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Kammermeyer: November is the time to honor deer

POSTED: November 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.

If ever there was a month to honor our deer, it would have to be November, the peak of both breeding season and hunting season.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) once were nearly eliminated in Georgia by poachers and extensive agriculture, but through diligent wildlife management efforts deer have been successfully restored throughout the state. In fact, the current deer population is nearly one million.

Deer are a valuable natural, recreational, and economic resource in Georgia, bringing in more than $900 million per year in hunting license fees, sporting equipment sales, hunting trip expenses and land leases.

However, deer densities in some localized areas have the potential to inflict significant damage to forestry, agricultural or horticultural crops, home gardens, shrubbery and their own woodland food supplies.

But because deer are important both biologically and economically, management of their numbers requires serious consideration on numerous levels. Regulated hunting is the only way to manage deer populations.

Scientific studies of white-tailed deer in recent years have provided much information on deer biology and behavior.

For example, adult deer in Georgia range from 70-to-250 pounds with bucks typically weighing more than does.

Breeding season (called "the rut") extends from October to January and peaks in November. Gestation period is 200 days.

Newborn fawns, are spotted and range from 4-8 pounds. Most are born between May and August with a peak in June.

For the first month or so, does spend very little time with fawns, hiding them for hours at a time and returning to nurse them only four or five times per day.

This tactic helps keep scent levels very low so predators are not attracted to newborns. Young deer begin foraging on plants within a month and are completely weaned in three months.

The size of deer home range in Georgia vary from 150 acres to more than 1,200 acres with does having smaller ranges than bucks.

Smaller ranges also are found in higher deer populations in better deer habitat such as those found in most of Northeast Georgia. As most hunters are well aware, deer are most active around dawn and dusk. This is called a crepuscular activity pattern.

Although most hunters think in terms of bucks, it is the doe segment of the herd that determines most of the differences found in deer population size.

For example, depending on the food supply and the total deer population, does can produce twins, singles, or not bear any fawns at all. If births exceed the total death rate from hunting and other causes in any particular year, then the population increases.

Eventually, the population reaches a size where it exceeds the available food supply ("carrying capacity" of the land) resulting in lower birth rates, poor antler development, lower body weights and eventually a lower population as the remaining food supply is permanently damaged.

Consequently, the deer herd is the result of a complex interaction of hunting pressure, food supply, population size, births, deaths, movements, weather, and past history.

Hunting is the one tried and true method for managing deer populations in order to reach desired deer herd densities.

Antler development is important to many hunters and deer observers. Buck antler development is controlled by age, nutrition, and genetics.

However, in Georgia genetics do not appear to be an important factor. For most deer in this state, age is the single most limiting factor for antler development, followed by nutrition. Under heavy hunting pressure, bucks simply do not live long enough to produce large antlers.

Also, poor nutrition can occur when deer herds get so large that their food supply is reduced in quality or quantity resulting in poor antler growth.

Deer are our only native animals that routinely browse plants 4-to-5-feet above the ground. They eat about five pounds per day (dry weight) of hundreds of species of both native and non-native plants, but have definite preferences for certain plants, fruits and nuts.

Some of their favorites in November include Japanese honeysuckle, acorns, grapes, apples, persimmons, greenbrier, wheat, oats and clover. Right now, deer appear to be concentrating on white oak acorns, clover and persimmons (whether they are ripe or not).

Deer are known as generalists because of their ability to thrive in a wide variety of habitats including forests, woodlots, suburbs, extensive agriculture, swamps and coastal marshes.

High deer numbers are a serious concern because they can destroy their own habitat and that of dozens of other species, even causing extirpation of plant species.

The best deer habitat contains mixed ages of pine and hardwood forests interspersed with openings and agriculture. This provides the optimum combination of food, cover, and water that are the essential components of any habitat.

November is a magical month for hunters because bucks are moving now more than any other time of year. They are also chasing does, making scrapes and rubbing trees with their antlers to mark their territories.

Their "sign" in the woods, keeps hunters encouraged that bucks are nearby and helps them stay in the hunt even in cold and inclement weather. Most hunters will have a great hunt this month whether they harvest a deer or not.



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