As most deer hunters, I consider my knowledge of whitetail deer to be considerable. Not to say that I know it all, because I don’t. It is just that I have learned nothing new about deer in a long time, until recently.
Most of what deer hunters know about their prey is learned from books, videos, time afield and from other hunters. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. James Kroll, who is recognized as being one of the worlds leading authorities on whitetail deer. He is involved in the development of a new supplemental deer feed that is changing the way serious deer managers are caring for their animals.
The purpose of this meeting was to produce an upcoming television program on the importance of nutrition to whitetail deer. I had scheduled a half hour and ended up spending close to four hours just listening to what this expert said. I’ll try to fit as much information as possible in this column. The following is a summary of information I would like to pass on.
According to Dr. Kroll, most whitetail fawns are weaned by the time they are 60 - 90 days of age. Even though they may still have spots and occasionally nurse from the doe, they are capable of surviving nutritionally without their mother. Deer eat between 1/4 pound and 8 pounds of supplemental food each day. This amount varies depending upon rainfall and availability of natural forage.
Many serious trophy ranches are not shooting young spikes. It has previously been thought that young bucks sporting spikes are genetically inferior. Research shows that these spikes are the result of either poor nutrition and or late birth (meaning mid-summer). These trophy ranches are allowing most bucks to reach a minimum of 3 ½ years of age before harvest. By this age their antlers will show their potential or lack of.
Most does will have a single fawn for her first birth. After that virtually every doe will have twins with the proper nutrition. Some even have triplets. Nutrition and predators play an important role in determining how many fawns will survive.
Many hunters complain about having small bucks on their property. Nutrition is important for antler development. But equally important is age. A deer is not considered to be mature until 5 ½ years of age. Most bucks never reach that age.
For the first 4 ½ years of life, bucks grow their body first, then antlers. After that their bodies are fully developed and that is when true trophy antlers can develop.
Corn is the most popular deer bait and supplemental feed used by hunters. Kroll says “corn is a good example of a bad example.” Corn lacks in the proper amount of protein, minerals and nutrients necessary to sustain good health.
Deer love corn. But it does nothing but give them something to eat. Deer can survive on a diet of corn. Just like children could survive on candy, at least for a while. Because it is not a balanced diet. Corn will supply energy but doesn’t meet the nutritional needs of a deer and you will never grow trophy antlers with just corn.
It takes age, nutrition and genetics to grow trophy deer. Of the three Kroll says he is changing his mind from genetics as being the most important to nutrition. No buck will ever reach trophy size unless he is allowed to mature.
Genetics are the most difficult thing to correct in a deer herd. Age is the next thing. Convincing hunters to pass on young and middle age bucks is tough. Good nutrition is the easiest thing to accomplish.