Pre-Season Deer Scouting

It’s mid-summer, hot as hell and all I can think about is doing some pre-season deer scouting to get ready for hunting season. As the mercury climbs into triple digits I can’t help but think about the cooler weather the latter-half of the year provides, but it’s the deer hunting that the fall and winter offers that really gets me fired up!

We still have months until the first deer hunting season opens so that makes now the perfect time for pre-season deer scouting. After all, at this point in the year there should be a fair amount of antler growth up top on bucks. It’s just a matter of time before growth stops, velvet falls off and then we really get to see what we have a chance of seeing during deer season.

We’ve had a good amount of rainfall throughout the spring and early summer this year in the area I hunt, so I’m expecting great things. It’s time to confirm my suspicions.

Pre-Season Deer

White-tailed deer change physically throughout the year. This is especially true with bucks. Much of this change results because of extreme physical exertion (and associated weight loss) during the rut in the fall, but the big driver in bucks over the course of a year really boils down to testosterone levels. After the rut, bucks go into recovery mode and try to pack that weight back on.

During the spring and summer bucks are not muscled-up like they are just before and during the breeding season. A lot of bucks have the body confirmation of a doe right now, with long, rather thin necks. This will change shortly as the days become shorter, testosterone levels go up and bucks get jacked.

I really enjoy watching the rapid transformation of whitetail bucks as they transform their bodies into their “fighting weight.” It’s like someone hits a switch; the velvet starts coming off and their front-end and neck start bulking up big time. That’s when you know it’s going to be on.

Scouting with Cameras

The go-to scouting method is a game camera — or better yet — as  many game cameras as  you can get your hands on. As you know, there are a variety of cameras on the market. Most are relatively easy to use but still provide a variety of options for capturing photos of the deer on your property.

I actually use several different brands and camera models. Most of the cameras I use are either Cuddeback and Bushnell.  Go with the one or ones that you are comfortable with financially and technically. I say this because some cameras are definitely easier to use, yet even those cameras that are more difficult to setup will still work great in the field. That is, of course, if you have them set right.

Using Game Cameras for Pre-Season Deer Scouting

Plain and simple, the best time to inventory whitetail bucks is during the summer months. It is during this time of year that bucks of similar ages will be running together in bachelor groups. Get a bachelor group of older bucks on camera and you may see a handful of shooters in relatively short order.

During the pre-season bucks will be in a predictable routine. Most of their time is spent feeding and trying to avoid the heat. The majority of buck movement will start near sunset and run into the night followed by another period of activity that occurs near daybreak and ends by mid-morning, before it gets hot.

Scouting for Hunting Season

Make no mistake, scouting is hunting. The best way to bag a nice buck this deer season is to start hunting now. Let the other guys wait until the last minute to get their hunt in order; the pre-season is a superior time to identify where you do and do not want to focus your time come deer season.

The whitetail bucks that you capture on camera during the summer will still be around come hunting season. They do travel further, expanding their range during the rut, but those bucks do not leave for good. They continue to use their core area before, during and following the rut, because it’s the area where they live. They know this area best.

Pattern them during the pre-season and then tag them during the hunting season.

How to Scout During the Pre-Season

Whitetail bucks are fairly predictable during the summer. They do not move around much. They stay with close proximity to readily-available food sources and water and more or less take it easy; since they are friendly with one another at this time of the year. As we know, things change.

They key to pre-season scouting is keeping a digital-eye on feeding and travel areas. This is where those motion-activated cameras work their magic remotely. Once you identify primary food sources, determine where to place a camera or cameras to monitor the site. No definable food source? Not a problem.

Pre-Season Deer Hunting and Scouting

You can create attractive feed sites by introducing supplements. The easiest way to go about doing this is by using some type of deer block. Blocks tend to be quite aromatic so they will attract deer from a distance and they can last quite a while. In addition, they are high in protein and typically taste good to deer, so bucks will return again and again so that you can follow their progress. Other options are hand-thrown baits of your liking or a mineral site.

Deer Season: Time for Tagging

After having identified the bucks on your hunting property the next step is to figure out how to kill him. Most properties have at least somewhat-definable travel corridors that deer use to go from place to place. Many properties have clearly-defined corridors and pinch-points where bucks can be intercepted early in the season.

Pre-season scouting photos will tell you the quantity and quality of bucks using the area, but they will also help pattern an individual buck’s movements. When hunting season is a few weeks out, setup cameras on travel ways leading to and from food sources. A day or two before season, sneak in and collect your photo data. After reviewing the photos leading up to season, you will have identified the best time and place to tag the buck you’re after.

I have used this method for pre-season deer scouting and have found it very useful (successful) on new properties. The technique of identifying and patterning bucks using cameras is deadly when done properly. Remember to stay low-impact when you go in and out to check cameras. If you have a whitetail buck patterned then your best chance of success is the first time you hunt him.

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MLDP Harvest Option Tag Estimator

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) tag estimator is available to property owners that are interested in at least (possibly) getting involved in TPWD’s Harvest Option in order to receive tags for deer hunting. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, if you buy a Texas hunting license you already receive a pocket full of deer tags, so why consider the Harvest Option for the property you hunt?

What is the MLDP Harvest Option?

If you are familiar with TPWD’s MLDP program of past, the Harvest Option is another addition to the legacy MLD permit program, but does not require property owners to conduct deer surveys or perform habitat management practices. That’s kind of nice.

However, for anyone involved in the Harvest Option it also means that a biologist will not make a formal recommendation for a specific property. Rather, the Harvest Option makes deer harvest recommendations and issues deer tags for any participating property simply by using property boundaries and the plant communities that are found within it.

Why Enroll in the Harvest Option?

So, if the MLDP Harvest Option issues deer hunting tags based on the habitat (and estimated deer population) found on a ranch, how does that help someone with deer management? The option does allow for a much longer hunting season than is normally available to most hunters and it does allow the deer tags to be divided up among the persons hunting the land, whether that be 2 or 20.

In short, it sounds like there is more built-in flexibility with regard to the length of the hunting season length (October- February) and personal bag limits (only limited by the number of deer tags received).

Any property owner wishing to receive white-tailed deer tags for their property, whether it be the Harvest Option or the Conservation Option, must enroll through TPWD’s Land Management Assistance web site. Any property owner can navigate to the site and sign up.

Enroll in MLDP Program, Land Management Assistance

Deer Tag Estimator

Where does the deer tag estimator fit into the equation? Well, if you are not sure you want to participate in the Harvest Option deer tag program you can determine upfront how many tags you will get before you even sign up! The best part is that the MLDP Harvest Option Tag Estimator is actually easy to use.

To start, first you will need to navigate to the tag estimator site. Once there, simply pan the map and zoom into to find your property. The default map view has roadways, towns and cities so it makes it easy to find your way to just about any place in Texas.

MLDP Harvest Option Tag Estimator Tool

Once you zoom in fairly tight, I found it easier to switch over to the satellite view, which you can do by clicking the button at the bottom of the screen. Next, you will need to select a fence option, high fence or low fence.

Mapping with the MLDP Tag Estimator

Click the button that says “Draw Boundary” and then it’s time to map the property. Start on one corner of your property and work your way around clockwise or counter-clockwise, whatever works for you. To end the mapping of your property’s boundary, simply click on the first point and the web site will tell you the size of the mapped acreage.

Mapping Tool for Deer Tag Estimator

If the acreage looks good, then you’re in good shape. If the acreage or map is wrong, then you can hit the “Delete” button to simply start over or you can click the “Edit” button and move any of the points that you placed previously. This step is straight forward.

Once the boundary and the mapped acreage looks good then go ahead and click the button that says “Get Estimate” and the site will spit out a breakdown of Any Buck Tags, Unbranched Buck Tags, Antlerless Tags and Total Tags that the property would receive under the MLDP Harvest Option.

MLDP Tag Estimator

Summary: Harvest Option & Tag Estimator

The Harvest Option is just one of the choices under the new MLDP program that TPWD has rolled out for the 2017-18 hunting season. Is it the best fit for you and your property? Only the property owner/hunter/manager can make that call.

The MLDP Harvest Option Tag Estimator was very easy to use, but the number of buck tags I would receive (should I enroll) for the mapped property was more restrictive than I first expected. Not bad, but it does not leave a lot of flexibility in terms of buck harvest, a complete deer management program. On the other hand, the longer season offered by the MLDP Harvest Option is quite attractive from a deer hunting standpoint without much work up front.

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TPWD Draw Hunts 2017-18

The Texas public draw hunts for the 2017-18 hunting seasons have been posted. Hunters can browse the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) offerings and apply online for all TPWD draw hunts for the 2017-18 hunting until midnight the day of the deadline, which varies by hunt category. The first hunt category deadline is less than a month away, so chop-chop.

This year about 9,500 permits in 50 hunt categories are up for grabs for drawn hunts on private and public lands, up more than 500 over last year. Among the other offerings available through the online system are hunts for white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorn, exotic gemsbok and scimitar-horned oryx, turkey and alligator.

TPWD Drawn Hunts for 2017-18

Other Draw Hunts Administered by TPWD

In addition to drawn hunts managed by TPWD, the system includes applications for hunts administered by other entities, including almost 2,200 deer hunt positions on four U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuges in Texas and 2,500 antlerless deer permits for U.S. Forest Service properties in East Texas.

TPWD Draw Dove Hunts

The program’s highly-popular private lands dove hunt permit category will feature 140 hunt slots in prime locations around Uvalde, south of San Antonio near Pleasanton, north of Dallas/Ft. Worth in Young County and newly acquired opportunities in Wharton near Houston. These permits are for dedicated hunt positions with quality dove hunting outfitters. Application fee is $10 with no additional hunt permit fees.

Applying for Draw Hunts

Drawn hunt opportunities can be viewed online by category or by area via an interactive map and all applications, fee payments and permit issuance is handled electronically. To participate, applicants will need internet access, an email address and a credit or debit card. The Customer ID number from the applicant’s hunting or fishing license is one of the easy ways to access the system.

Last year, the department received 139,398 applications for drawn hunts.

TPWD Draw Hunt Deadlines

The first application deadlines are in August. August 1 is the deadline for the alligator hunt categories and the new private lands dove hunts, and August 15 is the deadline for archery deer, exotic, and javelina. Application deadlines are on the 1st and 15th of each month. A full list of category deadlines can be found online. Hunters can apply up to 11:59 p.m. Central Time on the application deadline, and after the application is submitted, they can check their drawing status online at any time.

Public Draw Hunts: Hunting on the Cheap

The TPWD draw hunts program offers affordable hunting experiences throughout the state, including several Youth-Only hunt categories. The application fees are $3 or $10 depending on the hunt category. These hunts are economical and from my experience they offer a very good hunting experience. My family and I been participating in these hunts for over two decades and we always enjoy the challenge of hunting, seeing new ground.

If drawn for a TPWD hunt, adult hunters will have to pay a Special Permit fee of $80 for regular hunts and $130 for extended hunts. Some categories, such as the Youth-Only hunts, require no application fees or permit fees. Permits are open to Texas residents and non-resident hunters alike.

This is the fourth year that the TPWD draw hunts have been offered online.

Monkeys Get CWD from Eating Infected Meat (Venison)

The biggest thing to hit the deer hunting world in recent years has been the increasing prevalence of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in white-tailed deer herds across the US. Unfortunately, the disease not only threatens  our great natural resources, but also poses a threat to hunters.

Although there is no evidence that directly links CWD to specific illnesses in humans, there are also no long-term studies that examine those relationships either. Anyone been tested for CWD lately?

Make no mistake, CWD is a huge issue that impacts cervids, natural resource agencies, hunters and the our hunting heritage. The long-term impacts of the disease on deer hunting and hunter recruitment are completely unknown. Will CWD extirpate the deer or those that choose to hunt them first?

Conceptual model of CWD transmission.
Conceptual model of transmission of chronic wasting disease CWD).

Having to consider whether or not to eat CWD-infected venison is not something that most hunters have to deal with, yet.  But in a number of states, the chances of harvesting a deer infected with CWD are rising. In parts of Wisconsin, for example, infection rates on tested deer are coming in at 30 percent.

Though some experts believe there is a “species barrier” that may prevent humans from getting CWD, other experts suggest that any perceived barrier is not absolute. And after exposed to the prion, the incubation period (the time it takes to see impacts from the disease) is anyone’s guess.

A past study found that monkeys remained free of CWD 6 years after being “exposed orally and intracerebrally,” but researchers have just reported that primates, a classification (order) that includes monkeys, apes and humans, did contract the disease after eating venison that contained CWD prions.

States with CWD in Deer
States with chronic wasting disease (CWD) as of June 2017.

Source: Macaque monkeys contracted chronic wasting disease after eating meat from CWD-positive deer, according to Canadian researchers.

The findings are the first known oral transmissions of the prion disease to a primate and have heightened concerns of human susceptibility to CWD.

“The assumption was for the longest time that chronic wasting disease was not a threat to human health,” said Stefanie Czub, prion researcher with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in remarks published June 24 in The Tyee, a Vancouver, B.C. magazine. “But with the new data it seems we need to revisit this view to some degree.”

Czub is leading the project, which began in 2009 and is funded by Alberta Prion Research Institute at the University of Calgary.

Eighteen macaques, a type of monkey, have been exposed to CWD in various ways to study the zoonotic potential of the disease.

Three of five macaques that were fed infected white-tailed deer meat over a three-year period tested positive for CWD.

The meat fed to the macaques represented the human equivalent of eating a seven-ounce steak per month.

Macaques that had the CWD prion injected into their brains also contracted the disease.

Those that had infected material rubbed on their skin – designed to simulate contact a hunter might have while field dressing a deer – have not contracted the disease.

Your Fall Deer Hunting Success Starts Now

Summer is just around the corner and that means I have but one thing on my mind… deer hunting. There are a number of things to do to prepare for next deer season and I want to avoid doing them during the summer and early fall. The heat is killer down here in Texas during the summer — and during the “dog days of summer” it’s much more enjoyable to be to sitting in the shade drinking a cold one… or two.

I could wait until the early fall, but that be too late. I see no point in spooking up the deer using the property with last minute changes to my hunting areas. No, I’m going to be proactive and try to get some of these things done right now, while spring is still holding on by a toe nail. There are 4 things on my pre-season deer hunting agenda.

Pre-Season Deer Hunting Prep

Deer Stand Placement

Habitat work on this property last year included the removal of some thick brush in some select areas. While hunting this past season I noticed that deer now move through the property differently. Now the goal is to setup a new stand and move an existing one so that I can close the distance on the new deer travel corridors. Several stands means I will have good, safe options next hunting season regardless of wind direction.

In addition to keeping wind direction in mind, I like to also setup “morning” and “evening” stands. My stand placement almost always includes a travel corridor or pinch-point, but I also prefer that the stand be situated so that I am not looking into but rather away from the sun. This helps me see deer better, keeps me cooler during the early season and means not having to fight the sun.

Shooting Lane Prep

What’s a good deer stand without a place to get off a shot? An unproductive place to hunt. Once stands are situated I want to rough-cut some shooting lanes so that most of the work is done before summer sets in. When developing shooting lanes try to think about how the deer will travel through the area and the predominate wind direction so that you have an idea on how deer will approach the “death zone.”

The growing season does in include the summer months so shooting lanes will have to be re-visited and trimmed up just prior to hunting season, but this work should be minimal if the bulk of the work is done now.

Minerals for Deer

Another item on my punch list is to set up a new mineral station in the central part of my hunting property. The jury is still out on whether or not minerals actually increase the antler size of bucks on a property, but we do know that 1) deer love mineral sites and 2) it ain’t gonna hurt to put some minerals on the ground. This is especially true in high rainfall areas where the soil is leached or in sandy areas where mineral availability may be low.

Bucks will visit mineral sites but so will does. With the fawning season now upon us,  lactating does will definitely make use of supplemental mineral sources. Besides, I think mineral sites help keep deer moving through and hanging out on my hunting property, and that’s where I want them.

Prepare for Camera Surveys

Hunters with experience using game cameras know that good deer photos from motion-activated cameras do not just happen. Much like a deer hunting stand, a good camera site takes some scouting to find and usually at least some minor preparation. Once found, I like to aim game cameras looking down trails and facing north, away from the sun, if possible. My goal over the next week or so is to ID several good setups and get them prepped so that cameras can be deployed in late July for deer surveys and general scouting.

At least 2-3 cameras should be setup on just about any size property. More is always better, up to a point. I’ve been able to hunt small acreage successfully, as well as large acreage, but have noticed over the years that a short difference between camera sites makes a big difference in the animals that you catch on camera. Often times, another camera setup just 100 yards away will photograph different deer. I have found that a particular buck may show up at more than one camera site but will no doubt show preference for one area over another. This is an edge I will use to push the odds in my favor as deer hunting season rolls around.