By Milton F. Whitmore
With deer hunters numbering in the hundreds of thousands, many of whom, after a few years falling into the category of “expert”, whitetail lore, stories and “facts” are bantered about wherever hunters gather. Many of these “truisms” gather momentum until they step over the edge and into the realm of myths.
Wherever we gather, deer hunters share stories of experiences, tips and tidbits about hunting whitetails, tales of deer behavior and, of course, we also discuss the management of the deer herd as hunters by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. While much of what is shared rests in the solid bedrock of truth, much of what is passed between hunters drifts into the realm of the mythical.
In a previous article I mentioned a few such as “Whitetails never look up”, “Big bucks always hold in the thickest, densest cover available”. “Deer will always travel downwind”. All of these “always” truths have been found lacking too often by experienced hunters, as well as casual observers.
Northern deer are going to taste “gamey” because of browsing on cedar:
Although there may be some foodstuffs whitetails eat that may affect the taste of the meat, (sage in Western states comes to mind) for the most part the flavor of venison is affected far more by shot placement, the way the animal was gutted in the field, and the care it was given during transport, all the way to wrapping for the freezer.
The most common sins involve gut shooting deer, careless gutting when the stomach/intestine offal is allowed to taint the meat, and wrapping meat for the freezer that is bloodstained. The finest corn fed farm deer will be unpalatable if it is not taken care of properly from the killing shot and on into the freezer.
If a deer’s abdomen is swollen when it’s recovered, the meat shouldn’t be eaten:
When a deer dies the digestive system will give off gasses that are trapped in the rumen and swelling starts almost immediately. The meat is still edible.
You should cut the throat of a wounded deer to kill and bleed it out:
This bit of macho nonsense offers an example of an inhumane method of killing a deer and does little or nothing to bleed it out any faster than gutting it. If the wound is not immediately fatal the deer should be dispatched with a shot to the head before attempting field dressing.
You can never win the battle over a deer’s eyes, ears and nose:
While a hunter must always be aware of these key senses in a whitetail’s defense package, there are things that can be done to overcome them to a certain extent.
A deer’s vision is the easiest to defeat. Wearing camo clothing from the head on down (including the face) will do the job. By simply remaining still, a hunter can go a long way in defeating a whitetail’s eyesight.
Again, remaining still is a key. A hunter may also use sounds such as grunts, snorts (careful with this one), bleats and fight sounds (rattling with brush busting) to defeat those ever vigilant ears.
This is the toughest sense to defeat and it can never be done with 100% efficiency. Keeping the wind always in mind, scent free soaps, sprays and scent eliminators, buck urine, doe-in-heat (no guarantees on this), cover and masking scents can cause confusion in the mind of a wary whitetail.
Mandatory deer check-in is the best way for the MDNR to tabulate the whitetail harvest:
At one time I held to this “fact”. However, research and asking helped dispel this particular myth. In order to “prove” my point, I contacted Mike Tonkovich, PhD, Wildlife Research Biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. I asked him about the accuracy of Ohio’s mandatory deer check-in as compared to the method that Michigan’s DNR used. I was confident that he would, with all politeness, support my premise that mandatory check-in gave a more accurate count of a whitetail harvest. I was wrong.
Here are some of the highlights of Mike’s comments in response to my question:
“In the 10 years that I’ve been here, I’ve been engaged in numerous discussions on the pros and cons of mandatory registration. I have also found myself answering more than a handful of emails from MI hunters who feel that the system used by the MDNR leaves a lot to be desired. In their mind, they see mandatory registration as the only means for getting an accurate count of the harvest. Much to their chagrin, I have to disagree. On the surface, Mandatory Deer Check-In seems like the “cats meow.” You kill a deer, you bring it to the check station, it is permanently tagged and recorded and you go home. At the end of the season, the data are tallied and you not only know how many were taken, but you’re now in a position to generate an ACCURATE estimate of the size of the upcoming fall population. In a perfect world, that might be the case. The reality is, we know (PA and MO come to mind immediately) that not everyone checks their deer. How many? Who knows for sure? In some years it may be as low as 7%, in others it may be as high as 30%. No one really knows. If you don’t know what noncompliance is, you don’t know what the true harvest is either. So why spend valuable license dollars year in and year out providing manpower and resources to operate mandatory check stations when in the end, your harvest estimate is just that – AN ESTIMATE! Mandatory registration may help some to restore hunter confidence in the DNR estimates. However, I don’t believe it will improve the estimates themselves.”
The method used by the MDNR for tabulating the whitetail harvest in any given season has been time tested and peer reviewed. It is accurate with an error of +/-5% and that’s certainly good enough if you’re counting dead deer.
Rain and windy conditions ruin deer hunting:
Rain tends to dampen the spirit of deer hunters more than it affects the movement of the animal they seek. The warmth and comfort of a fireside chair in the cabin is certainly more inviting than occupying a seat in a deer blind. The truth is that, within reason, deer will go about daily business rain or no rain. Yes, a downpour will alter their movement, but other than that deer will be active during a rainfall. As a matter of fact, the rain helps dampen the sound of a hunter’s movement through the woods and this is not a negative.
An understanding of how weather affects deer movement is helpful, but like every wild creature whitetails want to be comfortable. They seek out cool havens in warm weather and protected shelter during bitter cold spells. Rather than give up due to the weather, hunters need to relocate and/or change tactics.
Strong, blustery winds are “known” to hinder the travels of whitetails. Several years ago I, once again, “proved” this to be true, or so I thought. It was early in bow season and one evening I sat in my favorite tree stand. Winds were kicking up to over 25mph and no whitetails showed. “It was the wind”, I solemnly intoned.
Upon arriving home our youngest son, who was too young to bowhunt ,excitedly told me of two bucks, one a real bruiser, that he had videotaped while sitting at the edge of a clear-cut out back where the woods merged with a hayfield. A small fork-horn buck came out of the cut-over aspen and into the field. The deer hugged the edge of the saplings and was followed by a dandy 8 point buck that sported wide, high tines. The deer, while cautious, were out and about in those windy conditions. The proof was in the video. This was less than a mile from where I had spent a fruitless few hours sitting in a large white pine tree seeing no deer at all and blaming a lack of movement on the high wind conditions.
I still have the video tape if you care to see it.
Bucks never revisit rubs:
While this is true to an extent the word “never” does not fit. Noted whitetail researcher Grant Woods has found that certain types of rubs see a great deal of repeat activity. He calls these rubs “traditional rubs” and they are found on larger diameter trees and used by older bucks. Automatic cameras showed that numerous bucks interacted with these rubs during the entire breeding season by smelling and even re-rubbing them. Smaller bucks paid attention during daylight hours, but the big boys came by only after dark, but they did make numerous visits.
Yes, deer hunting myths are spread and sometimes they prevail despite irrefutable evidence of their invalidity.