axis and red deer.
Meat from mature bucks more than four years old that are harvested during rut sometimes can have a little off-flavor and be a little tougher than female deer and young bucks. Nevertheless, mature bucks are usually very edible when handled, aged and butchered properly. Genetics most likely impact tenderness of venison, because I have encountered some old does that were more tender than some young does. However, I do not know how a hunter can recognize a deer with the genetics for tenderness.
A clean, quick kill of an undisturbed deer probably provides the best-quality venison. Meat quality usually declines in animals that are stressed or run extensively immediately before death. A deer should be eviscerated (field dressed) immediately after death, but this can be postponed up to a couple hours during mild weather and even longer during cold weather. The combination of evisceration and the bullet or arrow wound usually adequately bleed a deer—there is no need to cut a dead deer’s throat. Also, contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to remove the metatarsal glands because they do not affect the meat after death. However, avoid rubbing the glands on the meat and avoid handling the glands and then handling the meat without washing well.
Soon after evisceration, the carcass or quartered meat should be cooled and stored at 34-38 degrees Fahrenheit. The carcass is easiest to skin soon postmortem, but skinning can be postponed for a few days as long as the carcass is quickly and thoroughly cooled. Tenderness is generally improved when the carcass or quartered meat is aged at least a week at 34 to 38 F with good air circulation around any exposed meat. Air circulation around exposed meat causes its surface to dry—the dry layer should be trimmed off during butchering. Tenderness continues to improve during the cold storage aging process until about 16 to 21 days. The meat that will be ground and the tenderloins do not need to be aged. Freezing should be avoided during the aging process because it inhibits aging and speeds spoilage after thawing. However, meat does not go bad when it freezes during the aging process. The meat should be kept clean and dry throughout field dressing, cold storage and aging processes. Soiling and excessive moisture increase the likelihood of spoilage.
After the aging process, fat, cartilage, bruised meat, dried outer meat and non-muscle material should be removed from the muscles using a sharp filet or boning knife while working on a clean, cool cutting surface. I believe fat is the most common source of off-flavor in venison. Several chemicals that cause off-flavor are stored in fat. Venison fat usually leaves an aftertaste or residue in the mouth and is less palatable than beef, pork or chicken fat. Cartilage, such as tendons, ligaments and fascia, are responsible for much of the toughness in meat.
For most of my venison recipes, I prefer to separate each muscle and cut slices or chunks across the grain of the muscle. The muscles from the tenderloins, back straps and hindquarters are the best choices for frying, grilling and roasting (these muscles are ranked in order of decreasing tenderness, but all are good quality). These muscles, as well as the neck, shoulder and flank muscles, can be used in other recipes such as stews, fajitas, chilies, smoked meats, sausages and hamburgers. Some recipes that work well with beef or pork may not work well with white-tailed or mule deer because these deer meats tend to be “dry,” lacking intramuscular marbling. Avoid undercooking and overcooking venison when frying, grilling, roasting, smoking or microwaving, because undercooked venison might provide a health risk, and overcooked venison becomes tough and dry.
Unless cooking the meat fresh, it should be quickly frozen after butchering. Meal-sized quantities of meat should be placed into plastic bags. Most of the air should be removed from the plastic bags before sealing. When the meat will be stored in the freezer for more than a few days, the plastic bags should be wrapped in freezer paper; the freezer paper should be sealed with tape; and the packages should be labeled appropriately. Meat prepared and stored in this manner maintains good quality for more than a year. Vacuum-sealed bags probably improve the storage process, and vacuum-sealed bags may not require a second layer of freezer paper.
If these comments cause you to treat your deer meat differently, you will probably enjoy your venison meals more.
By J. Wayne Fears, Whitetails Unlimited
Managing Old Apple Trees
Many of the better hunting properties available today were once farms. Often the area around an old farmstead becomes overgrown and almost jungle-like, and the fields and old pastures are in planted pine or CRP grass. Unless the old farmhouse is good enough for a camp, the farmstead is often ignored, sometimes for years, until the landowner wants to spend the money to have the area cleaned up and planted with something that produces cash.
Old, overgrown farmsteads can be a paradise for mature bucks. First, if the land is grown up in weeds and brush, with old dilapidated buildings around, it offers a lot of cover and is often a favorite whitetail bedding area. This is especially true if the area is ignored by humans. Second, if there was a smokehouse or outdoor toilet at the farm, chances are good there is a saltlick at that site. Third, and perhaps most important, many of these old farms had an orchard that contained a few apples tree, some of which may be wild.
|Apples grow on new wood, so the goal in restoring old apple trees is to manage and prune for new growth.||
Wild apple trees usually become established in
clearings or on the edge of fields. Most of the time
these old apple trees are still alive and may be
bearing a little fruit each year. If so, they can be
improved to produce more fruit; if they are not bearing
fruit, with a little work they can be brought into
production. Do this and you have a food plot smack in
the middle of a prime buck area.
Here is a five-step process to manage abandoned apple, pear, or crabapple trees to bring them back into production for deer food. This is not a project for the impatient, as it takes about four years to bring an old apple tree back into full production.
Step One: Tree Selection
Examine each of the apple trees wherever they are – around the old farmstead or growing wild.
• Is the trunk of the tree sound with no major holes or a rotted center?
• Does the tree appear to be healthy with minimal limb dieback or signs of disease?
• Does the tree have a history of producing fruit?
You may find apple trees in other parts of the old yard, as they were often grown in several areas of a farmstead. Select and mark with surveyors’ tape the healthiest trees. Remember, apples require cross-pollination to bear fruit, so there must be an apple tree of another variety nearby. Also, they will cross-pollinate with a crabapple. Leave as many apple trees as you can for this reason.
Step Two: Clear the Area
To manage an old apple tree you will need the following tools:
|• Lightweight chain saw||• Pruning shears|
|• Tree pruning saw with 10-foot handle||• Ladder|
|• Eye protection||• Gloves|
Apple trees require lots of direct sunlight to produce fruit and they don’t do well when there is a lot of competition from shrubs and trees growing under and near the tree. Using a chain saw, remove all shrubs and trees that are growing next to, under, or over-shadowing the apple trees. The more open the apple tree, the better it will do.
This old non-productive apple tree was discovered growing in a farm fence row. With some care, it was turned into a deer magnet within three years.
Step Three: Pruning and Fertilizing, Year
Apples are produced on young fruiting wood, and old unmanaged trees have lots of limbs and branches that are not fruit producers. Pruning will be necessary to reduce the amount of old wood, encourage the growth of new wood, and get sunlight into the tree. It’s well worth the effort, since apple trees that have been managed for four or five years will produce three to four times the fruit of an unmanaged tree.
Always plan on doing your annual pruning in the early spring, after the last frost but before the tree blooms. Most county Cooperative Extension Service offices (county agent) have on hand illustrated instructions that will show you exactly how to prune apple, pear, and crabapple trees. It’s free and will be a big help when you discover that overlooked fruit tree where you hunt.
Start your pruning by removing all the dead and diseased branches and limbs from the tree. Using a pruning saw and/or pruning shears, cut the dead limbs as close to the living tissue as possible. All diseased and insect-infested wood should be burned to prevent reinfestation.
Next, in the tree’s canopy, remove no more than one-third of the limbs to reduce the tree’s height and to let more sunlight into the tree. Prune more heavily in the upper part of the tree than the lower. This way, sunlight will spread more evenly throughout the tree, helping to maintain the productivity of the lower limbs.
Fertilize the tree with three pounds of 6-24-24 fertilizer in a band spread around the drip line. It is important that you do this each year.
Step Four: Annual Pruning, Year Two
|A rejuvenated apple tree that produces a lot of fruit annually, attracting a lot of deer.|
In the second year, inspect your pruning and
remove most of the large, vigorous new shoots that have
arisen at the top of the tree. Just leave a few minor
shoots that do not create much shade. If you see new
shoots developing lower down in the tree, especially
off the main trunk, leave them alone; you are trying to
get the tree to start producing new fruit wood in the
lower canopy. During the second dormant pruning period,
you should decide on the desired final height for the
tree. You probably won’t be able to reduce the
height more than another two feet from the previous
year without hurting your tree and yield potential.
Continue to thin out shoots in the upper half of the
tree, trying to space the main limbs and distribute the
new fruiting wood uniformly. Limbs around the outside
of the tree should be shortened to allow better light
exposure to the lowest new limbs. Help train new shoots
off the trunk to go outward, not straight
Open up thick clusters of small branches by pruning out those that are rubbing against one another, growing into one another, or have died. Never remove more than one-third of the live growth of the tree. And remember to fertilize the soil.
Step Five: Annual Pruning, Year Three
During the third year, return to the top of your tree and remove about half of the new shoots that have once again arisen near your heaviest pruning cuts. Remove the most vigorous shoots first. When the third dormant period comes, continue to shape your tree by shortening the outer branches by a foot or two. Spread the new fruiting wood evenly over the entire tree from the lowest limbs to the upper limbs. Your tree should now allow very good light and air penetration to all the limbs. Due to the work you’ve done, all areas of your tree should now be easily accessible from your ladder for thinning.
By J. Wayne Fears, Whitetails Unlimited
“I don’t own a tractor and farm
equipment; are there any plants in the woods I can
manage to improve the natural habitat and attract more
deer to my property?”
This is a question I am getting regularly from the readers of this column, and at deer management seminars in which I participate as a speaker. The answer is yes – there are several plants naturally growing in the woods and on idle farmland that can be managed to be very beneficial and attractive to deer.
Foremost, honeysuckle may be the food plot you already have on your property or hunting club and not even know it.
Usually, when you read about a food plot crop, you read about all the wonderful values of the plant or plant mix. Catch words such as nutritious, high protein, and drought hardy are often used to describe the plant. However, when you mention Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, the first thing you hear is exotic, pest, weed, invasive, snake cover, and so on. It is an exotic plant, but in the right place and with correct management, it can provide all the good things other crops that are planted for wildlife can deliver.
As the name implies, Japanese honeysuckle is not a plant native to North America and comes from Asia. It is known by many names throughout the country – honeysuckle, southern honeysuckle, white honeysuckle, Chinese honeysuckle, and common honeysuckle. This fast-growing plant is found in the wild from southern New England west; south of the Great Lakes to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas; and south to the Gulf Coast. It is also found in the Pacific Northwest. The range of this hardy plant is constantly spreading.
Search for wild patches of honeysuckle in the spring when it is blooming. The blossoms make it easy to find.
Its small leaves are oval with smooth margins and short petioles, or stems. Its flowers, occurring from late May until August or later, are white and yellow with an unforgettable sweet fragrance. The perennial woody evergreen vine grows well in shade or direct sunlight. It is an aggressive, hardy plant that can withstand drought and cold weather. When growing in your landscaping, along the chicken house or on fences, it can be hard to kill and has given many farmers a reason to swear. It is considered by many to be an undesirable weed. As a youth I spent many hot summer days pulling honeysuckle off fences and outbuildings. I hated the fast growing fragrant vine, and certainly never dreamed I would one day be promoting it for deer management.
introducing Japanese honeysuckle or any other new plant
to your property, check with your county agricultural
agent to make sure it is not considered to be an
aggressive or undesirable plant for your area.
Having said this, honeysuckle leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds, are a preferred food source for deer, wild turkey, rabbits, quail, woodchuck, and song birds. Also, it serves as cover for many of these species. Thanks to research done by Auburn University, we have learned that an isolated stand of honeysuckle can become a valuable food plot with a small amount of management. I know hunters who have located patches of honeysuckle in openings of replanted clear cuts, in grown-up fence rows, and around old home sites, and have managed them so they became prime hunting areas. Many hunters have secret plots of honeysuckle they silently fertilize and hunt during the season, with good results.
Managing honeysuckle is relatively easy. Scout for patches late in the winter and mark their locations on a map or in your GPS. When you are soil testing your other fields or food plots, soil test your honeysuckle patches. Fertilize according to soil tests. If this is not possible, lime and fertilize in the spring and fall at a rate of 3.5 tons of lime per acre, and 300 pounds of 13-13-13 fertilizer per acre, top-dressed with 300 pounds of ammonium nitrate per acre.
When fertilized, the vines will grow quickly and produce an abundance of foodfor wildlife. Fertilized vines have been known to grow as much as 15 feet per year on a moist site. Information I obtained from the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station stated that fertilizing a stand of honeysuckle can almost double its forage production. This also increases the plant’s palatability and increases the crude protein content from 11% to 17%. The fertilized honeysuckle averaged more than 2,480 pounds of forage per acre. Compare that to a red clover food plot which produces 1,115 pounds of forage per acre.
The fragrance of the honey-suckle blossom will announce to deer far away that a choice food source is available.
It is easy to “burn” honeysuckle, so I have learned not to fertilize during periods of drought, and try to top dress on a day when rain is predicted.
As common as Japanese honeysuckle is, it is easier
to find a wild stand and manage it, than it is to start
a stand from scratch. If your property does not have
Japanese honeysuckle on it, you can establish a patch
by transplanting or purchasing seedlings to plant.
Again, since it is considered to be an invasive weed,
before you introduce it to your property, you need to
check with your county agricultural agent to make sure
it is not considered an undesirable plant for your
Because of the rapid growth of the vine, it does not require a lot of seedlings to establish a stand. Start by preparing a 25– by 25–foot bed in the spring. Plant 25 seedlings, 5 feet apart, in rows of 5 feet. Containerized seedlings can be ordered from The Wildlife Group (www.wildlifegroup.com), and cost $35, plus shipping, per ½ tray of 40 seedlings.
Cover the bed with chicken wire to keep deer and rabbits from eating the new growth. Deer love fertilized honeysuckle and will often eat it to the ground where they can get to it. I have seen fertilized patches of honeysuckle so heavily grazed by deer that the plants disappeared. On my farm, I have laid old hog wire, 2– by 4–inch welded wire fence, or chain length fencing over honeysuckle patches so that deer and rabbits cannot eat the plants back to the ground.
So, like the more commonly accepted wildlife food plot crops, honeysuckle can be nutritious, high in protein, drought hardy, and a great perennial. I have known hunting clubs to even plant stands of Japanese honeysuckle to replace food plots on property managed for deer. Where natural standsÂ of honeysuckle are found, they are less costly and time-consuming to start and to maintain each year.
If you don’t own a tractor and farm equipment but have access to property, spend a weekend looking for Japanese honeysuckle. You may have some food plots in the rough, just waiting for a little care.
By Nancy Brabbit-Davis - Photos by Jeff Davis, Whitetails Unlimited
Growing up in a large middle class Catholic family,
I was unfortunately never given the opportunity to
develop a palate for fine wines (communion wine does
not count). However, I did get the necessary exposure
to develop a refined palate for meat, particularly
sausage. Our evaluations were not focused on color,
clarity, or bouquet; rather, we focused on venison to
pork ratios, amount of garlic to be added, presence or
absence of seasoning (mustard seed always elicited
mixed opinions), medium to course grind, 100% venison
vs. venison/pork combinations, natural vs. synthetic
casings, and on and on.
Many times in the business or political world this classic quote is used to describe a particularly ugly process: “______________ are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” You can fill in the blank with just about anything – laws, policies, machines, etc. Not everyone really knows how sausages are made, but I do – from picking the meat, to adding the other ingredients, taking a spell cranking the grinder, handling the casings, and twisting or tying the links. My Dad took advantage of his cheap labor resources and routinely pressed us kids into the fine art of sausage making. Fortunately, on the back end, we got to eat the results of our labor.
When I told my Dad I was going to write this
column on sausage making and asked him if he still had
any of his old recipes, he came through with flying
colors and produced a three-ring binder of his
collection of venison sausage recipes, going back
decades. My Dad is a wonderful food resource and
responsible for our finely developed appreciation of
good food, having exposed us to many basic techniques,
including butchering, sausage making, canning, food
dehydration, gardening, and others. There is nothing he
will not try when it comes to food and his sense of
taste is only questioned when we are tasked with
searching out new sources of head cheese. This winter
we had the opportunity to try venison brats that were
shared with us by one of our daughter’s friends.
Again, the lean venison makes a wonderful base for a
sausage and topping it with unusually large amounts of
sauerkraut, onions, and mustard only made it
Here are three of the favorite venison sausage recipes that nourished us as we grew up. My Dad quite simply refers to them as the “red, white, and blue” string sausage recipes, because he used red, white or blue strings to tie the links so that we could see at a glance what kind of sausage it was (we kept things very simple in our family).
5 pounds ground venison
1 pound ground suet
¼ cup salt
2 tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cumin
1½ tblsp. leaf oregano
1 tsp. thyme
1 tblsp. cracked pepper
1 tblsp. fine ground pepper
3 tblsp. chili powder
1 tsp. whole anise
5 pounds ground venison
1 pound ground suet
¼ cup salt
2 tblsp. sugar
1 tblsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tblsp. fine ground pepper
1-2 tblsp. mustard seed
5 pounds ground venison
1 pound ground suet
¼ cup salt
2 tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1½ tblsp. ground chili (red) pepper
1½ tsp. ground celery seed
1½ tblsp. chili powder
To make sausage you will need a grinder, and there are many on the market to choose from, both manual and electric. This is a technology that hasn’t really changed for hundreds of years, except for the addition of electricity instead of arm power. If you’re just trying this for the first time, check out garage sales or resale shops, or ask your friends or relatives if they have one you can borrow â€“ there are plenty of grinders tucked away in the back of people’s kitchen cupboards. If you start to get into sausage making big time then take a look at the electric models, which can save a lot of time.
Whatever kind of grinder you use, cleanliness is of vital importance. Thoroughly clean every part of the grinder before and after every use, and remember there are a lot of nooks and crannies in grinder parts and you have to be meticulous in making sure all the parts are very clean before you start; the best tasting sausage isn’t any good if it makes people sick. This is not difficult, just important, and should not scare you away from making your own sausage. Use a brush and plenty of hot, soapy water, and inspect everything in a brightly lit area. We’ve never had a case of food poisoning during years and years of making our own sausage, because we make sure everything is clean.
Grind the venison and other meat through a coarse cutter plate. Spread the ground meat out in pans and sprinkle the salt over it. Next, grind the suet through several grades of grinding discs, starting with coarse and ending with fine (the fat portion of the sausage should be more finely ground than the meat portion). Mix the meat, suet, and spices together in a large bowl or kettle. You can “test” your mixture for flavor by frying up a small patty. The mixture is best for stuffing at room temperature. If the mixture becomes too dry, add a little water to change the consistency.
Natural casings can be purchased from local meat markets, or ordered over the internet. It really works best when two people are involved in the stuffing process â€“ one to do the cranking and the other to manage the tubes of sausage. It is important to keep the tension just right so that the casings do not slip off the tube, but not so much that the casing splits. It takes a little practice, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
Place the sausage casings/pork skins in a mixture of
1 pint lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
Soak for three hours. Rinse well, including running
water through the casings, and cut into 18-inch
lengths. When stuffing the sausage, rub a little butter
or vegetable oil on the stuffer tube.
Twist one end of the casing and tie it off. Fill it until about one inch of casing is left, and then twist the casing and tie the two ends of the sausage together to form a loop. Dry overnight in a cool, dry place. In the morning, place the sausage in a smoker and smoke using whichever wood you prefer for 10 to 12 hours at 160 to 180 degrees. Once the smoking is done, let the sausages stand in a cool, dry place for 1 hour. Wrap tightly in butcher paper or plastic freezer bags and store the sausages in the dry meat compartment of the refrigerator. Store refrigerated for two days before freezing. If you freeze your sausage you will want to use it within six months, as extended freezing can change the taste of seasonings and spices.
Once you successfully create your first sausages you may want to try other variations including knockwurst, bratwurst, polish sausage, and so on. Lately I have been hearing more and more complaints about “supermarket” meats. Whenever I can, I buy my meat from a butcher shop, and I’m becoming more and more particular about this. However, I can really ensure the best ingredients and results when I take a role in making the meat myself.
Venison sausage as a staple is wonderful. You can bring it out for parties and slice it up with a bunch of different cheeses. You can use it as a base to build great submarine sandwiches, or you can just pack it up with a chunk of cheese and some crackers for an easy hunting or picnic snack.
And of course, you can always go the easy way and transport your venison to the local butcher shop for processing, and defer to their recommended recipes. Whether you do it yourself or send it out for processing, venison sausage made from your own kill is a very satisfying product â€“ and nothing compares to the taste of sausage made from lean venison with the right mix of seasoning.
VENISON SAUSAGE FOR BREAKFAST PATTIES
Here is another recipe that is much simpler and doesn’t require all the work of actually stuffing sausages.
- 1 pound ground venison
- ½ pound bacon, either ground or chopped in small pieces
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion salt
- 1 teaspoon ground sage
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Shape into 12 golf to tennis size balls and then flatten into patties. Pan fry. The patties can also be frozen to be cooked at a later time.
By Jeff Davis, Whitetails Unlimited
The tail was left in place to provide an interesting design accent for this purse.
There are more options for your trophy than just a head on your wall.
Many deer hunters head into the woods in the fall in
search of a trophy that will look great on the wall.
That one huge buck with an enormous
rack—symmetrical, massive, and with double-digit
The reality is that most hunters will never shoot the trophy of their dreams, but the trophies they do place on their wall always return great memories of previous hunts. Now there is another way to preserve memories of a hunt, regardless of the size or sex of the deer they shoot.
Trophy Hides is a tannery that can take the hide of your deer, elk, moose, or other animal, and turn it into a gun case, clothing, duffle bag, or other leather item, so you can use and enjoy it as a unique trophy. There are other tanneries, but the unusual aspect of Trophy Hides is that it is the only tannery in the United States that will guarantee the hide of your animal will be used to produce your product, resulting in a unique trophy that will be much more useful than a head on a wall. Now hunters who look for a nice doe for the freezer, hunters managing their land by harvesting sub-par bucks, or the millions of hunters who take average animals during the season, can preserve their hunts with a trophy that is both beautiful and useful.
This old machine determines the surface area of a hide in square feet. No one knows how old it is, but it predates World War II.
Trophy Hides and Uber Tanning
Trophy Hides is a division of the Uber Tanning Company in Owatonna, Minnesota. Established in 1904, the family owned Uber Company is now in its sixth generation, and just like the company ownership, traditional tanning methods and techniques have not changed over the years. Uber has been able to survive the exodus of the industry overseas and continues to thrive, with the majority of their gloves, mittens, jackets, slippers, and other leather products being sold in the central part of the U.S.
The Trophy Hides division started several years ago with the purpose of producing custom leather products made specifically from the hides of big-game animals taken by hunters. They now offer more than 100 products, including men’s and women’s gloves, vests, and jackets, along with gun cases, duffle bags, briefcases, purses, wallets, chaps, slippers, and even totes for wine and whiskey bottles. In addition, if a customer has an idea for a product they don’t offer, they will provide a quote if it is possible to produce.
The vast majority of their business is from white-tailed deer, but products can be produced from any big-game animal taken legally from any place in the world. A tour of their tannery showed pallets of deer hides, but also individual hides from North American game like elk, moose, pronghorn, bear, and bison. There were also many African species like water buffalo, hippopotamus, eland, kudu, hartebeest, and elephant.
Trophy Hides is the sales and organizational part of the process, but all the hides are processed with the traditional drum-dyed tanning process that was used a hundred years ago, with a chrome tannage process that keeps the leather soft and pliable. As with many labor-intensive manufacturing processes, much of the leather tanning industry has moved overseas, primarily to China. Buyers for these Chinese companies are very busy during the hunting season arranging for deer, elk, and other big-game hides to be shipped to their tanneries overseas. Much of the product that comes back is produced by splitting hides, adding imitation grain, and spraying on color. By contrast, Trophy Hide’s drum dying takes much more time, but results in a permanent, quality product. They can also tan hides that keep the hair in place, although that takes a different tanning process.
Old World Process
A visit to their two buildings in Owatonna was part time-warp, and part visit to a village of artisans. The actual tanning process has changed little in hundreds of years, and many of the machines used predate World War II, and some were in use before World War I.
Hides from processors in the Midwest come in on
pallets during and after the hunting season, and are
salted and stored in an old, low-ceilinged building.
(Two semi loads of salt are used each season.) They get
enough hides this way to keep the tannery going all
year. A properly prepared salted hide can be stored for
years. Hides from individual hunters come via UPS,
FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service all year long, and
some are simply dropped off at the door. In fact, there
is a box of tags conveniently placed next to the
factory door, and many mornings the first person in is
greeted with a stack of bags and boxes of hides to be
processed. “Most deer, moose, and elk hunters get
their hides to us within a few months of the end of the
season,” said Trophy Hides President Jared
Rinerson. “Some trickle in after that, and we get
hides from Africa all year long.”
The production facility is located on a hill surrounded by residential homes. “A hundred years ago this was outside the town,” said Rinerson. “But we’re fairly quiet and only have about 20 employees, so we’re not a problem for the neighborhood.” This building is where the office and outgoing shipping operations are located, and where the tanned hides are cut and sewn into products.
The actual tanning is done in a separate building
about a mile away, next to a small river. “In the
past, tanneries needed water so they were built next to
rivers,” said Rinerson. For many generations the
rivers also supplied power to run the machines, but for
the past century, electricity has taken over that
The tanning building is where the history of tanning is on display, because outside of the addition of electricity and attention to modern quality control and pollution reduction, little has changed in four centuries.
The process for turning a hide into leather involves batches of 200 hides. They are loaded into a tank that hydrates the hides and removes the salt that has preserved them. They then are fed into a fleshing machine, which removes any remaining fat or tissue, and put in a tank for three days to remove the hair. After that, the batch of 200 hides is put in an immense vertical drum, which revolves and replaces the natural proteins in the skin with synthetic proteins. The actual ‘tanning’ process occurs inside these 10-foot tall drums, and three, 200-hide batches are processed per drum each week. The hides that come out now resemble leather, but have a light blue tint, and are referred to as ‘wet blues.’
The hides are stacked on a pallet, and moved to a wringer machine where water is removed with felt pads, and then they go through a ‘set-out machine’ that breaks up fibers in the hide, making it softer. A splitter machine cuts the hide to an even thickness using two different splitters – one for deer and thin hides, and a different machine for thicker hides. (Some areas of a bison’s hide can be 3/4-inch thick.) The hide is then placed in a dying drum, where the color is added. Next, they are hung in an attic area on rows of wicked-looking hooks for one to three days, depending on the outside humidity. After drying, they go into a final drum with talc, which helps make the leather softer. Finally, they’re sorted and shipped across town to the finishing facility.
A single hide, put through the procedure as fast as possible, could go through the tanning process in about a month. This does not include turning the leather into an actual product. It commonly takes Trophy Hides six to nine months from receiving the hide until the final product is shipped to the customer.
“Some things just take longer,” said Rinerson. “We only do the ivory color dye once or twice a year, because it takes so long to clean the drum. If we miss one drop or speck of the dark dye inside the drum, it will ruin the entire batch, so we have hours and hours and hours of cleaning before we can do the ivory batch.” Rinerson also noted that large animals, like bison and moose, are difficult, and elephant is very difficult. Some of it is because the hides are so large and thick, and there can be other problems. “We had a bison hide once where we found shotgun pellets. That slowed us down because we can’t let metal fragments get into the machinery.”
Tanned and dyed hides are waiting to be made into products for clients.
An interesting aspect of the tanning production
facility was the smell. There wasn’t one. It was
wet, and there was a faint odor of chemicals and old
wood, but there was no objectionable odor. Rinerson
said that this is normal. “Unless there is a
rotten hide, from someone not skinning or salting it
properly, there is no bad smell here.”
One modern upgrade Rinerson was proud of was the water recycling system. Tanning uses a lot of water, and many years ago it was simply discharged back into the adjacent river. No longer. The water is mostly recycled within the plant, and all discharges are closely monitored. “We have never exceeded our discharge limits, and we’re inspected by multiple local, state, and federal agencies,” said Rinerson.
New World Artistry
If tanning is an old world process, the production of the finished product is where the artistry comes in. Beautiful is the word to describe the many finished items waiting for shipment to the clients.
There was the elephant gun case, dyed a blue
color. A fringed deerskin coat sat next to a purse made
from the hair-on hide of a small African plains animal,
with the tail in place as an accent. A vest made of
hartebeest was in process, but deerskin gloves and
mittens were ready to ship, along with some handsome,
custom duffle bags.
Rinerson also produced a smaller item that
resembled a small, furry purse. “This is a
buffalo scrotum; some guys like to make a pouch from
the bigger animals.” It does make a unique item,
and is sure to start a conversation.
Tim Van Heel was working at cutting parts for a woman’s vest. “I like the creative things,” he said. “The problem is the medium is not replaceable, so you have to be very careful and coordinate with the next person.” He’s talking about the women who work upstairs, at industrial Singer sewing machines manufactured half a century ago. “I want the next person to be looking over my shoulder. I go to them and show them what I want to do, but sometimes they say that’s not going to work, so I have to adjust,” he said.
“Each piece is unique, and if I blow this I’d have to go out and shoot a zebra,” Van Heel said, noting with a smile that there aren’t a lot of zebra roaming around Owatonna. He said that his biggest problems are knife cuts or bullet holes in places he wants to use, but he just has to work around them.
A Personal Trophy
As you might expect, custom hand work is not cheap, and it doesn’t happen fast. The Trophy Hides website (www.trophyhidesleather.com) lists the price of hair-off tanning of a deer hide at $60, elk is $135, and moose or bison is $245. Your hides must first be tanned, and then the custom work is added. Some products require more than one hide. For instance, a jacket needs four to six deer hides, or two elk. If you don’t have enough hides they can add leather from their stock to complete the piece.
Nikki Cromwell uses a metal die to stamp out pieces for mittens. She works to get as many pieces as possible from a hide, and smaller pieces are used for fringe or accents. Scraps too small to be used are bagged and sold to companies, artists, and crafters who can use smaller pieces of leather.
A rifle case is $250, including the tanning. Now
that’s a steep price for a rifle case, but if the
choice is between having a shoulder mount of an
ordinary small buck, or turning the hide into a useful
gun case that will provide years of service, provoke
memories of a great hunt, and be able to be passed
along to another hunter in the family, I know which
trophy I would choose.
In fact, since my son is in South Korea right now and isn’t likely to see this, I can tell you that our next hunt together is going to result in something for him under the Christmas tree; a trophy that he can use, and remember a great time together with family and friends spent in the outdoors. For me, that’s a trophy.Â
Trophy Hides Leather
308 Adams Avenue, Owatonna, MN 55060
(507) 451-2208 • www.trophyhidesleather.com
So you didn’t get those super-duper binoculars you wanted for Christmas and now you are standing in front of a display case, dazed and confused. One model is big and expensive, but another one is big and cheap. Then there are small and cheap ones, and small and expensive ones. I asked expert Trent Marsh, who is in charge of Brand Development for Hawke Optics, to help us out.
Tip 1: Hierarchy of Needs.
Trent said that you need to start out by determining what your needs are. No single pair of binoculars can meet every need. The laws of optics and economics are both at work here. You can get small and cheap, but you can’t get small, cheap, and great low-light performance. For instance, if you are a bird-watching backpacker, then weight will be a primary factor. However, if you will only walk 250 yards to a deer stand, and use the binoculars primarily at dawn and dusk, then a larger, heavier pair will fit your needs better.
Tip 2: Stay Focused.
Options and choices are huge in the binocular market. As you determine your needs, write them down, and refine your list. Put the most important item first, and then work down. Only after you have your list done should you head to the store. It is true that you get what you pay for in binoculars, but you don’t need to overpay to get the features important to you. Determine your price limit, and if you can’t find a pair that meets your needs at that price, swallow your desire, and save a little more money before you buy.
Tip 3: The Cost of Overbuying.
Trent laughed when I told him that I once bought a very good, and expensive, pair of binoculars, and then usually left them at home because I was afraid of breaking them. He said that was not unusual. “In general, the more expensive the optics, the more durable they are and the less likely they are to be damaged in use. However, they will get bumped and scratched; but why pay the money if you won’t take them outside?” He said if you are afraid to toss them across the room to your hunting buddy, then buy a less expensive pair. Or get a buddy with better hands.
Tip 4: Roof or Porro?
Optical lenses produce images that, when viewed by the eye, are upside down and backward. To correct this, binoculars have a prism inside. Porro prism binoculars are the ‘traditional’ style, with eyepieces offset from the front lenses. Roof prisms have a straight barrel, and may be more compact. Generally, porro prisms have the best optics for the dollar, but are larger and less durable. Roof prisms are more durable, but you may need to spend more to get good optical performance.
Tip 5: Put the Coat On.
All decent binoculars incorporate lens coatings, so stay away from those that don’t. Lens coating is a process that deposits thin layers of material on the lenses, which allows more light to reach your eyes. Coating is good, multi-coating is better, fully multi-coated is best. You will pay more for this, but it is worth it in low-light conditions.
Tip 6: Understanding the Digits.
Binoculars have a pair of numbers separated by an X, such as “8 X 32.” The first number will be the magnification: an 8 means the image will be enlarged eight times. The second number is the size of the front lens element in millimeters. This is useful in comparing binoculars – the larger the lens, the more light will get to your eyes. High magnification binoculars are more difficult to hold steady, and to use on objects that are moving. Lower magnification lenses have a wider field of view.
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