T HANKFULLY IT IS FINALLY MID-SUMMER. Whitetail fawns are on the ground, some starting as early a mid-April continuing on through August—and antlers on bucks are once again interesting.
As deer hunters we sometimes tend to forget about the importance of fawns and fawn survival rates. I love hunting mature bucks regardless of the size of their antlers, but will also tell you bucks with bigger antlers are more interesting than those with smaller antlers. Mature bucks, too, tend to be challenging to hunt.
If the fawn survival rates are high, as they are in many areas of Texas this year, that simply means that four, five, six and seven years from now, if property managed, there should be a goodly number of mature bucks. In those areas where the fawn survival rates are 20 percent, meaning 100 does raise 20 or less fawns to maturity or lower, there will not be many five-year old bucks, five years from now, pure and simple.
This is one of the reasons why spring and especially summer nutrition are of such great importance when it comes to a healthy deer herd. If there is sufficient ground cover when fawns are born, there is less chance they will be seen and eaten by predators. It also means there is sufficient forage for the doe to eat to produce milk and for the fawn to get a great start nutritionally.
We saw our first fawn on my property about 80 miles west of Houston on April 19th, where normally fawns start being born in mid-May. This thrills me because that fawn came along at a time when, thanks to fortuitous rains, there was excellent natural nutrition. If it was a buck he’s off to a great early start in life.
The reason the whitetail deer rut or breeding season occurs when it does in different areas is so that seven-and-a-half months later, fawns are born at the most opportune natural nutrition time. In Texas along the mid-coast, we occasionally see bucks chasing does in early September. In the Brush Country it’s during late January.
Often hunters talk about a secondary rut, which occurs very late, well after most of the breeding has taken place. Often this is attributed to does that were not “settled,” or pregnant, during their first estrus period.
In most instances the secondary rut is caused by young does, fawns of the year, having been on good nutrition coming into their first estrus period. Whitetail doe fawns can and frequently do breed at six months of age.
On one of the ranches I used to manage as a wildlife biologist in the western reaches of the Hill Country as high as 80 percent of the six- to eight-month old doe fawns got bred each year.
When these young doe fawns get bred and birth a buck fawn, it will almost always produce spike antlers that first year. This happens regardless of their genetic potential for growing big antlers.
The young doe is trying to grow a body, produce a fetus, and produce milk for her fawn. As result her fawn will suffer. If it is a buck it will be reflected in first year antler development.
This is why we try to make certain the deer herd is properly managed, which includes habitat, food and water and total numbers.
Summer and late summer in most areas of Texas is when natural nutrition is low. Proper livestock grazing, deer herd numbers management, food plots and in some instances supplementation can truly help in getting the deer herd through this stress period.
If you do plant food plots, July is a time when it is fun to start looking at bucks once again. If you do not have food plots, then water holes are a great place for some “observing.”
By late July whitetail bucks throughout most of Texas are close to three-quarters of their full antler development. In some areas the antlers may be fully developed.
From a hunting perspective there are a few other things I like to do during the “dog days of summer.” One is getting my Ruger rifles and handguns, mounted with TrackingPoint scopes properly sighted with the Hornady ammo I use.
It’s also a time for me to learn the capabilities of the firearms I shoot and my capabilities with them. This means initially shooting from a solid bench rest, but then shooting from “real world” hunting positions, including shooting from shooting sticks. I have never been a good off-hand shooter when it comes to anything other than shotguns, so I insist upon shooting from a rest. Shooting sticks provide me with just that no matter where I hunt.
Email Larry Weishuhn at [email protected]