Antlers are blooming like those crazy onion hors d'oeuvres at your local Outback restaurant. Finally, you can begin to see the potential for this coming hunting season. With antlers showing and deer beginning to settle into a summer pattern, it's time to survey your herd. Don't call the U.S. Census Bureau—this is a job you can do yourself without the governmental red tape. Plus, if you do ask for their help, they're likely to say that you need a permit.
Like many of you, I'm putting my trail cameras out to catch the highest number of deer possible as they pass by. Field edges, and the trails leading to them, are hotspots. I'm testing the new Stealth Cam G30 and the Moultrie M-1100i No-Glow game camera in tandem with my survey efforts.
A survey is important for many reasons. First and foremost, most of you want to see if there's a big buck in your future. A mature buck is more likely to lead a laid-back lifestyle in the summer and show itself in shooting light—and on camera. Your survey should also give you a peek at the up-and-comers. You want to see the potential for other bucks still in the minor leagues, and how many are in the batting lineup.
As summer transitions to fall, making a scrape is an excellent way to keep tabs on whitetails. Bucks use them often during the pre-rut as territory markers, but they also use them duing the early season as a community "marking post."
Equally important, you should be counting deer on your property and trying to weave together a buck-to-doe ratio. For years whitetail managers have stressed a 1:1 ratio, but with the drastic hemorrhagic disease outbreak in 2013 across the whitetail range, I suggest otherwise. Having a few more does around to recover at a quicker rate from any whitetail shortfall is worth the extra feed if your land has ample carrying capacity.
In addition to a trail camera survey, it also pays to spend several evenings visually surveying and taking notes. By watching fields repeatedly and noting the animals that arrive nightly, you should be able to get an idea of the whitetail population. If you watch closely, you'll also get an idea of the fawn recruitment. Count those fawns and try to determine how many of your does are nursing.
Stay back and do your surveying with optics. I always have a 10x42mm binocular on the dash of my truck, but for surveying I maximize my eyeballs with the power of a spotting scope. An affordable, high-quality option is the Nikon ProStaff 5 and mine sits in the front seat, ready for window-mount duty at a moment's notice.
So let's go over this survey charge one more time. First, get your trail cameras out and in locations to capture the highest number of deer possible. Second, count all your deer and establish the buck-to-doe ratio in the neighborhood. Lastly, count the number of fawns so you can determine the future of the herd as compared to current densities.
Got it? Now, get going.