Acorns, mild and dry weather slow down Hill Country deer

Published on Saturday, 2 December 2017 02:18 - Written by STEVE KNIGHT/steve@texasalloutdoors.com

CAMP VERDE - I don’t know how things are around where you have been deer hunting, but where I have been in the Texas Hill Country it has been tough.

Too much testosterone around the feeders is how one friend explained it.

It is not that we are not seeing a lot of deer. The problem is most of the deer we are seeing come to feeders are bucks that are up to maybe 4 years old. They are good bucks, just not the ones we are looking for.

To be honest, in the early part of the season we have been looking for does and management bucks. With Managed Lands Deer permits from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, we have to kill more than 100 does in an effort to get the deer-per-acre average up to about one to six. The problem is we are not seeing any does. Certainly not like we saw during spotlight counts in September.

Like the friend said, too much testosterone. The feeders are covered up with bucks, maybe eight or 10 at a time. We are seeing does as we ride around the ranch being chased in circles and up and down over hills by bucks, or hiding in a snag to stay away from them.

Another reason we are not seeing deer like we should is because of the acorn crop. Even though the ranch has a deer population problem, there is more than enough for the deer to eat right now.

“I think that is it,” Trey Carpenter, wildlife biologist, said of the problem. “We get the same thing with a lot of rain right before dove season that causes all that green flush of stuff.”

Carpenter, a former TPWD biologist, said the mild and dry weather is not helping the mast crop rot. That means the acorns are providing more food longer.

However, he throws in another idea. After years of extensive doe harvest around feeders, he believes they have figured out the game. This has caused them to change their feeding habits to after dark around feeders and on food plots, something we are seeing on game camera photos.

“I think all those animals feel those feeders are traps,” he explained.

He saw an example on a recent hunt when two doe would run up to a feeder, grab a couple bites of corn then run off. Instead of stopping to eat like the bucks had been doing, they continued to move in and out. Part of that, Carpenter said, was also because a buck was harassing them, but he also said they just didn’t seem comfortable around a feeder during daylight.

“They are scared of them. They don’t like to stand under them. They have one eye on the feeder and they are looking around with the other,” Carpenter said.

In contrast to the lack of does, more quality mature bucks are showing up at the feeders. Carpenter believes this is because unlike the doe, bucks on the ranch have pretty much had a free ride in recent years while the main effort was on population control.

If the weather turns cold, wet or both, it could all change overnight. Post rut, the does may have to return to the feeders for food.

In the future, there are several fixes for this problem. One is something hunters can do this off-season in preparation for next season and that is to move blinds away from feeders or at least have a tripod or something they can move to when the does are not showing up. The idea is to catch the deer staging for a late move to the feeders or food plots.

It doesn’t have to be a big move, just far enough away the deer will not be pressured while feeding. The key, of course, is learning where the deer are coming from.

Another more immediate solution is to drop corn along roads away from feeders and stands where deer are hanging out and then setting up in a ground blind, tripod or even from the truck within range.

While a lot of deer will come to feeders from time to time, there is always a portion of the population that never uses them.

There is no doubt if this is going to be a successful year, something has to change. Since you cannot depend on Mother Nature, probably the easiest solution is for the hunter to try something different.