CWD’s Future

IMG_2508Perhaps no issue is as controversial in the deer community right now as Chronic Wasting Disease. There’s constant finger-pointing and a lot of theories about how it will change hunting forever for the worse. But fortunately, emerging scientific research suggests that CWD doesn’t have to be the scourge that many fear.

Last year, a herd at an Iowa ranch was depopulated after one of the animals had tested positive for CWD, as is standard USDA protocol. However, the situation took years to resolve as the ranch owner fought for a more equitable solution. As such, CWD naturally spread among the animals.

This provided a unique opportunity for testing of the animals, since depopulation normally occurs relatively quickly. After testing and euthanizing the entire herd, sadly a large percentage were identified as CWD positive. The silver lining was that 20 percent were negative, and we are currently looking at a genetic link to resistance in these animals.

If we can further characterize this resistance in deer, that’s very promising. As CWD spreads – and it will, since you can’t stop free-ranging deer from moving around – then the deer that are more genetically susceptible to the disease will die off at higher rates than those that are less genetically susceptible. The net result will be a hardier population of deer that is more resistant to CWD. With farmed deer, there’s the potential to select for this resistance faster than nature herself could.

Other research has pushed the genetic resistance theory. The Wyoming Department of Fish and Game and the University of Wyoming jointly conducted a study, published last year, indicating that if CWD hit elk populations in the state’s northeastern region, the populations would bounce back.

It’s possible that genetic selection has already been occurring in areas such as Wyoming and Colorado. CWD was first found in a free-ranging deer in Colorado in 1985. Yet researchers in Colorado have noted that CWD does not appear to have had any significant effect on the deer population size. Similarly, CWD was first found in elk in Colorado in 1981, and elk numbers have grown since then.


The Iowa herd didn’t only provide a boost to genetics research. The samples collected from the animals also contributed to efforts to develop an antemortem, or live-animal, test. A breakthrough here would make managing CWD much easier and more precise.

Elsewhere, new research has looked at ways through which CWD can be transmitted. A study published this year found that CWD could be transmitted by plant matter. Researchers demonstrated that wheat grass roots and leaves could take up prions (infected proteins that make up CWD and similar diseases) if exposed to infected urine or feces. When this same plant matter was fed to hamsters, the animals became infected.

If CWD can be transmitted by plants, then that raises a whole host of questions about the transportation of hay and other animal feed.

It means CWD will continue to spread, and there’s not much we can do about it at the moment. Political efforts to restrict or ban deer and elk farming are pointless, because CWD has long been in the wild, where we can’t get rid of it due to the resilient nature of prions.

On the contrary, farmed cervids may represent controlled populations where, as we’ve shown, advancements in CWD detection and prevention can be made quickly. These advancements not only benefit farmed deer and elk, but wild populations as well.

In the short term, we may see a slight dip in some deer populations as the disease spreads. But in the long run, we should expect deer populations to be hardy as genes that provide resistance to CWD increase in prevalence.

As for research, live-animal tests have decent accuracy- though not yet perfect. Expect them to get better.

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It’s All About the Rack, by Dr. Mike Messman


Antlers on deer are pretty interesting phenomena, and have been fascinating people for ages. The annual cycle of growing, carrying, shedding and growing antlers again is more complicated than it looks, and takes more than a weekend in the woods to come by a respectable pair…at least it does if you’re a whitetail buck.

The antler growing cycle is process that lasts about 10-months. It starts in March or April with pedicle development and ending in January or February when antlers are shed. The months of the year can be slightly different depending if you live in the South or the North. In the whitetail deer this process is driven by photo period. When the days start to lengthen, the pineal gland in the brain notices the change and signals the pituitary to produce more of the hormone testosterone. Testicle circumference is increased serum testosterone increases, and more mature bucks will start to “muscle up”. Testicular circumference and testosterone levels peak at the height of the rut and decrease rapidly into January. This drop in testosterone is why bucks shed their antlers. Muscle tone will also decrease and bucks will deposit more fat as an energy store for winter.

Antler growth takes place in the tips of the antlers. As antlers grow, blood is circulated up through the pedicle, through the antler and to the tips. The growing antler is a soft cartilage type tissue that is very delicate. Antlers are covered by velvet during growth, which contains many blood vessels and nerve endings. This network of blood vessels and nerves is necessary to transport the nutrients to the rapidly growing antler. In general, during April to June the brow-tine and fork of the antler become apparent if the buck will be more than a spike. Antler growth really takes off in July when antlers can grow a ½ inch or more per day. During the antler growth period when the antlers are encased in velvet, antlers are 20% dry matter, 80%crude protein, 22%calcium and 11%phosphorus. By the end of July all points can probably be seen but some tine elongation may still take place in August. In September bucks will shed the velvet and polish their antlers. Mature polished antlers are 60%dry matter, 40%crude protein, 25 to 35%calcium and 19%phosphorus. Mature polished antlers will remain in the beginning of October. Into December thru February bucks will shed antlers and the process will start over again.

Three major factors that determine antler size are: age of the buck, genetics of the animal, and nutrition. Said another way, a buck will not reach maximum antler size unless he has the genetics, is a healthy mature buck greater than five years old and has consumed the nutrients needed to achieve his genetic potential. Hunters and landowners have some control over these factors as they manage hunting areas. Here’s how:

  • First and most importantly, avoid harvesting young bucks. Take only the bucks that are at least five years old. This doesn’t come easily, but it’s one way to manage for bucks with optimum antlers. Granted, it’s much easier on a large plot of land but small landowners can work together to manage an area of a few hundred acres and make a difference. Keep in mind that if the deer herd has the proper age structure and buck to doe ratio, bucks that exhibit less than desirable antler characteristics can be removed at an earlier age (3-4 years old). Research has shown that this age class of deer does the majority of the breeding during the rut. Remember, this should only be practiced when your herd has the proper age structure with at least 30%of your bucks being in the 5.5 or older age bracket.
  • Having said that, the second factor is genetics: Harvest the mature bucks displaying undesirable antler characteristics to make sure you have the best possible gene pool.
  • Third and finally, provide as near to optimum nutrition for the deer as possible. Antler growth from pedicle development to velvet shedding takes about 100 days on average, but feeding for antler growth is a 365-day a year job. In March and April, as pedicle development starts, the buck needs amino acids from protein and minerals. These can come from the diet the buck is consuming. During antler growth from pedicle to the forked antler stage the buck pulls amino acids from the diet consumed, but minerals start to come from bone reserves. During the rapid growth phase of antler development, late June through mid August the buck can’t consume enough amino acids or minerals to meet the maximum possible antler growth rate so the buck has to pull from bone and body reserves to do this. If there aren’t ample reserves to pull from, you can forget maximum antler production. Poor reserves mean that the main beam could have a smaller diameter, points could be reduced in size, or number of points off the main beam could be reduced. By the end of August or September when antler growth is done and velvet is shed, antler growth— and hence nutrient demand for their growth—is also done.

Although this year’s set of antlers are what they are, in the fall the buck starts to build for the next set of antlers. He needs to keep body condition up to help get through the rut in good condition. During post rut the buck needs a well balanced diet to ensure restored bone mass, deposit minerals for next summer’s antler growth, restored body mass and rebuilding the amino acid pool used to support antler growth for the following year. Mature whitetail deer will sometimes go days during the rut without eating and can lose up to 30%of their body weight due to the stress of rutting activity. Post-rut stress is responsible for more death loss in mature deer than anything, simply due to the fact that they are run down and typically have very low quality forage available to replenish body reserves. Bucks that are still growing or trying to replenish body reserves in late spring and summer will not grow the antlers that they have the genetic potential for if they are still trying to restore body condition.

How do we meet these year round nutritional needs you might ask?

  • The first thing to do is work to make sure the deer density is correct for the land base. In many cases this may mean working with the DNR or wildlife biologists to get that figured out.
  • Next, look at supplementing the native habitat when needed, such as during draught, winter, or when the animal has higher nutrient requirements for optimum performance than what they will get off the habitat. That means balancing food plots and supplemental feed to meet those needs.Most likely feeding a complete balanced protein/mineral/energy supplement year round makes sense because deer are either growing antlers or remodeling bone most of the time and that requires sufficient amounts of each for maximum genetic expression.

Be sure to use a supplement that compliments the native habitat and does not replace it. All of the supplemental feed in the world will not replace good habitat. If the deer you are growing are in captive habitats, it is even more critical that you offer a solid, balanced diet that offers a highly digestible fiber source. Look for diets specifically designed for breeder deer, such as Sportsman’s Choice Record Rack Breeder. It is a complete nutritional solution for penned and captive deer and is perfect solution as a single offering or fed in conjunction with additional fiber sources such as high quality forage. Antler growth is a year round job. Do your research and pick your nutrition solutions wisely. Each day of growth adds up to those amazing racks, so get started early this year with a solid program that will prove superior results. Deer with great potential deserve  the best nutrition possible.

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Rut video link at the creek stand.

Hope you enjoy this!

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Do Deer Really Need Supplemental Feed Year Round

By: John Dedwylder D.V.M., Whitetail Veterinary Services

I have learned that deer must have superior, consistent nutrition year round or their health and production suffers.   Unfortunately, for the wildlife watcher, hunter, or wildlife manager, mother nature does not always cooperate by providing it. Unforeseen changes in weather patterns can severely affect the nutrients available during different times of the year. Deer also have natural physiological and metabolic challenges that occur annually. If their nutritional needs are not met, it can have a major impact on both bucks and does. Antler growth and reproduction can and will be negatively affected. It is for this reason that we must strive to provide our deer a multitude of choices nutritionally. If one source fails, the deer will have other options. This gives us the best chance of success while managing our deer.

No matter where your property is located, deer typically depend on three possible sources of nutrition in some combination:

  • Natural food sources
  • Food plots
  • Supplemental feed

On my ranch in Texas I concentrate my nutritional improvements using all of the above. I manage my native pasture to maximize the existing plant life. This is the most critical component of nutritional management as this source of nutrition makes up the largest part of their total dietary intake. Native food sources are very important wherever you live. These plants are adapted to the environmental conditions of the region and they usually produce superior nutrients.  I also have created seasonal food plots, but the dry land farming in Texas is challenging at best. In other areas of the country food plots can be easily grown most and can be an invaluable food resource.

Finally, I have chosen to supplementally feed the deer on my ranch year round. This protein based food source is available at all times. It allows me to support their nutritional needs no matter what the environmental conditions or physiological state the deer on my ranch are facing at any given time. I strongly believe this can be a critical resource to the deer manager in many parts of the country.

What happens to the deer in Texas when it’s 105 degrees and there is no rain for months? How about the deer in the Midwest or Northeast when there are extended periods of subarctic temperatures. Some properties in the Southeast do not have the nutritional quality necessary to support their deer under normal circumstances. All of these deer becomes tremendously stressed and have a hard time maintaining general health, much less grow antlers during critical times. Bucks need consistent nutrition to grow antlers or gain weight post rut. Does need the same nutritional support to raise multiple healthy fawns. Supplemental feeding is a game changer in these situations.

When I realized that a deer’s nutritional needs last longer than the hunting season, a light bulb in my head finally came on. In order for big bucks to thrive on your property they must be healthy ALL year. The health of your doe herd is also very important. Let me try to explain this nutritional principle using a couple different examples, a buck and a doe.

First, let’s look at your average 3 year old buck. It’s early October and the rut has begun. The days run into nights and he is a calorie burning machine. He is eating infrequently and his food is usually of poor quality. By late December he has lost 30% of his body weight. His dietary choices are very limited in late winter. By mid February his antlers have dropped and he is still in poor body condition. Spring begins and all his food intake is directed toward weight gain and recovery from the stress of rut and poor quality food options. What do you think is sacrificed with the example described above? The correct answer is 15-20″ of antler. Are you starting to understand the importance of maintaining consistent quality nutrition?

Let’s look at the one thing most people completely overlook. The doe side of the equation. It’s early October and the chasing has begun. Does also burn a high number of calories during the rut. They become pregnant in the Fall or early winter and their nutrition supports their pregnancy. Once again, in most areas of the country late winter is difficult nutritionally. This stress may cause low fawn birth weights. Smaller fawns have lower survival rates. These same buck fawns start developing later than healthy buck fawns. Smaller body weight means later or smaller antler development. Nutritional stress may also cause abortions in some does. Guess what? Fewer fawns means fewer bucks to hunt in the future. I bet you never thought that doe nutritional stress could affect your buck herd. Does are also very stressed when lactating during the summer. Most of their energy is used to feed their hungry fawns. If her nutritional needs are not met she will be in  poor body condition by late Summer or early Fall. The rut begins again and she is not prepared to sustain a healthy pregnancy. This negative stress cycle may continue.

I hope it has become evident that superior, consistent nutrition for your deer is worth the time and financial commitment. Using a supplemental feeding program, whether in your backyard for the enjoyment of seeing deer or as a part of your deer farm or ranch’s management program, will help you have healthy deer year round.

This article was reproduced from Sportsmans Choice Feeds

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Hunt All Day: Sun Rise to Sun Set

A lot of ink is spilled each year on the topic of sitting all day for deer. The reality is that most of us can’t hack it. The first few hours of the day as well as the last few seem to fly by, but the time period between mid-morning and mid-afternoon can often drive us stir crazy and force an impromptu exit.

This is, of course, not the best way to kill a deer.

Instead, an all-day sit is the best course of action especially when dealing with the typical firearm’s season where natural movement goes out the window with the mass influx of hunters opening morning. Deer know what’s going on and they react almost immediately. However, they still get bumped around and there are still does coming into estrus, so it pays to watch a good spot all day long.

To do this, comfort is a must but what may provide a cushy, relaxing sit also might end up hurting your odds of success. To sit through all of the daylight hours it’s necessary to walk the tightrope between comfortable enough but not too comfortable as to miss an opportunity. Snoozing away the mid-day hours might be awfully tempting, but will not result in a grip-and-grin photo outside of the realm of your dreams

To achieve the all-day sit, address warmth. Extremities are the first to go, so make sure your feet have a good chance to stay toasty all day. Hands are easier, but still require some thought. Next, you’ll want to keep your core warm. Vests are perfect for this and when combined with layers and finally an outer shell that repels wind, you’ll be set.

I’ve found over the last few years that a Thermos of hot coffee is a lifesaver, especially during brutally cold sits. Nothing works faster to offer you a second wind and warm from the inside out than a steaming cup of Jo at 10 in the morning. Snacks, sandwiches, and possibly a Thermos of hot soup are also necessities. I prefer to reward myself every hour or two with some sort of snack just to break the monotony.

Playing games on your smart phone is a good way to pass the time, but I prefer a book. I can quickly set a book down if I need to and shoot, and always develop a routine of scanning my hunting area after finishing a page. Either way, entertainment is okay provided you stay alert. Deer can show up without warning and leave just as quickly, make sure you’re ready.

Lastly, make sure you’ve got binoculars to investigate the brush from time to time. A lot of hunters feel their scoped rifle is sufficient, but binoculars are safer and simply better for picking apart a distance fence-line or scanning a two-year-old clear cut for signs of movement.

It’s takes some planning and conviction to wile away the daylight hours from a single stand or blind but the result is a sense of accomplishment, and just often enough, a short blood trail and fresh back straps.

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Buck Fight

Here is a link to an great buck fight video taken last fall


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Ranch Report

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Another nice buck!

This is another buck taken off the ranch and mounted by Trophy Case Taxidermy.

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Two year olds!

Here are a couple of pictures of Thor and his brother, who is really coming on strong.

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Back from the dark continent, Great Shooting!

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