THE WHITETAIL DEER.
I have hunted them in Texas, pursued them in upstate New York and, believe it or not, photographed them at the southern extreme of their range in the rainforests of Venezuela.
With every encounter respect for the species grew. There is something unique and special about whitetail deer, and that is what sends millions of hunters into the woods annually and what keeps thousands of local hunters inspired during the fall.
The following are some notes I have made about whitetails over the years that we can reflect on as the season opens up this weekend in our local woodlands and across the state.
Deer hunters love to hunt after cold fronts, but according to Ken Swenson of the Swenson Whitetail Ranch in Orangefield, we might be missing out before fronts arrive.
“Our deer absolutely increase their eating in a big way before a front arrives,” he said. “A couple of days in advance, they eat, eat and then it actually slows down after the front comes.”
His deer are captive and are fed high protein diets, but they are still whitetails. They go through all of the same cycles as other deer. “This certainly made me question my thoughts on cold fronts and deer,” Swenson said.
The observation makes sense as animals instinctively feed in advance of plummeting temperatures.
Texas bass fishermen love to fish in coralberry or “buck brush” on reservoirs when water levels are high. The name should give it away. The thicket it creates along with the nutrition it provides, makes it a favorite among deer hunters in the region.
Another good one is yaupon (the bush that produces the pretty little red berries). Humans consider it a nuisance, but deer love it. Yaupon thickets are decent places to hunt.
If you can find yaupon on the edge of a field, you will see deer feeding on it fairly frequently. It’s something that’s easy to key on for hunters and is more readily identifiable than many other plants in the field.
The whitetailed deer’s sense of smell is legendary. There are hundreds of products on the market and homegrown remedies for eliminating human scent and appealing to hunger and sexual urges through smell. Did you know however, deer actually have two noses?
According to a fascinating article put out by Dr. Karl V. Miller from the University of Georgia, few hunters realize that a deer actually has two “noses.”
“The second nose is technically not a nose, but it serves some of the same purpose,” Miller said. “If you look on the roof of the deer’s mouth, you will see a diamond-shaped structure with a small passage leading into the palate.
“This additional nose, called the vomeronasal organ (VNO), is similar to the Jacobson’s organ that snakes use to ‘taste’ the air. Deer use the VNO exclusively to analyze urine. When a buck sees a doe urinate, he will often take some of this urine into his mouth and perform a behavior called flehmen, or lip-curl.
“This flehmen helps to introduce urine into the VNO,” Miller explained. “It is interesting that this organ is not connected to the same part of the brain that the nose is connected to. Instead, it is connected to the part of the brain that controls the reproductive condition of the deer. What type of information the deer is getting is unknown, but it is likely that odors analyzed in the VNO help get the hormones pumping in the buck and bring him into rutting condition.”
If you happen to miss the peak rutting period on your lease or the section of national forest you hunt, fear not. There is more coming.
According to a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department study, a doe may be attractive to bucks for about five days, but may be willing to breed for a period of only 24 hours. If the doe is not bred during her first cycle, she will generally come into heat again about 28 days later.”
“In areas where there are few bucks, a doe may not encounter a buck when she is first receptive and may not be bred until one of her later cycles,” according to the study. “A hunter, landowner or biologist who sees the late breeding activity may be convinced that there was a late rut.
“On the other hand, those who see does attended by bucks in the early part of the season believe there was an early rut. This helps explain the wide variety of opinions on the timing of the rut during a particular year.”
In other words, does will keep going into estrus every 28 days until they are bred. On top of that, the buck/doe ratio can be a factor.
If there are say, eight does to one buck, chances are those bucks will not breed all of the does in the area. So, the chances of another estrus cycle for does comes into play.
Whitetails are fascinating creatures, and I could write 10 stories on their unique attributes. Hunters should cherish their time in the woods pursuing this great animal, which has motivated generation after generation to step beyond the pavement and into the wild.
A demonstration of how to field dress a deer.
—story by CHESTER MOORE