White Tail Deer Population Biology Essay

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The management of white-tailed deer has become a popular practice through establishment of food plots. When food plots are used with a combination of other territory management strategies in public and private lands have proved to be of great importance in white-tailed deer population management. In Florida where there are cold winters and poor soil fertility and prolonged dry spell limits the growth of plant foliage in the natural habitats.This results to seasonal availability of foods for deer and also the food is of poor quality. Supplemental plantings and use of well managed food plots has been adopted to compensate for the seasonal food fluctuation and also to ensure consistency in nutritional quality of foods. When this method is adopted it raises the holding capacity of deer population in a given area and also maintains the nutritional conditions, productivity and health of the deer herd. Food plots also increase the ability of successful deer viewing. Deer always move to established food plots and their activities are much concentrated there and this also aids in deer hunting or deer viewing. The establishment of food plots also demonstrates the pot owner's dedication towards deer management thus assisting in marketing of hunting leases (Willcox & Schad, 2009).

Literature Review

The use of food plots is one of the many ways used in wildlife management and territory improvement techniques. The main reasons for use of food plots fro deer include; food plots have been used as a lease marketing strategy and also food plots increase the ability of deer viewing especially for photographic purposes. Food plots also help to increase the nutritional value and foliage availability for the deer. A well maintained food plot also confirms the owner's dedication towards deer management and this serves to assist in the marketing lease to potential hunters.

A report prepared by Bill Higginbotham, a Specialist in A &M Wildlife Extension showed that for every 1% of food plots, the hunting lease value could rise from $0.80 to $1.20 per acre. (Fulbright, 1999). Another aim for having food plots is to make deer viewing more clearly for taking photographs especially for many landowners and hunters who get satisfaction from deer viewing. Ecotourism is also promoted through increased available viewable deer population. Food plots also aid the landowner or manager in examining the deer herd body condition and the improvement in their growth. Planting of food plots also increases the amount and quality of foliage available to the deer. A research conducted in Mississippi found that if 0.5% of a food plot is maintained in good agronomic conditions throughout the year, then there will be an increase in Number of antler points, body mass and body circumference of white-tailed deer. The establishment of a cool season in Louisiana showed a 19% increase in body weight male white-tailed deer (Fulbright, 1999).

The sustenance of deer densities within the carrying capacity of the food plot and the maintenance habitat provides good quality foliage should be of main concern to any habitat management. Planting of perennial plants is more advocated although they don't provide as much foliage as annual plants. Foods plots should be fenced from livestock and those with annual plants should only be opened when plants are fully established. One warm season and one cool season are required in order to improve the quality of the diet. The size of food plot is dependent on deer population and often the number and size of food plots that can be established depends on the available farmable land.

Nutrition plays a major role in improving the antler size of free ranging white-tailed deer as compared to the genetic potential. Good nutrition helps in producing large body and antlered deer. Studies have shown that culling of inferior deer or bringing in of superior does not have ant impact of free ranging white-tailed deer populations when tested on given time scale. It has been proved that habitats with high nutritional quality are required for deer to clearly shown their genetic potential. Due to there are changes in seasons throughout the year natural does not provide consistent and quality food to the deer throughout the year and sometimes the food may be a little for the deer population.

Generally deer like forbs (broad-leaved weeds) compared to browse (shrub leaves and twigs) and they only prefer a little grass when it is succulent and green. Forbs are often abundant during rainy winters and springs and deer feed a lot on this high nutrition food. The majority of the forbs are plenty during the cool periods and they reduce in quantities between May and June. There no forbs available in summer and this is a time when the deer in the southeastern United States get nutrition stress. In Texas there are some short rains that occur in late September and October which stimulate plant growth and enrich the nutritional quality of the deer food. (Miller & Larry, 1995).

The presence of forbs and browse are essential for maintaining the deer in a good and healthy nutrition. Forbs and browse both decrease due to low rainfall in summer and the deer only survive on the browse. The energy content of natural deer food falls below the quantities needed for maintenance during July and August in a research conducted by A&M University -Kingsville in Texas together with Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute (Fulbright ,1999).

Discussion

Food plots should only play a supplementary role in deer management where the major role should be maintenance of high quality indigenous habitat. Accomplishment of proper habitat management can be through maintence of the correct carrying capacity of habitat, preventing overgrazing by livestock and applying good habitat enhancement practices prearranged burning. In habitats where the deer reared fro trophy awards, the sex ratio ought to be maintained near 1:1 and only mature bucks should be harvested. It has been argued that people who encourage supplemental feeding support it as a method to increase deer population above the carrying capacity of the habitation. It is often dangerous to maintain high density population of deer especially in semiarid areas since it tends to degrade the habitat. High deer populations should be maintained in seasons when there is normal or above normal rainfall and this herd should be reduce when dry season strikes so as not to degrade the habitat (Weishuhn, 1979, p. 56).

Planting a food plot

In order to conquer the seasonal fluctuations in the quality and quantity of deer food it is needed that you plant both warm and cool-season supplemental foliages so as to provide the deer with high quality food throughout the year. Grasses are planted together with cool-season plants in the food plots which include wheat, oats and legumes such as hairy vetch alfalfa and hubam clover to provide high quality and nutritious foliage from November to April (Table 1)( Fulbright, 1999).

Table 1. Planting recommendations for selected cool-season annual deer forages

Foliage Species and Varieties

Characteristics

White

Sweet Clover

Yellow

Sweet Clover

Arrow leaf Clover

Austrian

Inter-peas

Oats

Hairy Vetch

Wheat

Seeding Rate( lbs/acre)

3-5 in semi arid areas; other wise 10-15

3-5 in semiarid areas; otherwise 10-15

5-10 with drill;

10-12 broadcast

25-35

50-100

20-30

50-60

(<40''rainfall)

70-120 (east TX)

Planting Depth

¼-1/2

½-1

1/4

1-1 1/2

½-1

½-1

½-1

Planting Dates

Fall

Fall

Fall

Fall

Fall

Fall

Fall

Soil Texture Adaptation

Wide Range

Wide Range

Well drained clay soils

Wide Range

Wide Range except deep sands

Wide Range sandier soil best

Wide Range

Soil PH

Slightly acid to moderately alkaline

Slightly acid to moderately alkaline

Slightly acid to slightly alkaline

Neutral to

slightly alkaline

Depends on variety

Slightly acid to moderately alkaline

Depends on variety

Drought Tolerance

High

High

Low

Moderate

Moderate

Moderate

Moderate to high

Cold Tolerance

High

High

Moderate

High

Depends on Variety

High

Depends on Variety

Salinity Tolerance

Not adapted

Not adapted

Not adapted

Not adapted

Not adapted

Not adapted

Not adapted

Rainfall Adaptation (inch.)

12+;

optimum 17+

10+; optimum 16+

Optimum 35+

20+

Depends on variety

20+

Depends on variety

Establishment Ease

High with scarified seed

High with scarified seeds

Moderate

High

High

High

High

Table 1: Excerpted from Fulbright, 1999, p.1-8.

The use of warm-season plants in food plots is to provide nutritious foliage from early spring till late fall thus serve to add on the natural foliage which is not plenty during July- August. In semiarid areas it is advisable to farm those crops that are adapted to hot and dry condition from producing foliage during summer (Table 2).

Table 2. Planting recommendations fro selected warm-season annual deer forages

Forage Species and Varieties

Characteristics

Lablab

Cowpeas

Soybeans

Milo

Seeding Rate

Rows( lbs/acre)

12-15(<20''rainfall)

20-30(20-40''rainfall)

20-35(east TX)

12-30(<20''rainfall)

20-60(20-40''rainfall

60-90(east TX)

12-15(<20''rainfall)

15-40(20-40''rainfall

60-75(east TX )

2-4(<20''rainfall)

4-7(20-40''rainfall)

8-10(east TX)

Seeding Rate

Broadcast (lbs/acre)

30-70(only in areas with >30''rainfall)

80-150(only in areas with >35''rainfall)

60-150(only in areas with >40''rainfall)

16-20 (only in areas with >30''rainfall)

Planting Depth(inches)

1-4

1-3

1 ½-2

¾-1 1/2

Planting Dates

After danger of 1st frost until June

After danger of 1st frost until June

After danger of 1st frost until May

February in south TX, later northward

Soil Texture

Adaptation

Wide range

Wide range

Wide range

Wide range if soil is well drained

Soil Ph

5-7.5

Slightly acid(4) to slightly alkaline

5-7.5

4.5-8.5

Drought Tolerance

High

high

low

high

Cold Tolerance

Low

Low

Low

Moderate

Salinity Tolerance

Not adapted

Not adapted

Not adapted

Not adapted

Rainfall Adaptation

16+ with 30+ optimal;98 is maximum

30-43 is optimal

25-30

17-25 is optimal

Establishment Ease

High

High

High

High

Table 2: Excerpted from Fulbright, 1999, p.1-8).

Moisture management practices should be adopted in dry areas farming such as weed control and deep tillage for food plots in the semiarid areas. Weeds should be removed in food plots since they consume stored soil moisture which will needed to support the crop during spring. The use of preemergence herbicides is recommended to allow production of maximum foliage until the plants are large enough to allow cultivation.

Farmers were provided with seeds of perennial crops including, bush flower, Illinois bundleflower and Engelmann daisy. Perennial seeds were preferred by wildlife managers because they provided a permanent foliage cover and will not require to be replanted every year. According to a report presented to Texas (20-25inch rainfall zone) various mixtures of perennial plant species can generate 3000 pounds foliage per acre. Steve Nelle from Natural Resources Conservation Service (Fulbright, 1999). Nelle also pointed out that establishment of perennial food plots was expensive and the plots required intensive management thus increasing the costs.

Perennial food plots have been proved to produce less than annual plot due to soil compaction due to intensity of deer in perennial plots during rainy season and the compressed soil allows runoff which reduces the water infiltration and therefore less water for plants. Food plots should be fenced to protect them from grazing livestock. For warm-season annual plots they should be fenced from deer since they emerging seedlings of lablab and other plants are destroyed by the deer. The resistance to the grazing is supposed to continue till plants are about 4-5weeks old. Two ways to evade grazing out young food plots include; having very large food plots and also fencing the plot.

Food plots for deer should be within 1 to 3 acres. Generally deer prefer feeding on the edges where different habitats meet and they will not enjoy feeding at the centre of large plots during the day especially if they are frequented to regular interruption or hunting. Many small food plots are advocated for rather than one large plot (Willcox & Schad, 2009). Maximization of the amount of edge is major consideration when deciding on the shape of the food plot, since the deer are edge species preferring to feed on the edges. This is normally attained by establishment of long and narrow plots since they have more edge space compared to square or circular plots of the same size. Square plots are preferred in fences are must be put to protect foliage from consumption and damage by livestock or by feral hogs. Costs of fencing food plots can reduced by designing plot to utilize the existing fences and gates. Square plots are generally preferred where the main purpose is to attract the deer fro hunting since the square plot converges the deer in a much smaller area thus making it easier to harvest.

Location of food plots serves to determine its size and growing conditions and the whether it will be utilized by the deer. Generally deer prefer areas with natural vegetation cover for escape and therefore when establishing food plots this should be put into consideration. Proximity to water and distance from areas of human activity is also among the considerations to be made when deciding where to locate a food plot. The direction of the wind needs to be put into consideration when deciding on the location since deer often avoid areas of upwind because of escape cover. Costs of establishing deer food plots are reduced when plots are locate in already opened areas such as; edges of interior of roads, fire lanes and utility rights of way. Food plots play a pivotal role in white-tailed deer management but they should be used together with other habitat management practices. In addition appropriate deer population in a food plot needs to be considered in maintaining the quality of the herd. Fencing the food plot serves in maintaining nutritional forage of the food plot and keeping away domestic animals that deplete the food plot (Urbana, 1954, p.45).

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