Managing Your Property for Healthy Deer with Dr. Grant Woods, Part 2

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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Dr. Grant Woods of GrowingDeer.tv, shown here with an amazing hit list buck taken in 2016 they called “Handy”. His size is an example of letting bucks mature. Photo by GrowingDeer.tv

In the first part of this interview series, readers were introduced to wildlife biologist Dr. Grant Woods, founder of GrowingDeer.tv who specializes in the management of deer populations and their habitat. Now, learn more about managing a property for healthy deer, along with some other points such as which deer to harvest and basic tips from Dr. Woods himself.

Fala Burnette: Grant, it’s interesting you mention being selective about your trees when managing property for wildlife. This is a great point to save select stands of timber and let them mature. Speaking of the point of maturation, could you tell us a little bit about why letting some of our bucks mature and age could help benefit the herds we manage? How do you determine which deer to harvest versus which to let age out a bit longer?

Grant Woods: I like mature bucks as a hunter and more importantly as a wildlife biologist. As a hunter, I enjoy seeing a large-antlered bucks. Age is the primary factor in a buck’s antler size. I also like that mature bucks tend to weigh more than immature bucks and therefore yield more venison. When processed appropriately (deboned and connective tissue removed from each muscle) the taste of venison from a mature buck is excellent!   

As a wildlife biologist I know that mature bucks secrete some different pheromones than immature bucks. It’s believed that these pheromones help synchronize when does become receptive, etc.  In addition, the presence of mature bucks and their pheromones suppress fighting among immature bucks to determine the social hierarchy. Fighting is a natural part of immature buck development and determining the dominance hierarchy. However, when there’s not a clear dominance hierarchy immature bucks tend to aggressively fight over and over which can result in exhaustion and/or injuries and reduced chances of survival.

Given this it’s important for herds to be managed for a balanced adult sex ratio (harvest as many does as bucks) and allow some bucks to mature. It’s relatively easy to identify mature bucks in the field. They tend to have a hump over their shoulders, their chest sags below their shoulders and their neck merges with the chest at the brisket. The back and belly of middle-aged bucks will appear straight (flat) and their neck will merge with the chest above the brisket. Immature bucks (1 1/2 years old during hunting season) will appear to have the body of a large doe (not muscular) but have antlers. These indicators are a bit subjective but it seems hunters become very good at estimating the age of bucks on the hoof with a bit of practice!

Speaking of venison, there are some excellent recipes on GrowingDeer.tv that I can’t wait to try this upcoming deer season! I’m also very fond of some of the past articles you all have written about trapping predators to help increase the numbers of turkey poults and fawns that survive each year. What other information and videos can we find on your website?

Grant Woods: I’m a wildlife biologist and my wife Tracy, and I live on a farm near in the Ozark Mountains that was overgrazed and the timber was high-graded for decades.  We’ve spent almost 20 years working to improve the habitat for wildlife and restore plant communities while establishing and maintaining food plots where appropriate.

We started producing a weekly video, blogs, and responding to viewers questions on GrowingDeer.com 10+ years ago. The subject of those entries are about what we learned while improving our farm for wildlife and while assisting other landowners with wildlife habitat and hunting technique questions.

We hope the information on our site helps others improve the habitat where they hunt, be a successful hunter, and how to field dress and prepare the game. 

Mr. Woods, thank you so much for sharing with our readers and helping us get to know you, GrowingDeer, and a little more about property and wildlife management. Before you go, what is one quick tip you have for anyone who wants to step up their deer season this year?

Grant Woods: Oftentimes stepping up one’s game means revisiting and focusing on doing the basics right. When deer hunting, the basics are knowing where the best sources of food, cover, and water are in the area to be hunted and which resource is the most limited. The most limited resource could be food, water, or cover and often changes at any location from year to year. Then the hunter needs to know how to approach, hunt, and exit the areas without alerting deer. These steps are key to putting plenty of venison in the freezer!

I wish to again thank Dr. Grant Woods for his time and insight put into the interview, and I hope that it will be of great benefit to our readers!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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