Off-Season Opportunities, Improve Deer Season
by Kevin Reese
Few moments are more spiritually troublesome for an avid hunter than the weighty cloak of darkness on the last day of deer season. Memories made, good or bad, goals achieved and for some, dreams become a future score to settle. No matter the outcome, hundreds of thousands of deer hunters agree, the end came too quickly and opening day, is much too far away.
While that wait seems daunting, the light at the end of your tunnel is closer than you think. Hunting opportunities are year round and seemingly endless when you take a little time to dust off the britches and consider your options; even better, a number of those opportunities can improve your odds of settling the score when the sun rises on your next deer season.
Here in Texas, we are less than excited about boarding as much as 50 percent of the nation’s hog population. We face a catastrophic problem threatening the health of our deer population. We often mention rabbits when talking problematic populations, but feral hogs may offer better representation of overwhelming reproductive rates, especially in terms of their impact on competing indigenous wildlife like Texas’ whitetail deer. With a gestational period of 115 days, feral hogs can breed as often as twice per year, birthing litter averages of 6–8 with a 1:1 boar to sow ratio. Feral hogs are not found in no less than 39 states and four Canadian provinces and populations have bolstered to estimates well over 5 million and growing; unfortunately, their numbers increase daily.
Doing the math on hog reproduction is enough to make conservationists quake in their boots. Where hogs compete for habitat, deer lose. As an avid hog hunter, I have yet to observe deer holding ground against a sounder of hogs. Deer are pushed into lesser food sources as their habitat becomes overtaxed by the destructive feeding habits of feral swine.
Consider the unruly omnivorous appetite of feral hogs, their reproductive rate and their innate aggressive tendency to establish dominance. Even worse, consider that adult feral hogs have no natural predators and you are left with the top of the food chain—short of our own quest for bacon and pork chops. The truth is fawns, turkeys, small game, upland birds and countless other species fall prey to the insatiable appetite of feral hogs and the introduction of disease to deer and other wildlife only serves to increase an already dismal outlook. Hogs can easily pass brucellosis, foot and mouth disease, pseudorabies and other potentially catastrophic diseases to deer, other wildlife and livestock.
While hogs are a major concern where deer habitat is concerned, they are not the only culprits. Throughout the west’s open ranges, burgeoning woodlands and majestic mountain ranges, numerous predatory species must be targeted to conserve habitat for whitetail deer. Coyotes, bobcats, cougars and other predators also wreak havoc on fawn production and must be kept in check. Predator hunting continues to grow as an off-season favorite among western hunters. As a result of those pursuits, skills are honed and hunters are better prepared when opening morning finally unfolds.
Population control is not just important to reduce competition for habitat between deer and hogs; it is also an invaluable tool to ensure our wildlife populations do not exceed the capacity of our habitats. Few debate the catastrophic impact of overpopulated habitat. Excessive numbers contribute to disease, starvation and overall depletion of the habitat we work to preserve.
More than the unfortunate impact on wildlife, overpopulation spills into our daily lives. In Texas, we continuously battle road-kills, driver safety and property damage as well as other significant environmental impacts as a result of out of control predator populations. To combat the tide of predatory damage, we hunt and trap day and night. For many, our hunt begins with the setting sun; no rest for the wicked. The truth is there is no rest for those with a passion for conserving our deer population. Our off-season hunting goals work hand-in-hand with conservation; one without the other leaves both destined for catastrophic failure.
Here are some hunting tips to get the drop on hogs and other predators:
Scout: Scouting is critical. Look for signs of activity such as scat, tracks, and evidence of feeding. Hog-sign typically includes mud on trees, wallows and rooting. Trail cameras like SpyPoint’s Tiny-W2 are perfect for catching predator activity and even some level of patterning. Tiny-W2 allows you to check your photos without stirring up your setup. Part of scouting is using your data collection to create hunting setups and strategies that take other variables into account such as wind direction, shade, sunlight and cover. Pick a shaded spot downwind of active sign. Predator hunting may involve moving frequently but applying those same attributes to your roving setup is just as important.
Freeze: Your best camouflage is not moving! Masters of camouflage are not necessarily so because of the pattern they wear. They are masters because they understand movement is seldom unseen. Simply scratching your nose, drinking some water, adjusting your position or turning your head can blow the hunt of a lifetime. The excuses to move are endless but the reason to freeze often is found in the resulting blood trail. Use peripheral vision as much as possible before moving; even then you’re at risk of blowing your hunt. Roll the dice.
Scent Control: Hogs and other predators rely on a keen sense of smell for feeding and protection. Following a rigid routine of scent control while playing the wind is likely your best and often your only opportunity to get close enough to make a kill. Many items are available to control your scent including laundry detergent, dryer sheets, storage bins and bags for your clothes, gear, shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, gum, cover scent products, etc. Smell like nothing or smell like the woods! Spray the bottom of your boots, yourself and your gear down with scent-eliminating spray again before walking into the woods! If possible, keep your clothes and gear in scent free containers and consider adding foliage from your hunting spot to the containers to create a cover scent. In an area laden in cedar trees, storing your clothing and gear with cedar sprigs is a great way to not only eliminate your scent, but add a perfect cover scent!