Ever felt like you had a buck as good as tagged during the summer, only to watch him disappear come season opener? On the contrary, do you have a property that doesn't produce a single pic of a velvet buck but performs like no other during the rut? Today, our good friend and whitetail habitat extraordinaire - Jeff Sturgis has taken over the Exodus blog to talk summer deer patterns and what they mean to your fall endeavors. We're taking notes, as this seems to throw us a curveball every year!
Take it away Jeff!
Understanding Summer Deer Patterns for Fall Success
The variety of Summer deer patterns that can be found from one parcel to the next, is often mind boggling. Parcels that have incredible Fall numbers of mature bucks can be vacant during the Summer, and those with high Summer populations can be a ghost town during the Fall. Then of course, there are a few somewhat puzzling chunks of hunting land in between. Have you ever investigated why?
One of the greatest assests to add to your whitetail hunting base of knowledge, is attempting to understand how the behavior of Summer deer patterns effects your Fall pursuits. I have experienced that where a mature buck spends his time during the Summer heat, matters greatly. It may be hot, It may be buggy and it may be several weeks before the season begins, but there are still several ways that you can use your Summer findings to improve the level of your hunting season success.
Ingredients of Summer Deer Patterns
From trail cams to fawns to habitat, learning how to read the signs of Fall during the months of Summer is a critical portion of consistent mature buck success. Every hunter loves fresh rubs, scrapes and giant deer tracks near their favorite treestand in October, November and December. However, learning how to read the clues from June, July and August can be just as important, if not more. The timing of your trail cam pictures, the number of fawns that you find and the percentage of your Summer habitat, can paint a picture of uneasy anxiety or intense anticipation.
1) Trail Cam Buck Pictures: Everyone loves getting trail cam pictures of giant bucks during the Summer. I can't imagine the number of sleepless nights that trail cam pictures account for during the weeks leading up to the beginning of deer season. However, you need to ask yourself one extremely important question: Why are you getting the pictures in the first place? Summer trail cam pictures can be extremely misleading.
Are the bucks that you are getting pictures of feeding on green soybean leaves or fresh alfalfa sprouts? Then where will the bucks dine when maturity, early frosts and annual harvests take place? If bucks are bedding during the daytime in the shaded, open understory of a mature woodlot within their Summer deer patterns, what will happen when hunters hit the woods, leaves drop and heavy Fall cover becomes a necessity? And finally, when the bachelor group you have enjoyed watching in July, August and early September breaks up, what will you be left with? If your Fall food and cover options are plentiful, you may keep a few bucks on the land during the hunting season. However, more often than not the best parcels during the Summer months, do not produce the optimum food and cover conditions for quality hunting season patterns.
2) Number of Fawns Observed: Some of my favorite June discoveries are fawns. Curled within a hidden shelter surrounded by grasses, weeds and young growth, fawns are some of the most beautiful creatures that can be found. Immediately a hunters thoughts instinctively race to protection and nourishment, for the very deer that we may target in later years. But do Summer deer patterns that include a large number of fawns on the lands that you hunt, foreshadow the potential of great hunting season potential? Maybe not.
Fawns require does and both does and fawns require space. Sure, a mature buck will appreciate a few ladies during 2-3 weeks of the Fall, but even then he doesn't necessarily live right in the middle of them during the hours of daylight. For the rest of the hunting season a buck prefers to spend his daytime hours away from the female portion of the population and as he matures, he seems to tolerate does and most bucks as well. Excessive fawn numbers can only mean one thing: Excessive doe numbers. Huge numbers of doe family groups not only require a large amount of cover for their preferred daytime bedding locations, but they require a large amount of food for their afternoon destination food sources. Although fawns are arguably one of the most beautiful discoveries of the early Summer, large clusters of does and fawns could be an indication that you will be spending more time watching does during the hunting season, than bucks.
3) Percentage of Summer Habitat: The serious question that any hunter needs to ask when it comes to reading Summer deer patterns is what % of the land that is being hunted, is either Fall or Summer habitat. Velvet monarchs and cute little fawns are both incredible to photograph or observe, but what % of the land is contributing to those patterns?
The higher the % of Summer habitat vs Fall Habitat, the lower your potential for not only molding and shaping a quality deer herd, but for harvesting the target bucks that you are after. Entire deer herds move to find higher quality cover or food source options, however it is common for mature bucks to move much furthern than doe family groups. While doe family groups seem willing to tolerate higher hunting stress levels and lower quality levels of both forage and daytime bedding, a mature buck will not. During the last 25 years, a very high % of the older bucks that I have followed from their Summer patterns to their eventual Fall death, established a core daytime area during November that was more than a mile away from where they spent their time during July, August and September.
Fall Hunting Patterns
At times a parcel can offer quality Fall and Summer deer patterns, but it is rare. The amount of land needed to capture large chunks of quality warm and cool season habitat is much greater than the average hunter has available to hunt. In fact my own parcels of land that I hunt are only 40 and 45 acres, which is far below the number of acres needed to offer adequate amounts of multi-season habitats. But regardless of which vareity of land that you think you have, there is a hunting strategy for both.
"Type A" Fall Pattern Hunting: Lands that are blessed with a high supply of Fall deer patterns and the deer movement that comes with it, can target individual bucks the entire season. From early and late season afternoon feeding movements to pre rut morning madness opportunities to all day prime rut activity rollercoasters, a land that features heavy Fall deer usage has it all. A hunter on a Type A parcel can wait for the perfect temperature and weather conditions, and go in for the kill on any day during the entire season that all the deer signs point to a great sit. On a Type A piece of land, hunters can afford to be picky, and they are often rewarded by doing so.
"Type B" Summer Pattern Hunting: Although Type A properties are the lands that allow deer managers and avid hunters alike to attract, mold, shape and hunt a deer herd, there are still some optimum times to be in the woods on a parcel that is heavily weighted towards Summer deer usage. Early season opportunities should never be missed on a Type B parcel. If a target buck is hanging around during July, August and September on the lands that you hunt, don't make the mistake of waiting until the rut to hunt him, because he may be in someone else's sites by then. Instead, make sure to choose an early season sit opportunity during the afternoon hours that allows you to take advantage of feeding movements that have been in place for months. Type B hunting parcels typically experience a heavy decline in deer usage as the season progresses and in my experience it pays to wait until the peak of the rut to take another chance at an area giant. Even the pre rut should be fairly lite in deer activity, as mature bucks have most likely established core areas on other lands, with other does to chase as soon as the rut begins. However when the peak rut hits, a hunter on a Type B parcel needs to log a lot of hours on a deer stand each day, in the hope that a random encounter of neighborhood buck will take place. A hunter on a Type B parcel can't afford to be very picky when it comes to choosing a day to hunt, because the optimum days to be in the woods are quickly fleating, narrow windows of defined opportunity.
During the Fall, certain landowners consistently get to experience shot opportunities on the best the local herd has to offer. Of course hunting skill has a lot to do with it, but so does making sure that they are hunting prime Fall deer patterns the majority of the hunting season. During the 90s I began to realize that if I was going to be successful on some of the Summer bucks that I wanted to target later during the Fall, I had to hunt somewhere other than where they were during the Summer. However, I typically didn't have to move that far. By the time I shifted across the fields and into the nearest remote, thick patch of cover I often ended up about a mile away from where we spent relaxed Summer evenings, observing bachelor groups of bucks from the comfort of folding lawn chairs. Over the years for better or worse, warm season deer patterns have taught me the potential of my Fall pursuits. The months of Summer are a great time to assess the changes that you need to make to the lands that you hunt, as well as to the hunting tactics that you need to use to be successful.
Written by Jeff Sturgis
Jeff is the founder of Whitetail Habitat Solutions, you can read more great articles like this one at www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com.