Most hunters realize that the white-tailed deer hunting season is somewhat dictated by precipitation received or not received during the first half of the year. Although the rains have seemingly dried up recently, many areas have received good amounts of rain throughout the late winter and early spring. But what’s new? It’s almost summer and more often than not it’s dry. Strong spring rains equate to better than average body condition in all deer and enhanced antler growth in bucks.
Summer rains are an appreciated bonus and can provide stable nutrition for whitetail deer herds during what is typically a hot and dry stress period. The best way to manage for disappearing forage is through supplemental feeding. Thanks in a large part to the rain received this spring, in addition to the abundance of high protein forbs it produced, many ranches reported a sharp declines in protein consumption by deer. Not only is this good for the landowner’s pocket book, but it’s good for the deer too.
When it comes to quality, nothing can compete with the nutrition offered by high quality forbs and new-growth browse. These foods are the best of the best, packing protein levels that make pelleted feeds look weak in comparison. And although we’ve fared well to date, I have a feeling that things are about to get really dry all over again. But this is exactly where the “supplemental” part of supplemental feeding comes into play. Otherwise we would just call is complete feeding.
Does will start dropping fawns later this month over much of Texas, with the bulk of the fawns born during the month of June. Supplemental forage, which can include pelleted protein, whole cottonseed, roasted soybeans and food plots (irrigated or otherwise), will really help compliment deer nutritional requirements during the summer. Of course feeding helps antler growth, but scientific research data shows that supplemental feeding elevates both productivity and survival, which increases the density of the deer population.
Increased deer density (after fawns are born) is a symptom of a high quality problem that is related to overall whitetail health. This can be correctly diagnosed through deer surveys performed during the late summer, and properly treated through harvest during the deer hunting season. But from a deer’s standpoint we are still a long way from the fall, when another boom of natural foods literally hits the ground.
It’s important to keep in mind because the the most expensive nutritional part of a doe’s annual cycle is in raising fawns. Mother Nature has already provided for all of her needs to date, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better. A lactating doe that is on a high plane of nutrition can be expected to raise more or at least more healthy fawns. With temperatures heating up and fawns about to drop, this is also the time of year when does really benefit from supplementation.
But so far so good for this year. There have been some good spring rains that have provided a bounty of foods for native wildlife and domestic livestock. Even without another drop of rain (hope not) until the fall, things are looking much better for whitetail deer than they did in 2011. Deer in many areas improved in body condition through the fall and winter thanks to heavy acorn crops, mild temperatures and good rains. It did make for tough hunting.
The trend of favorable environmental conditions has continued through the spring and I suspect that many hunters are looking forward to a good deer hunting season. Let’s hope we catch a few rains throughout the summer to help get these deer through to the other side. Manage livestock grazing to preserve fawning habitat and to bank some valuable deer browse into the summer. Again, it’s been a good year to date, which is good for antler growth and fawn production—and hunters!