Deer you see in early August will grow 33 percent more by this fall

Right now, as you read this manuscript whitetail deer are growing huge antlers and trophy deer are carrying mossy head gear. Summer is a prime time to scout for bucks July and August bucks gather in bachelor groups and offer sportsmen a unique opportunity to discover how large the deer are in their hunting area. Keep in mind the deer you see in early August will grow much larger, some biologists believe deer will grow about 33 percent of their mass during the last month of antler growth and some bucks keep growing up to the second week in September.

Trophy deer are impressive in velvet. The soft tissue gives antlers a sponge-like appearance making the rack look much larger than it actually is, or will be come hunting season. Some hunters maintain that deer racks will shrink 30-50 percent when velvet sheds and antlers become bone hard. Although it has been my observation that bucks only drop the outer layer of velvet and most deer only discard about one-quarter of their mass.

Michigan has had a good summer for antler growth. Cool weather and plenty of rain caused grasses to grow and succulent vegetation jump starts antler growth and provide much needed minerals and nutrients to give bucks impressive headgear. Although the cold, wet 2011 spring retarded plant growth and at press time buck antlers seem to be somewhat smaller than last year at this time. The recent warm, dry weather could cause some racks to slow antler development, but if we get cool nights and the occasional rain I’m predicting excellent buck antler growth for the upcoming 2011 deer season

There are several variables that go into the formula to make large deer antlers. First, a deer must have good genetics. Most of Michigan has super genetics but we do not allow bucks to become old, which is the second most important variable. Mature, large deer simply grow more impressive racks than yearling deer. Lastly, good nutrition is important. Not just grass, but vitamins, minerals, calcium and other key elements that help the bony structures to grow large.

Antlers in velvet are impressive. Each animal grows a unique set, some are light color, and others tend to be dark and bulbous on the tips where the most rapid growth takes place.

Velvet racks have texture soft as silk and warm as milk taken fresh from a cow. Bucks in velvet have blood pumping through their antlers to enhance the quick growth, they are warm to handle and I’m certain deer can feel anything that touches them. No wonder bucks flip their racks from side-to-side when bugs are attacking.

Velvet can be easily damaged and I’ve seen deer with bloody cuts or bug bites. I’m certain that many of the nicks, knots, acorn-shaped bulbs and holes that form on hardened antlers are the end result of deer being attacked by flies, other insects or bumps and bruises when the deer is in velvet. In some cases a buck can actually bend antlers, break off tines or change his rack configuration due to accidents while in velvet.

Finding bucks in Michigan during hot weather is no problem, especially if you live near agricultural areas. Just grab binoculars, bug spray and set up in open fields as the setting sun draws deer from the surrounding woodlands.

I begin scouting in July. Come middle of August, I’ve got several big boys pinpointed. My hottest summer scouting tactic is to cruise back roads at dusk. Once I’ve located a dandy, I’ll knock on doors and ask permission to photograph wildlife. Sometimes I get photo permission which leads to hunting rights. Other times landowners do not want me in the area, a slow moving vehicle and camo clad sportsmen with camera, can give away the location of their trophy deer.

I’ve hit on a strategy that works like magic to find the largest deer in any given area. The tactic is simple and it works anywhere throughout the State. The trick is to find alfalfa. That’s it folks, hay fields, especially those that have young plants with soft, sweet leaves. Big bucks move to these fields come summer to dine on the succulent plants. They are more visible during summer than any other time of year. Big bucks put out hormones that let every deer in the area know they are around. Come summer, these hormones not only attract does, that they eventually breed, but every heavy racked buck in the region will join Mr. Big. Some locals who live near hot spots have no idea big bucks are in their region. But they do not scout in summer. What about you? Are you looking for deer now?

Come September bucks begin to loose velvet. Some are polished off by late August and by September 15 over 80 percent of Michigan deer are finished growing antlers and the soft velvet becomes a hardened bony mass. This is when bachelor groups begin to break up and bucks disperse within their range. I think a lot of the break up has to do with the acorn crop. You see, white acorns begin to drop exactly when bucks loose velvet. I’m certain the key to this natural event hinges on the growing season, amount of sunlight and moon phase. Anyway, when whites start pounding the ground deer vacate open fields and head for acorn hot spots. In Southern Michigan when the white acorns start to fall all my open field deer disappear. I mean you can drive back roads every night and be fortunate to spot a couple does. What’s worse is when bucks in big woods country move to thick forest, they frequently do not return to open fields and they disappear until the following summer when they group in fields once again. Farm bucks disappear into standing corn much like northern deer melt into the forest.

Another important crop that attracts summer bucks in velvet is beans. Not just any bean field, but certain varieties that deer go bonkers over. I do not know why, but some strains of beans attract deer like bees to honey. I’ve seen some fields full of bucks, night after night, while adjoining bean fields seldom host deer. Again, velvet bearing bucks will hit certain fields until September when bachelor groups break up.

Some biologists contend that whitetail antler growth is completed by the third week in August. Biologists also contend that big, mature dominant bucks tend to finish antler growth before other bucks. I would agree that most big boys tend to shed early and their coats are more reddish, an indication they are dominate and first to gain a winter coat.

Making a large rack drains about 40 percent of a deer’s nutrition. That’s why summer bucks congregate in fields that provide maximum nutrition. Some studies indicate that large racked bucks take more from their body nutrition than a doe with fawns.

Why summer bucks gather in groups while growing their velvety mass is a bit of a mystery. Some biologist say it is part of socialization, and bucks gather when tender antlers are not used for fighting. Perhaps this is when large racked bucks establish a pecking order and determine which bucks will do the breeding? Thus, maintaining strong genetics and ensuring that deer will grow big ‘ole mossy antlers each summer.

Studies show that as much as 80 percent of a deer’s protein intake goes directly to his antlers. The long days of summer stimulate hormones which cause antlers to grow. This period is a perfect time to scout for large racked deer.

What about you, do you have a scouting program?

Are you interested in finding new hunting grounds?

Perhaps the sight of a Bullwinkle velvety rack will get your blood pumpin’ and you will knock on doors to establish a monster buck hunting spot?