Food plots for deer testicles
Bio Nugget of the Week
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This is another test run of what will likely become a weekly feature.
The purpose of this feature is simple. Each week, I merely share a bit of deer biology. Much of it may seem trivial. That would be a mistake. The more we know about deer the better hunters and managers we become.
Most all of us are familiar with the hormone testosterone, at least as it applies to men. There’s a reason that old sayings/phrases refer to stuff like, “too much testosterone in the room,” and such. It generally drives aggression levels and sex drive in human males. It’s an over simplification, but it generally does the same to bucks. The higher testosterone levels become the more significant its impact on a buck’s behaviors. Also, similarly to humans, testosterone levels over the natural life of a buck bell curves, starting low, peaking in the prime of their life span and reducing with old age.
Now, just like in humans, testosterone levels impact more than sex drive and whether to get into or walk away from fights. A big differentiation is that, for humans, testosterone levels can certainly change, but it’s not cyclical over the year, to the point it is with bucks. You can literally see that in the antler shedding and growing process. The drop in testosterone after the breeding season helps induce antler shedding. A new set of antlers then begins growing. That continues until rising testosterone levels spur the hardening of antlers/death of velvet, stopping the necessary blood flow that antlers require for growth.
As a side note, testicular damage that results in a very significant reduction or complete halt of testosterone flow/production is what’s responsible for those rare velvet bucks running around in November and beyond, well past when traditional velvet shedding occurs. I did a piece on what was the new record velvet buck, another ridiculously big buck I did a piece on, as well as a buck a past client took on his C MN ground, the first year I managed it (see pic). Each one had obvious damage to their testicles, stopping or greatly reducing their testosterone levels. In turn, their racks kept growing, well after their brethren had stopped for the year.
As stated, there’s still more to it, but just what’s been covered gives us some valuable info to apply. In short, you can view testosterone as the gas that drives Mr. Big’s engine. When testosterone is cranking, he generally moves more, looking for sex and/or defending his turf, scrapes more, rubs more and is generally at his most willing to engage in all out brawls. At the same time, remember that testosterone levels have a strong tendency of bell curving over the course of a buck’s life, peaking in his prime years of maturity. Unlike in human males, bucks also experience an annual peak (typically around breeding season) and valley (late winter, spring and summer). Finally, testosterone levels in mature bucks tend to rise before younger bucks.
How Can We Use This?
Right off the bat, due to mature bucks having higher testosterone levels than the younger bucks, the first rubs and scrapes, particularly when considerably earlier than normal, are most often made by mature bucks. At the same time, those elevated levels in mature bucks also can typically be seen in the rubs themselves. Mr. Big tends to trash the rub trees considerably more than those 1.5 & 2.5 year old bucks. Part of that is due to the 3.5+s being bigger and stronger. However, I think it’s a safe bet to say testosterone levels have a lot more to do with that. It’s not that the youngsters aren’t strong enough to trash saplings. They just don’t have their buddy testosterone pushing them as hard to beat the snot out of that tree as he’s shoving Mr. Big to rip it to shreds. All of that obviously can be valuable info for scouting.
It also provides answers to some observations. Those that have been lucky enough to hunt populations with a more natural age dynamics, offering a good % of mature bucks, you can see a very noticeable difference in the 1.5, 2.5 and even 3.5 year old bucks. The youngsters are actually intimidated by the big boys. That intimidation surpasses their testosterone production, causing a reduction in them preforming breeding rituals. Will they breed, if given the chance? No doubt, but they don’t work as hard for it and are every bit as likely to run the other way, if they hear you rattling or hitting your grunt tube. Compare that to most grounds and those youngsters are far more likely to come running like drooling idiots to someone rattling or grunting, when Mr. Big isn’t suppressing their testosterone levels.
As a side note, if you are lucky enough to hunt a population with good age structure, when that youngster is tentatively approaching that scrape, as soon as he starts working the scrape, hit a loud, deep grunt. You won’t get it every time, but I’ve had young bucks actually run right into trees, so desperate not to get beat up by Mr. Big. Do that on typical grounds and you’ll be lucky to even get them to stop working the scrape long enough to glance at you.
Finally, knowing all of this shows the fallacy of basing any rut timing conclusions on observations of young buck behaviors. Not only does that foolish 2.5 year old chasing the doe around the woods in mid October not have the experience to know what he’s doing, he doesn’t even have mature body chemistry instructing him, yet. We can certainly learn a ton of stuff from young bucks, but using them to help determine the current rut phases is next to worthless, as they are leaves blowing any way the wind pushes them at the moment. Mr. Big IS the wid.