Many hunters are still lamenting the poor deer season that just ended. Complaints about lack of deer sightings and poor deer activity have hunters crying about too many doe days.
You know: Hunters have killed too many does and the deer population around the state is low.
I hunted deer from Pearl River northwestward to northern Bossier Parish, and I saw plenty of deer, deer sign and deer activity.
It was one of those years when our abundant acorn crop had deer in the woods eating acorns, and visits by deer to the food plots and feeders were way down.
It still amazes me that deer hunters do not change their game plan and continue to hunt the same box stand, feeder and food plot the entire deer season. I guess the mind set is that deer have to eat and I have the food for them.
Never mind the excellent table fare Mother Nature has given them.
I saw this firsthand on the 1,200-acre tract of land in Desoto Parish that I manage. The tract is not hunted, but feeders are set up beginning in August and operate through February.
In August and September, there are quite a few quality bucks coming to eat corn and rice bran, but around Oct. 1 these visits began to taper off — and as the acorns began falling in mid-October it was pretty much over.
None of the really good bucks were photographed in November and December thanks to the abundance of acorns and the Area 2 rut that began in mid-October.
Even in January, the visits by mature bucks were limited, with mainly the 1 ½-year-old spikes showing up to eat corn.
This lack of activity is on a tract of land that is not hunted and where human disturbance is minimal. If this happened here, there’s no reason for it to be any different on an area that is hunted hard.
When acorns are available, deer are going to be eating acorns.
I also observed this past year the disappearance of the wild turkeys that roam around on our small property in East Feliciana Parish.
In September, there was an adult hen with two poults (about her size) and two more adult hens that had not produced young. Then one day these five turkeys became 11 turkeys that I watched for a few days.
And then all the turkeys disappeared from October through December. In late January, the turkeys were back, scratching under a big pine tree eating pine nuts.
Since then, the turkeys have once again become regular visitors to the property and have even brought along some of their male companions.
Their disappearance was in response to the mast crop.
Turkeys will shift their ranges from spring and summer during the fall and winter months, moving to the hardwood drains and ridges when acorns are readily available, and no doubt our turkeys simply shifted to the west toward the Amite River drainage and the hardwoods that occupy this habitat.
So, with wildlife stuffing themselves with acorns, do we need to worry with planting spring and summer food plots? Because of the abundance of acorns this past season the various species of wildlife that fed on them should be in excellent physical condition and might not need any supplemental food.
The answer concerning spring and summer plantings lies in the habitat you have available for them this spring and summer.
Acorns are energy food for wildlife, carbohydrates that provide energy during the winter to stay warm and for building body fat when times are tough.
Fortunately, times really did not get tough for the wildlife, so most of the food should have gone toward keeping them healthy and ready for producing the crop of critters.
Squirrel production generally goes up following an abundant mast crop.
The crop of spring squirrels is high, with females being able to easily raise two to four youngsters. Acorns are probably still available for these females to nurse all of the baby squirrels with little stress.
Squirrels will breed again in May and early June, and produce a late-summer fall crop — and this equates to more bushy-tails in the trees next fall.
A good mast crop also will increase productivity in other game animals such as deer and turkey, and will also increase production in the old feral hog.
Does will be in good shape when spring green-up occurs, and they should have good success with their fawning.
While bucks will lose body mass during the rut, a good mast crop provides the food they need to get back into shape, and when green-out they occurs will be able to use this forage to increase weight and grow antlers.
Had bucks been in stress prior to green-out, the food they would be eating would go toward getting them back into shape — and only once in shape would they start increasing body weight and try to grow decent antlers.
But since the bucks were fit because of the good mast crop, body and antler growth should be excellent. In fact we should expect to see an increase in quality and trophy bucks in 2015.
But the key for this happening is the spring and summer habitat available for the deer.
Acorns are an important food for wildlife, including deer, but acorns do not grow antlers. Antlers are a product of protein, and acorns are not very high in protein.
Available browse that occurs on the landscape is the key for antler growth.
Landowners who managed their forestland with regular timber treatments such as selective cuts, clear cuts and prescribed burns should produce sufficient browse for deer growth, production (fawning) and antler development.
Land that has heavy stands of pine plantation timber might be lacking in available browse, especially if herbicide treatments are being used to reduce growth of hardwood species.
A browse survey can determine if the habitat has sufficient browse.
Deer growth on forestland adjacent to summer agriculture should be good, since the deer will be feeding on the agricultural forages.
Landowners and clubs incorporating clover in their fall and winter forages will have this quality forage available for deer during the spring and summer. Landowners and clubs who only planted rye grass in their fall plantings will not have any forage available for deer during spring and summer.
Landowners who are doing some clipping of fallow fields during the spring and summer will produce forage from native plant species that sprout up following the mowing.
Hopefully, you are getting the idea that something does need to be done to make sure there is quality forage for deer growth and antler development this year — either through production of forage from your timber management program or from the management work that you apply to the landscape.
If your browse availability is low, then you need to do something to improve it; otherwise, body growth and antler development will be minimal.
Planting forages high in protein, such as legumes (beans, peas, joint-vetch), will certainly benefit deer, improving the quality of available forage.
But in your haste to set the table for deer, do not forget turkeys and quail. Incorporating plantings of millet, sunflowers and sorghum will provide nutrition and cover these species, and the deer will also benefit from them.
You also will be providing opportunity for September dove hunting, which is only six months away.