As hunters and wildlife enthusiasts we tend to focus on wildlife behavior and biology during hunting season but tend to forget about them during the summer months. But the summer months are very important to our population numbers. Hunting season includes mating season, but now the babies are hitting the ground and the real fun is in full swing.
Whitetail deer are busy growing the new crop of fawns and growing antlers (for the bucks). Bucks lose their antlers in the spring after rut and grow new ones this time of year. For the most part, bucks grow bigger antlers each year until they peak around age 5-6. Several factors enter into antler growth including age, genetics and nutrition. You can’t change age or genetics easily but you can supply good nutrition as they are growing new antlers right now. The added nutrition will also help the does that are fawning and nursing those fawns right now.
Wild turkey hens are busy raising their poults alone. They breed and nest in the spring each year. It only takes about 28 days of sitting on the nest for the eggs to hatch. The poults are learning how to eat and groom themselves as well as how to roost and get away from predators. Poults that have survived to this point have a good chance of making it to adulthood. They will rejoin the larger population in the fall.
Warm season supplemental nutrition provides food sources when population numbers are at their highest. Deer are nutritionally stressed due to antler growth and fawn rearing. Turkey hens are finding places to feed their poults. This supplemental nutrition can come in the form of grains provided in wildlife feeders or in food plots. Food plots during the warm season are an underutilized nutrition source. We can grow many highly nutritious forage crops for wildlife during the summer. Some great choices include millet (brown top, pearl, dove proso), sunn hemp, clay peas, cowpeas, hairy indigo, perennial peanut, Aeschynomene Americana, alyceclover and more.
Chinese Tallow, also known as the Popcorn Tree, was introduced in the US over 200 years ago. Ben Franklin sent seeds over in 1772. Although Franklin was blamed for the invasion in the U.S. Gulf Coast, scientists performed genetic testing and have concluded that the blame actually lies with federal biologists who imported some Chinese tallow trees around 1905. Popcorn trees have continued to spread throughout the US since then.
For many years, people have planted them in their landscape for shade and fall color. Once established, they invade natural areas, pastures, wetlands and yards. They out-compete native and non-invasive trees and shrubs. In 1998, Chinese Tallow was added to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Noxious Weed list. Plants on the Florida Noxious Weed list may not be introduced, possessed, moved, or released without a permit.
Landowners and homeowners can help with this problem tree by removing and replacing them with a native or non-invasive tree like black gum, maple, dogwood, or crepe myrtle. Mature trees can be cut down with a saw and the stump promptly treated with an herbicide with the active ingredient, triclopyr amine. You should try to make the final cut as low to the ground as possible. You can use a paint brush to apply the herbicide to the stump. A basal bark application of triclopyr ester plus a basal oil carrier can be used on smaller trees. Treat the trunk to a height of 12 to 15 inches from the ground, thoroughly wetting it with the herbicide mixture. Basal bark treatments are only effective on saplings and seedlings less than 6 inches in stem diameter. Sometimes suckers may sprout from remaining roots. A foliar application can be used on these sprouts from July to October, before onset of fall color.
“Zombie Deer” have been making headlines lately. What are “zombie deer”? They are deer with chronic wasting disease or CWD. CWD is a progressive, neurological disease that is similar to BSE or Mad Cow Disease. It is believed to be caused by a prion (an abnormal protein). CWD has not been found in Florida.
Deer infected with this disease exhibits signs such as excessive salivation and urination, weight loss, poor hair condition, head tremors and grinding of teeth. Also, odd behaviors may be observed in infected deer such as walking in circles, listlessness, staggering, standing with a wide stance, lowering of the head, and less interaction with other animals.
CWD is transmitted by deer consuming prions from infected feces, urine and saliva. Prions can survive in the soil and thus may infected deer for many years. Deer that are infected with CWD take 1.5 to 3 years to show clinical signs. This makes this disease difficult to control.
CWD has been found in the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. It has also been found in Canada, Norway, Sweden and South Korea.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has a CWD Monitoring Program and has regulations to prevent the spread of CWD into Florida. How can you help protect our deer population from this devastating disease?
Follow the regulations adopted by FWC in Executive Order 19-41 regarding the transport of carcasses and parts of animals in the deer family such as white-tail deer, elk, moose, and caribou.
When people put in food plots and are not successful, I normally see the following three problems as possible cause. First, they didn’t consider soil pH or fertility. Second, they didn’t choose the right plant varieties for our area. Third, they didn’t manage weeds properly or at all. So following these three steps can help establish a successful food plot.
Soil pH and fertility
Often wildlife enthusiasts ignore soil pH and fertility. If the soil pH isn’t right, fertilization is a waste of time and money. Different plants have different needs. Some plants need more phosphorus than others. Some need more iron or zinc or copper. The availability of these elements not only depends on whether they are present in the soil but also on the soil pH. Test, Don’t Guess! It takes a week or two to get the full soil sample results back and costs only $10 per sample. That’s a pretty cheap investment to insure a successful food plot.
Cool season food plots are generally used as attractants for hunters. It does provide some nutrition for the wildlife as well. The goal is to select forages that are desirable to the animals as well as varieties that grow well in our area. Some great choices include: oats, triticale, clovers, daikon radish and Austrian winter peas. We recommend a blend because it extends the length of time that forages are available to the animals as well as decreased risk of food plot failure. For a more information on recommended cool season forages, go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag139.
Tetra Treat Clover Mixture Plot
Often tilling the food plot prior to planting is enough to manage most weeds. This is okay when you have native weeds on relatively flat land. If erosion is an issue, or if more problematic weeds such as cogongrass are present, a different weed management strategy is recommended. Glyphosate is a good choice as it is a broad spectrum herbicide that will not negatively affect the food plot. Spray the area with glyphosate 3-4 weeks prior to planting to give it time to kill the weeds. Also, remember that many herbicides are not effective during droughts, so you either need to wait until we have rainfall or work with your extension agent to find a solution that will work for your situation.
These three steps are crucial to successful food plots. First, get your soil pH right and then fertilize properly. Next, choose the right forages and varieties to plant. Then control the weeds so they don’t choke out your food plots. The next step is to enjoy this hunting season. For more information on wildlife food plots, you can contact your local county extension agent.
This time of year in Northwest Florida, deer hunters are busy talking about the rut! What’s the rut, you might ask? Simply put, it’s deer breeding season. Deer hunters speculate on peak rut times each year. There are even peak rut forecasts. Why are hunters interested in deer rut? Hunters know that bucks are more active and careless during the rut.
Deer Breeding Chronology in Florida May 2018. Source Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
Bucks exhibit four rut behaviors: sparring, rubbing, scraping, and chasing. Sparring happens between bucks to establish dominance. This happens during the pre-rut. Dominant bucks are generally the ones who get the does. Bucks also make rubs on trees during the pre-rut period. They start this behavior to remove velvet from their antlers. They continue rubbing to mark their territory with their scent. Scraping is another way they mark their area. A scrape normally occurs under a low hanging branch. The buck will lick or chew on the branch while scraping the ground as well as urinating on the ground. The last rut behavior is chasing does. Does typically won’t be game for this unless they are ready to breed.
In other parts of the country, the rut is long over. Even in other parts of Florida, it is over. Florida has more variability in rut timing than in any other state. In Florida, deer rut starts in July in the southern part of the state and runs through February in the north. Deer breeding dates are more predictable in the northern U.S. where winters are too harsh for fawn survival. Deer breeding in our state is more variable because of our mild winters. Average breeding dates in Northwest Florida are very late compared to other parts of the country and the state. Our average breeding dates generally range from December to mid-February. Gestation takes about 200 days, so this puts fawning dates in late June through early September.
Even though we have average breeding dates for our area, these aren’t “magical dates”. Not all does go into estrus on the same day or even the same week.
8 point buck taken in Northwest Florida in January while chasing a doe. Photo credit: Jennifer Bearden
Estrus only lasts 24 hours and not all does become pregnant during the first estrus period. This means that about 28 days later does go into a second estrus. So the rut period is a range around the average date.
So, to all my fellow hunters in Northwest Florida, enjoy the 2019 rut! I know I have enjoyed watching several bucks chase does as well as having the opportunity to take the biggest buck of my life this January. Good luck to you all in your hunting ventures!