Vanishing Sheds, Acorn Thieves, Fire Forage and More Deer Science

New research shared at the 2020 Southeast Deer Study Group meeting held a lot of interesting new knowledge for deer hunters, and especially for deer habitat managers. Here’s a by-the-numbers look at some of the research I found most interesting and useful at the annual conference.

By the way, to prevent this important annual gathering of deer scientists from being cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19, we at the National Deer Association volunteered to host the conference virtually so that it could go on. Anyone interested, whether they are a deer professional or just an interested hunter, can attend from the comfort of home. Registration opens on December 15, 2020.

2.73x

Increase in the likelihood a buck’s shed antler was located by researchers for every 1-year increase in the buck’s age. Nicholas Deig of Auburn University reviewed information on bucks in Auburn’s 430-acre high-fenced research facility, where individual bucks are well known and documented. Across seven years (2012-2018) only 284 of 747 known antlers (39%) were located. For located antlers, the average age of the owner was 5½ years. For antlers that were never found, the average age was 3½. Larger antlers of older bucks are easier to see and find, which means your shed collection in any given year is probably biased toward older bucks and doesn’t reflect the actual age structure of the buck population.

Fertilize Fallow Fields?

Is it worthwhile to lime and fertilize naturally occurring deer forage, like in old fields? Lindsey Phillips of the University of Tennessee found most plant species already met or nearly met nutritional needs of a doe at peak lactation, and lime and fertilizer made little or no difference. However… they significantly increased plant height. So, if you lack quality fawn or bedding cover where you hunt, consider it. Otherwise, save your money. 

By the way, for this study, Lindsey won the award for best student poster at the 2020 Southeast Deer Study Group meeting! She’s seen above with her poster presentation on her research.

40

Number of states in 2019 that had a statewide R3 coordinator (the acronym for efforts to Recruit, Retain and Reactivate hunters). That’s 40 times as many as in 2015, when only one state had an R3 coordinator: Charles Evans of Georgia, who presented this fact at the meeting. Charles is also the co-creator of NDA’s Field to Fork hunter recruitment program along with NDA Director of Hunting Heritage Hank Forester.

500%

Increase in biomass of deer forage plants after a 30% reduction in canopy coverage in upland hardwood stands followed by prescribed fire. Mark Turner of Auburn University tested forest stand improvement (FSI) on four, 8-acre test sites in Barbour County, Alabama using the girdle-and-spray technique to remove trees of low wildlife value.

$10 million

Approximate national budget directed by state wildlife agencies toward CWD testing and surveillance efforts in 2019. NDA’s Director of Conservation Matt Ross presented these results from the 2020 Whitetail Report. Download the full report free.

Mineral Stump Values

“Mineral stump” is Mississippi State University’s name for the mini food plot created by the stump sprouts of certain tree species. Research by Rainer Nichols is showing why sprouts are so attractive: their nutritional value is significantly greater than mature leaves of the same tree species. For example, 18% crude protein for red maple stump sprouts compared to 13% for leaves on a red maple tree; 0.27% phosphorus for sprouts vs. 0.15% for mature leaves. So, cutting down some surplus trees for forest stand improvement (FSI) increases sunlight and understory forage, but it also creates rapid, high-quality forage and attraction through stump sprouts.

Rainer also presented his research as a poster (seen above).

23.2%

The proportion of acorns consumed by feral hogs, the highest share of 13 wildlife species that ate them in a study by Arielle Fay of Auburn University, which measured acorn consumption at 40 sites on an 8,400-acre study area in Alabama. Neither whitetails (21.5%) nor squirrels (18.8%) could beat hogs in grabbing this valuable food resource.

37.5%

Percentage decline in doe harvest in western Tennessee’s CWD management zone from 2018, just before CWD was discovered, to 2019. This decline came despite efforts by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to encourage hunters in the zone to increase doe harvest to help keep CWD prevalence rates low. This fact reinforced a clear theme throughout other discussions at this meeting: State wildlife agencies are powerless to fight CWD without the support of their state’s hunters.

44%

Decline in membership at Ames Plantation Hunting Club, located in the epicenter of Tennessee’s CWD outbreak zone, from 2018 before CWD was discovered to 2019. Bonner Powell of the University of Tennessee surveyed club members in May 2019, six months after the outbreak was discovered. He noted it is important for state wildlife agencies to provide as much information about the disease, new regulations and management strategies as possible. This may help mitigate the loss in hunter participation and harvest as hunters become more familiar with the disease.

18X

Increased coverage of pokeweed, a highly preferred deer forage, in areas of thinned pine timber treated with prescribed fire compared to areas with the same timber thinning level that were not burned. Coverage of ragweed, another preferred forage, was 11 times greater in burned areas. This helps explain why deer use of the areas measured with trail-cameras was 1.6 to 2.6 times greater in burned areas.

“In stands where timber production is secondary to deer use, managers should consider thinning to 40 ft2/acre (basal area) and implementing prescribed fire,” said Dylan Stewart of Auburn University, the study’s author.

What are the odds?

In winter 2019, these three wildlife students from three different universities volunteered their time to help with prescribed fire and habitat improvement at an NDA National Headquarters workday in Georgia. A year later at the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting, these same three students came in first, second and third for best student deer research presentation. 1st place (right), Jordan Dyal of the University of Georgia; 2nd place (center), Mark Turner of Auburn University; 3rd place (left), Moriah Boggess of Mississippi State University.


About Lindsay Thomas Jr.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of the National Deer Association, and he is NDA's Chief Communications Officer. He has been a member of the staff since 2003. Prior to that, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.