Velvet Season

Here in Texas it is hot outside and getting hotter. But thankfully where I live in our normally thirsty Lone Star State we have been getting some truly fortuitous rain.  The plentiful precipitation has come at an ideal time for wildlife!  Even so, I will admit late spring and early summer are not my favorite times of the year.  Admittedly, it was a bit different when in the past I normally escaped to Africa in June and July.  But for the past year, I have not been able to do so, and, I will not be going to Africa, due to numerous factors and circumstances.

But thankfully here at home with whitetails, mule deer and elk again growing their new sets of antlers, things are starting to “look up” and getting a bit more interesting on a daily basis.

“Been seeing a fair number of fawns, and, the last couple of weeks have started to see some pretty interesting bucks.  Antler growth is far enough advanced to make things interesting. Some are younger bucks producing their first antlers, but also I’m seeing a couple I have been watching for the past couple of years. They’re three and four year olds this year.”  Before I could respond, “I’ll text you a couple photos Donna took a couple of days ago.  Let me hear what you think!”  If my cyber friend, Samuel Old, told me he was seeing some interesting bucks, I wanted to see them.  Too, I knew his wife, Ms. Donna, to be a very accomplished photographer, one who on occasion has graciously allowed me to use her photos to help illustrate blogs and articles.

An hour later I heard my phone “ping” indicating I had received a text.  Indeed I had, including three photos; one of two yearling bucks, another of a buck that appeared to be probably three or four and a two-year old and a third of their clover food plot.  Ms. Donna had done herself proud with the photos.

It has always amazed me how whitetail deer have a way of bringing people together, especially when it comes managing the habitat and animals to improve the health of both.  My friendship with Samuel Old, who lives on a farm in rural Virginia goes back a way, developed totally via social media, text messages and one phone call.  We keep up with each other primarily thru texting.

I sent a return to Sam commenting on the two younger bucks and also the photo of the older one.  All looked impressive in terms of health and their current “velvety condition”.  

It was really good and encouraging to see photos of yearling bucks and also of the older ones from Sam’s part of Virginia.  A year ago whitetail deer herds throughout much of Virginia as well as States in the Mid-West and even up into Montana and southern Canada had to deal with EHD, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, sometimes too called “bluetongue” because of ulcers forming on an effected animal’s tongue.  In the early stage it causes deer to walk like they are walking on eggshells because of among other things the EHD virus constricts and destroy the capillaries in the effected animal’s circulatory system.  This often and generally leads to an acute deadly pneumonia.  

The disease was brought to North America, via domestic sheep, back in the middle 1800’s. It is carried by a midge, or buffalo gnat (the vector).  EHD generally raises its “ugly face” in summer to late summer when ponds stagnate, a breeding ground for the diseases carrier.  It disappears with the first frost.  

For years it was mostly restricted to Texas.  In spite of having to for many years deal with bluetongue/EHD Texas whitetails have never developed an immunity to the disease.  However, they have become somewhat resistant to it.  As late as thirty and forty years ago every year we in Texas lost a goodly number of deer to “bluetongue”. The same disease is often “credited” for destroying desert bighorns in far western Texas during the late 1800 and early 1900’s.

It often seems that we loose a higher percentage of bucks to bluetongue than we do does however both are effected equally.  Deer that recover from bluetongue often develop hooves that never quit growing becoming extremely elongated. This because the capillaries are destroyed in the area of where skin and hoof meet.

Thankfully the disease is neither transmissible or communicable to humans! Those areas which have never before or are only occasionally dealt with bluetongue tend to lose far more deer than those areas which “deal with” the disease each summer and late summer.

Seeing Ms. Donna’s photos of the young and older bucks was/is quite refreshing.  Maybe the effects of bluetongue were not as severe as initially thought at least in the area where Sam and Ms. Donna live and practice their quality deer management program.

The photos also remind us we need to think about deer and other wildlife species not only when they are in peril, or during the fall hunting season but throughout the year as well.

Winter, spring and early summer are extremely important times when deer and other species need quality nutrition.  Addressing only deer, in winter bucks are coming out of a stressful breeding season and does are developing fetuses. During spring bucks are developing antlers and does are trying to produce milk and fawns.  Summer bucks are still developing antlers, does may still be nursing fawns, and fawns are trying to become nutritionally independent. These are extremely nutritionally stressful times.

People such as Samuel and Donna Old do much for the wildlife on their property including spring food plots which benefit not only whitetails, but wild turkeys and songbirds and other game and non-game species.  Planted fields produce forage and cover for deer, but also provide food for insects as well as seeds which are extremely important to wild turkeys and other young birds.

When I am asked what is the best thing to plant for wildlife in any specific area, my reply almost always is the same.  “If there are any row crops in your immediate area, talk to the local farmer ask what he plants that deer and other wildlife are “bad” at eating.  If he tells you he plants a particular crop that deer and other wildlife nearly destroy…that’s where you want to start.  Number one, local animals know what the crop is and they like it. Number two, you know it will grow in your immediate area.  Number three go to the local feed and seed dealer and buy your seeds there.  They can also likely tell you someone who will plant your food plots, if you do not have access to your own planting equipment. 

Before planting, send a soil sample to be analyzed for what is available in your soil and what’s needed to improve it and production of forage in terms of quality and quantity. The local County or Township Agricultural Agent can help you with this, or advise how and where to have your soil tested.  Then, when you find out what’s needed, have them recommend what fertilizer to use and at what rate per acre.  Again too, they may well be able to advise you who you can contract to disperse the fertilizer, if you do not have access to such equipment.

Consider, also planting fall and winter food plots.  Now too, is a good time to start thinking about fall food plots.

Now too, is the ideal time to seriously start thinking about exactly what gun, optic and ammo you are going to be using this fall, if you have not already done so.  Early summer is the perfect time to go to the range to become proficient with whatever you hunt with including bow, crossbow or even air rifle.

I recently “dug” a .300 Win Mag out of the back of my gun safe.  It’s a custom, extremely light weight rifle which I took with me to Africa for my first safari.  I recently replaced the existing scope with a Trijicon 2.5-12.5×42 AccuPoint, one I have grown to truly like and appreciate!

This fall I have three mule deer hunts, two in Texas and one in Baja, Mexico where I will likely be doing some serious walking.  The lightweight custom rifle, fully loaded with three either Hornady Outfitter 180-grain GMX, or Hornady Precision Hunter 200-grain ELD-X, complete with the Trijicon scope and a sling weight almost exactly 8-pounds. 

The other rifle I’m seriously looking at for my mule deer hunts is a .280 Remington. It is also topped with a Trijicon 2.5-12.5×42 AccuPoint shooting 150-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter.

I plan to spend time on my range during mid-day.  Early and late I’m hoping to do some scouting. After seeing the buck photos sent to me my Samuel Old, I’m anxious to see what might be showing up on my own place.

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