One Key Factor to Promote a Healthy Wildlife Population: Winter Food Sources
Survival of a harsh winter is a real struggle for all wildlife species. Finding food is paramount for surviving winter when there are little nutritious food sources to be found. A good food source during winter affects so many factors in the life cycle of wildlife.
Pursuit of the Monster Buck
We shall focus on the whitetail deer population for this article. A large percentage of the land we sell and manage is focused on deer hunting. We all want to harvest a trophy Pope & Young or Boone & Crocket Monster Buck. You can increase the chances of harvesting such a trophy by making sure certain things happen for this buck’s health and his habitat. The process is not an overnight phenomenon but takes years of attention to specific management practices.
Winter is a Difficult Time for the Alpha Buck
Most dominant bucks enter winter in a severely run-down condition. Fall is the breeding season and all bucks are in the hunt (Rutting). Dominant bucks are theoretically genetically the best bucks. These bucks are supposed to pass the best genes down to the new stock of young bucks. There is much posturing and fighting to determine the alpha buck. Food is sometimes neglected in this process. We have seen bucks lose 30 to 40 pounds during the rut and some die. This breeding cycle continues until all does are bread. Does cycle every 30 days until they are bread. Depending on buck/doe ration, this cycle can continue well into winter. Once this cycle is complete, the bucks tend to group back up. Unfortunately, many of the dominate bucks are in very poor condition as we come into winter when food sources are minimal.
Contributing Factors affecting Trophy Buck Management
• Buck/Doe Ratio – Sooner Fawns are Born in the Spring, sooner Horn Development begins – Growth/Age Relationship.
• Nutrition – Available Food Supply
• Supplemental Feeding
• Pressure from Hunting
• Proper Habitat Management – Cover, Browse, Food Plots, Water, Diversity
• Harvest Age of Bucks – 4.5 Years and Older
All the above and more, have significant bearing on the ability to produce 150 class and larger bucks. This article is focused on winter forage and food sources. The better condition your bucks are in has a direct relationship with the horns they grow. If your buck is rutted down and there is minimal food source, the buck is in poorer condition. Big horns require healthy bucks with maximum nutrition.
Managing Wildlife Winter Food Sources
There is a growing trend to introduce supplemental protein feed that provides nutrition promoting antler development. As a result of supplemental feeding, we have seen significant increase in body weight and
antler size. It is important to remember though, deer are natural browsers. Natural food sources are hugely important and planted food sources along with protein feeders and mineral blocks are just what they are called, supplements.
Clover is a very high protein and is available in winter. Winter grains are additional forage. Food plots need to be at least one acre and preferably several acres to be a meaningful food source. Sometimes we see mast producing trees provide forage in late fall and possibly into winter. Notice all the food sources we just mentioned are winter food sources.
I hope this article stimulates some thought. Winter is a difficult time for all game. To be successful in having a healthy and growing wildlife population, there are many things we can do to enhance and manage game and non-game species. A great step in helping wildlife is to manage a diverse range of food sources in winter and all seasons as well. Antler growth starts in the spring. You will have a positive impact on antler development by keeping bucks healthier in winter.