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Old 12-04-2016, 08:18 AM   #1
Hawkpuppy 1
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Default Deer Ecology 101

I see all the posts on here about people wanting to know more and more questions about deer, age, score, genetics and all so I thought I would start a post on the basis of what the animal is when you boil it all down. Let's start at the beginning so we know where we are going with management and habitat requirements. I would like to make this an ongoing series of topics and to be an educational learning tool for anyone who needs it.

A little background on me first, where the info is coming from. I have a BS in Animal Science and Wildlife Mgt. I have worked in both the private and public sector of wildlife management and biology over the past 15 years. Deer breeder manager, wildlife biologist, forester and fisheries management have been my strong points over that time. So now, lets get started with deer....

Deer are ruminants(four stomachs) just like(kinda) cattle, sheep and goats. They are lumped into the Cervid family along with Moose and Elk. There are generally an accepted 25+ sub-species of whitetail deer spread all over North and South America.

Whitetail deer(WTD) are more commonly known as a browse eating animal, but are also known to be generalists and can easily adapt in most environments. Grasses make up very little of their total daily intake, but can vary by location and season. Oats and Wheat for example can make up a good portion of their diet in the cool season. Being a ruminant, deer must eat approximately every 8 hours. Typical behavior is to feed at daylight and dusk, the term for this type of animal is "Crepuscular". However, they will feed off and on throughout the day and night in most cases. Time spent while not feeding are typically spent laying around ruminating(regurgitating their food to continue to break it down to digest, just like a cow) what they have already eaten, looking for water/does and sleeping. A big misconception is that deer only move early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
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Old 12-04-2016, 09:06 AM   #2
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Thank you
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Old 12-04-2016, 09:10 AM   #3
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thanks, subscribed
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Old 12-04-2016, 09:33 AM   #4
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Always willing to learn more. Thank you
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Old 12-04-2016, 07:24 PM   #5
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Continuing on, WTD are known to eat a huge variety of foods ranging from most forbs, browse(woody stemmed plants/shrubs/trees), some grasses and even some types of other animals. Baby birds have been known to get eaten if deer come across them. They are after all, protein. Most deer will eat about 4% of their body weight each day. This will vary on season and other factors such as stress. If you think about it, most adult deer need to consume about 4lbs of feed, in some form or fashion, every day. Certain times of the year, that will even be more.
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Old 12-04-2016, 07:55 PM   #6
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in
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Old 12-04-2016, 08:18 PM   #7
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Following along, good info
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Old 12-04-2016, 08:47 PM   #8
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Tagged..... Keep the info coming.
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Old 12-04-2016, 09:27 PM   #9
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Thanks for the info
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Old 12-04-2016, 11:29 PM   #10
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Good info
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Old 12-05-2016, 11:42 AM   #11
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following
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Old 12-05-2016, 12:05 PM   #12
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No! You're wrong!!













Well, maybe not yet, but I seem to always be late to the party. Not this time


Carry on with the good information please.
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Old 12-05-2016, 12:14 PM   #13
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Great thread here.
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Old 12-05-2016, 12:43 PM   #14
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Keep it coming.. good info.
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Old 12-05-2016, 12:54 PM   #15
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Good info
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Old 12-05-2016, 12:55 PM   #16
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I'm in. Thanks for the info
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Old 12-05-2016, 01:06 PM   #17
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I'm in. thanks for sharing your many yrs of knowledge
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Old 12-05-2016, 01:08 PM   #18
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Interesting keep it coming!
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Old 12-05-2016, 01:33 PM   #19
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is there a term for animals that, for lack of a better term, "know" what food is best for them and what isn't? like when browsing they know which plants are most valuable and which aren't (weeds in a food plot)...or when me and my neighbor were watching some does 2 weeks ago walk around picking out hackberry leaves that were falling among hundreds of other types of leaves.

just curious.

thanks for the info...

Last edited by jshouse; 12-05-2016 at 01:35 PM..
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Old 12-05-2016, 08:17 PM   #20
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In.
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Old 12-05-2016, 09:25 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jshouse View Post
is there a term for animals that, for lack of a better term, "know" what food is best for them and what isn't? like when browsing they know which plants are most valuable and which aren't (weeds in a food plot)...or when me and my neighbor were watching some does 2 weeks ago walk around picking out hackberry leaves that were falling among hundreds of other types of leaves.

just curious.

thanks for the info...
Most all animals know what they can and can not eat. Not sure there is a "term" for it other than thousands of years of evolution.
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Old 12-05-2016, 09:27 PM   #22
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Subscribed...
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Old 12-05-2016, 09:35 PM   #23
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Continuing on.... A topic that rarely gets mentioned, is how stress can effect deer. I'm not talking stress like going to a job, paying bills.... Stress comes in many forms. Environmental stress can come from disturbance around them in physical form such as new construction, road work...

But, there are also types of stress such as drought, heat, cold and rain. All of these factors affect how and what deer do on a day-to-day basis. It has been shown that stress, of any kind, in small amounts over a long period is more damaging that a high amount of stress over a short period of time.

Temperature and food are probably the two most common types of stress. Extreme heat and cold are very hard on animals. We can go inside to get out of the elements, but deer have to live in it 24/7. Heat and cold cause a higher consumption of food and water. Water in the heat, food in the cold. Obviously water is needed in higher amounts in extreme heat to help keep the body cooled down. Food in the cold to generate heat through digestion and absorption of fats and nutrients.
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Old 12-05-2016, 09:44 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawkpuppy 1 View Post
Continuing on.... It has been shown that stress, of any kind, in small amounts over a long period is more damaging that a high amount of stress over a short period of time.
Same with us human animals. Coming up short on sleep an hour or two a night for a month leads to chronic fatigue and it takes a while to recover. But, staying up late and getting up early for a week you can recover in another week or so.
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Old 12-05-2016, 11:35 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawkpuppy 1 View Post
Continuing on.... A topic that rarely gets mentioned, is how stress can effect deer. I'm not talking stress like going to a job, paying bills.... Stress comes in many forms. Environmental stress can come from disturbance around them in physical form such as new construction, road work...

But, there are also types of stress such as drought, heat, cold and rain. All of these factors affect how and what deer do on a day-to-day basis. It has been shown that stress, of any kind, in small amounts over a long period is more damaging that a high amount of stress over a short period of time.
Temperature and food are probably the two most common types of stress. Extreme heat and cold are very hard on animals. We can go inside to get out of the elements, but deer have to live in it 24/7. Heat and cold cause a higher consumption of food and water. Water in the heat, food in the cold. Obviously water is needed in higher amounts in extreme heat to help keep the body cooled down. Food in the cold to generate heat through digestion and absorption of fats and nutrients.
I can see how not driving through a hunting area during the off-season and then all of a sudden start mowing, cutting trees, trimming lanes, and other activities a month or two before season every weekend or every other will affect a deer's pattern. Where as a rifle shot or other activity wouldn't.

Wish I could convince others on my lease of this.
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Old 12-06-2016, 06:55 AM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grndchecker View Post
I can see how not driving through a hunting area during the off-season and then all of a sudden start mowing, cutting trees, trimming lanes, and other activities a month or two before season every weekend or every other will affect a deer's pattern. Where as a rifle shot or other activity wouldn't.

Wish I could convince others on my lease of this.
Very good analogy right there....
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Old 12-08-2016, 04:53 PM   #27
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Whitetail bucks are not able to reproduce until in hard antler. They have very little, if any, testosterone production until their antlers are fully hardened and the velvet has been rubbed off. It is that same process that stops the blood flow to the velvet/antlers, that causes testosterone production to begin again. That's why you see some minor sparring action as soon as the velvet is off within a few days, ramping up all the way to the rut.

While we are talking about it, the rut is not triggered by temperature or cold fronts. Although that can have some effect on it, the breeding season is determined by the length of day (photoperiod). Cervids are "short day" breeders, meaning they have their breeding season once the days get shorter with less light. That's why you see different rut periods in different places (north to south) at different times of the year.
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Old 12-09-2016, 04:21 AM   #28
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Very cool thread! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
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Old 12-09-2016, 05:05 AM   #29
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Following.
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Old 12-09-2016, 09:56 AM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawkpuppy 1 View Post
While we are talking about it, the rut is not triggered by temperature or cold fronts. Although that can have some effect on it, the breeding season is determined by the length of day (photoperiod). Cervids are "short day" breeders, meaning they have their breeding season once the days get shorter with less light. That's why you see different rut periods in different places (north to south) at different times of the year.
Thanks for all you've posted so far, very informative. Can you expand a little on the rut timing anomalies such as those in the Gulf Coast region where the rut can occur far earlier than almost all other regions?
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Old 12-09-2016, 10:07 AM   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawkpuppy 1 View Post
Continuing on.... A topic that rarely gets mentioned, is how stress can effect deer. I'm not talking stress like going to a job, paying bills.... Stress comes in many forms. Environmental stress can come from disturbance around them in physical form such as new construction, road work...

But, there are also types of stress such as drought, heat, cold and rain. All of these factors affect how and what deer do on a day-to-day basis. It has been shown that stress, of any kind, in small amounts over a long period is more damaging that a high amount of stress over a short period of time.

Temperature and food are probably the two most common types of stress. Extreme heat and cold are very hard on animals. We can go inside to get out of the elements, but deer have to live in it 24/7. Heat and cold cause a higher consumption of food and water. Water in the heat, food in the cold. Obviously water is needed in higher amounts in extreme heat to help keep the body cooled down. Food in the cold to generate heat through digestion and absorption of fats and nutrients.
Is there any trend related to this that shows ratio of males/females birthed each year? Maybe for "survival reason"? For instance - a dry year does might tend to drop more females than males, etc.
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Old 12-09-2016, 10:13 AM   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawkpuppy 1 View Post
the breeding season is determined by the length of day (photoperiod). Cervids are "short day" breeders, meaning they have their breeding season once the days get shorter with less light. That's why you see different rut periods in different places (north to south) at different times of the year.
I have heard this alot, and while I agree to an extent, if this were 100% accurate, why wouldn't you see the same "rut" across the state, or nation even, in the same horizontal belt?(probably not the correct term). Ex. South East Texas jefferson/chambers county sees a very early rut, mid to late September. Why isn't it the same say 250 miles straight East or west? Shouldn't the length of day be the same?
Not arguing, just trying to understand.

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Old 12-09-2016, 07:09 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by LivinADream View Post
I have heard this alot, and while I agree to an extent, if this were 100% accurate, why wouldn't you see the same "rut" across the state, or nation even, in the same horizontal belt?(probably not the correct term). Ex. South East Texas jefferson/chambers county sees a very early rut, mid to late September. Why isn't it the same say 250 miles straight East or west? Shouldn't the length of day be the same?
Not arguing, just trying to understand.

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While the bucks testosterone levels are controlled by sunlight, as is estrus in doe, environmental conditions do impact when doe are receptive. The school of thought is that birth is timed to occur when habitat conditions are at the most optimal for fawn survival, thus estrus is timed in the fall to coincide with a period in the spring that the doe's body is telling it will be best chances for the fawn.

Since Texas has a wide variety of climates we also have a wide variety of peak rut dates.

Excellent idea for a thread Hawkpuppy.
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Old 12-09-2016, 07:50 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by Top Of Texas View Post
While the bucks testosterone levels are controlled by sunlight, as is estrus in doe, environmental conditions do impact when doe are receptive. The school of thought is that birth is timed to occur when habitat conditions are at the most optimal for fawn survival, thus estrus is timed in the fall to coincide with a period in the spring that the doe's body is telling it will be best chances for the fawn.

Since Texas has a wide variety of climates we also have a wide variety of peak rut dates.

Excellent idea for a thread Hawkpuppy.
This makes alot of sense to me, but also pretty much disproves the length of day period

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Old 12-09-2016, 08:59 PM   #35
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or when me and my neighbor were watching some does 2 weeks ago walk around picking out hackberry leaves that were falling among hundreds of other types of leaves.

just curious.

thanks for the info...[/quote]

They were eating Hackberry leaves over oak?
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Old 12-09-2016, 11:59 PM   #36
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This makes alot of sense to me, but also pretty much disproves the length of day period

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No, actually it's part of it. Studies have shown that if you keep a buck in 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark that he won't shed his velvet because testosterone levels don't rise.
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Old 12-10-2016, 12:04 AM   #37
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Check this link out. The Quality Deer Mgt guys are putting out some good, spot-on info in an outstanding and understandable fashion.

https://www.qdma.com/triggers-whitetail-rut/
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Old 12-10-2016, 12:14 AM   #38
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Tagged- great thread thank you for the knowledge
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Old 12-10-2016, 12:39 AM   #39
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I always wondered about the selective feeding patterns of deer. How they may concentrate on certain plants of the same type. I planted soybeans this past Spring, they would eat the whole plot, but you could tell they were eating mostly in just one area about 20 yds long. Yall have any ideas on this?
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Old 12-10-2016, 06:00 AM   #40
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This explains my question very well.

In southern regions, breeding dates aren’t as cut-and-dry. The photoperiod change is less dramatic, the climate is less severe, and there is less need to breed “on time.” This may explain why the breeding window is wider, but it likely does not explain why published reports show peak breeding in October in east Texas, December in Arkansas, January in Mississippi and Alabama, February in the Florida panhandle, and October in southeast Georgia. All of these regions share a similar photoperiod, so there are clearly some other factors involved. According to Dr. Karl V. Miller of the University of Georgia, southern deer are still under the influence of photoperiod, but exact timing of the rut is more influenced by genetics and maternal factors, and the synchrony of the rut is more influenced by herd demographics. This means photoperiod controls the approximate season of breeding (fall or winter), but the deer herd’s genetics likely influence the exact timing of breeding. The synchrony or “tightness” of the rut is then governed by how well the herd is managed. Herds under QDM,*with balanced sex ratios and improved buck age structures, have “tighter” or more synchronous ruts, which leads to increased rutting behavior, competition for breeding, and enhanced hunting opportunities. Poorly managed herds with unbalanced sex ratios and young buck age structures generally lack these benefits. - See more at: https://www.qdma.com/triggers-whitet....x0Bcj5GU.dpuf

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Old 12-10-2016, 06:18 AM   #41
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[quote=bukkskin;11997519]or when me and my neighbor were watching some does 2 weeks ago walk around picking out hackberry leaves that were falling among hundreds of other types of leaves.



They were eating Hackberry leaves over oak?

Hackberry is much higher on the preference list compared to live oak. This is also information from the Kerr WMA which has some doubters which is understood. Their explanation on preference is that certain species show greater browsing pressure over other species even in low to moderate densities suggesting a higher preference.
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Old 12-10-2016, 08:29 AM   #42
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or when me and my neighbor were watching some does 2 weeks ago walk around picking out hackberry leaves that were falling among hundreds of other types of leaves.

just curious.

thanks for the info...
They were eating Hackberry leaves over oak?[/quote]

I'm not a tree expert but me and him were talking after the morning hunt and he mentioned watching a bunch of does standing and watching big yellow leaves falling from the trees and running over and eating them as soon as they hit the ground, he said they were eating them like candy... I saw the same thing with a couple does I was watching. I'm pretty sure he said they were Hackberry leaves.
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Old 12-10-2016, 04:05 PM   #43
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Is there any trend related to this that shows ratio of males/females birthed each year? Maybe for "survival reason"? For instance - a dry year does might tend to drop more females than males, etc.
Yes. But what the research has shown is that when range conditions are good the doe produce a higher percentage of female fawns (slight, but statistically significant in some studies), and 50/50 to more male fawns when conditions are poorer. In Texas, where our annual rainfall is either wet or dry (not many average years), the fawn production sex ratio evens out over the years. So from a mgt standpoint, we use 50/50 annually.

Cause, I think (over 20 yrs since I sat in class), is still being debated. That is, in good years, are doe egg cells more receptive to buck sperm cells carrying female genes, OR, do doe fawns require higher nutritional needs from the mother, visa-versa, do buck fawns have better survivability in poorer years.

Fun question to ponder, but doesn't really impact mgt decisions.
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Old 12-10-2016, 04:22 PM   #44
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Quote:
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is there a term for animals that, for lack of a better term, "know" what food is best for them and what isn't? like when browsing they know which plants are most valuable and which aren't (weeds in a food plot)...or when me and my neighbor were watching some does 2 weeks ago walk around picking out hackberry leaves that were falling among hundreds of other types of leaves.

just curious.

thanks for the info...
Generally just refered to as selective feeders, but pretty much everything is a selective feeder. How they "know" is an interesting question, no term I'm aware of. Basically, God designed each critter for its own thing, they just know. For example, if you put a bunch of kids in a room with a bowl of Hershey bars and a bowl of brussel sprouts and tell them they can eat all of which ever they prefer, we all know which bowl will be empty first. No one had to teach them, they just know.
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Old 12-10-2016, 04:37 PM   #45
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Originally Posted by jshouse View Post
They were eating Hackberry leaves over oak?
I'm not a tree expert but me and him were talking after the morning hunt and he mentioned watching a bunch of does standing and watching big yellow leaves falling from the trees and running over and eating them as soon as they hit the ground, he said they were eating them like candy... I saw the same thing with a couple does I was watching. I'm pretty sure he said they were Hackberry leaves.[/quote]

Hackberry is one of our best browse species across most of Texas. It's used as an indicator, or "key" plant. That is, the degree of use the plants show is an indicator of how well balanced the deer numbers are relative to the amount of quality food available.

This is very important from a mgt standpoint in many parts of TX. In general, If you see heavy use, doe harvest should be targeted to reduce population size. If you see low to moderate use, doe harvest should be set to maintain population status, or, rarely, to allow growth.
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Old 12-10-2016, 04:50 PM   #46
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Originally Posted by lovemylegacy View Post
I always wondered about the selective feeding patterns of deer. How they may concentrate on certain plants of the same type. I planted soybeans this past Spring, they would eat the whole plot, but you could tell they were eating mostly in just one area about 20 yds long. Yall have any ideas on this?
I've seen this on native browse also and have pondered why they consumed so much of a particular plant but consumed little of nearby plants of the same species. It could be that the eaten plant was selected earlier, and as that plant responded by developing new shoots, the deer selected that plant again as the shoots were newer and more tender than surrounding plants that were not browsed earlier.

As for your food plot, was the concentrated area nearest to cover or the deers prefered entrance location to the plot? That is, there's no reason for the deer to increase exposure to danger by walking farther from cover if its getting plenty to eat nearest to cover. If not, are the soils uniform across the entire plot?
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Old 12-10-2016, 04:58 PM   #47
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Awesome thread!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge fellas!!

I am very curious/interested in what browse WTD eat in different parts of the state. Are there any books that you could recommend that might contain this type of information??

Last edited by Pedernal; 12-10-2016 at 05:14 PM..
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Old 12-10-2016, 05:03 PM   #48
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Originally Posted by Top Of Texas View Post
I've seen this on native browse also and have pondered why they consumed so much of a particular plant but consumed little of nearby plants of the same species. It could be that the eaten plant was selected earlier, and as that plant responded by developing new shoots, the deer selected that plant again as the shoots were newer and more tender than surrounding plants that were not browsed earlier.

As for your food plot, was the concentrated area nearest to cover or the deers prefered entrance location to the plot? That is, there's no reason for the deer to increase exposure to danger by walking farther from cover if its getting plenty to eat nearest to cover. If not, are the soils uniform across the entire plot?
The plot has a creek on the East and West side running N and S. The creek bottoms have hardwoods in it with pine farms outside of the hardwoods. Pine thicket to the N and hardwood bottom extending to the S. The deer come from all directions, but tend to browse more on the E side of the plot. The E side tends to hold moisture longer, that is the only thing I can figure.

FYI, I do not hunt the plot.
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Old 12-11-2016, 03:25 PM   #49
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Originally Posted by Pedernal View Post
Awesome thread!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge fellas!!

I am very curious/interested in what browse WTD eat in different parts of the state. Are there any books that you could recommend that might contain this type of information??
"common woody browse plants utilized by whitetail deer in south texas" by Taylor, Hererra, and Rutledge

"Range plants of north central rexas" by Ricky Lenix

"Common rangeland plants of the Texas Panhandle" Natural resources conservation service

Those are the actual books I know of off the top of my head.

TPWD has some brief, value based guides in PDF format for several of the eco-regions (not all). Just google search "tpwd common browse plants utilized by whitetail deer". You'll get more info than you might care to read.
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Old 12-11-2016, 03:29 PM   #50
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The plot has a creek on the East and West side running N and S. The creek bottoms have hardwoods in it with pine farms outside of the hardwoods. Pine thicket to the N and hardwood bottom extending to the S. The deer come from all directions, but tend to browse more on the E side of the plot. The E side tends to hold moisture longer, that is the only thing I can figure.

FYI, I do not hunt the plot.
I suppose that could be it. I dunno.
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