Deer Myths
1/9/2019 3:56:17 PM

How many times have you heard “once a spike, always a spike?” Or that there are blue deer in Mississippi? 

Below are some of the deer-related myths discussed by MDWFP biologist Adam B. Butler and Conservation Officer Maj. Chris Reed during a recent broadcast of “Mississippi Outdoors Radio.”

MYTH: A sickly, barren doe needs to be removed from the herd

Adam Butler: This is a common one. You see a doe that is poor looking – may-be its ribs are showing or doesn’t look (that) big for whatever reason – and is not accompanied by a fawn, it’s an easy leap to say, “OK, she is just so old that she’s not having young anymore.” That is probably not the case. I do not know what the absolute maximum lifespan in the wild of a white-tailed deer can be, but they are not going to reach a point where they are no longer having young. The research actually shows, in fact, the older they get, the better mothers they tend to be. As they age, they get wiser. For older does, the survival rate of their young is actually higher than that of younger does. So a lot of times what you may be seeing is the complete opposite. Instead of it being an old doe who has gotten so ancient she no longer is having any fawns, it is probably a really young doe. Young deer, in general, are still growing their bodies. They are going to look somewhat puny compared to a lot (of other deer). And unless you’re in a really good soil region with a really good deer herd, chances are that if it is a younger deer, it probably didn’t have a fawn on its first attempt.

MYTH: It is illegal to hunt deer when it is snowing or there is snow out

Chris Reed: That is false. You can hunt them in the snow or no snow. It is just a different dynamic. The only thing you cannot hunt while there is snow on the ground is quail. That is a statute.

MYTH: There is a presence of the Wisconsin Blue Deer, massive bucks with blue coloration, in Mississippi

Adam Butler: Going back into the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, deer were almost completely extirpated from Mississippi and a lot of the South. And to restore deer, when the Game and Fish Commission was originally established ...we didn’t have a whole lot of deer left here in Mississippi, so we had to go to other places to get them. There were actually a few northern deer that were imported because Wisconsin and Michigan still had deer. So a few of those wild deer were brought down and released way back in the 1940s and ’50s. But we also got a lot of deer from southern locations. We got deer from Mexico, we got deer from North Carolina. We have actually done studies and looked at the genetics of our current deer herd and we find no trace of those Wisconsin genes in Mississippi. And there’s a good explanation for that: Our deer are far more adaptive to bluetongue disease (hemorrhagic disease) than northern deer. Therefore, if you bring a northern deer to the South and they are exposed to our prevalent rates of bluetongue, they don’t last very long.

MYTH: Deer see in black and white

Adam Butler: It is not that they see in black and white. The closest analogy would be, like in some people, they are red-green color blind. So they can see in different shades–probably can see blue better than any other color–but they are not seeing in black and white. 

MYTH: Fertilizing your oaks produces more acorns, makes them sweeter, and attracts more deer to the property

Adam Butler: The sweetness of the acorn is dictated by tannic acid in the acorn, and each species of oak has a different level of tannic acid. So there is a difference in sweetness, I guess, but that is inherent with the species. You cannot change that with the individual tree. As far as making it more productive, it actually could be counter-productive. When you fertilize any kind of plant, what you are doing is trying to entice it to grow more green matter. That does not necessarily mean you are going to grow more acorns. So what we recommend, if you really want to increase acorn production, is, first, find the individual trees that are most prolific. And then thin around those trees and give them more room to grow a bigger crown. If you have a tree with a bigger crown, you are going to have more acorns. But just simply putting a little fertilizer around the tree is not going to do that for you.

MYTH: I cannot get a good deer because there is bad genetics all around me.

Adam Butler: The research project MDWFP did in conjunction with Mississippi State’s Deer Lab looked at this. We took deer from all sorts of different places in the state: way down south in some of the poorer habitats to some of the average habitats in the middle part of the state to deer from the Delta. We put them in deer pens and fed them a high-quality diet. Some real interesting things happened. If you look at the first generation of deer that were born from those wild deer, they still expressed many of those differences you see in the wild – so the deer in way down south Mississippi were not quite as good as the Delta. But by the second generation, the antler sizes of those deer were all equal. It just goes to show that when you give deer ad-equate nutrition and let them grow, and let them have sufficient age, genetically they can all produce equivalent antlers. So it’s not exactly true that bad genetics will limit you. It’s generally going to be age on the deer and the quality of the diet.

MYTH: Once a spike, always a spike

Adam Butler: There are a lot of things that can determine whether a year-old deer is going to be a spike or not …the timing of when he was born, the nutrition of the mother, all sorts of things go into that. There have been deer in the research pen at Mississippi State that started as spikes that grow really big. Now if you look across the whole of the deer herd …if you grouped them together, say the lower third of the deer herd as a year old, a lot of those will be spikes (and) they also will be smaller deer at adulthood. But you can’t look at an individual animal and say just because he has a spike he won’t grow up to be a really big buck. 

MYTH: You cannot hunt deer with an AR-15-style rifle or magazine capacity larger than five or 10 rounds

Chris Reed: We get a lot of calls during hunting season about that. People are wanting to know if they hunt with their 308 AR-styled rifle or 223, or if they can take their 30-round mags with them. That is all OK. There are no magazine restrictions and there are no caliber restriction for deer hunting during normal daytime hunting hours …I grew up hearing the myth that you could only hunt deer with five bullets, or 10. But that is false.

MYTH: Fawn found alone has been abandoned or his mother has died

Adam Butler: The mother hides the fawns when they are young on purpose because they are vulnerable to predators (that could be) following her. (The fawns) are kind of wobbly and can’t run very fast. Their best defense is to hide in the tall brush, and that is where she leaves them. If they are found alone, they are probably doing just fine.

MYTH: Mineral blocks are needed to grow big antlers

Adam Butler: They are not really providing a whole lot. I am not going to claim to be a cattle guy, but they use those mineral blocks for various reasons. But what (the blocks) are doing in terms of deer are providing micro-nutrients. That is usually not going to be a limiting fact. tor. The one caveat to that might be in extreme south Mississippi, where phosphorous is somewhat limited. So if you are providing that in a mineral block, then that may be giving the deer something they are not getting from the environment. Generally, that is going to be false. You are not giving (the deer) something they really need.

MYTH: Deer have to have cold weather for them to go into rut

Adam Butler: It makes them move. When it is cold, they have to intake more food because they are burning more calories. Therefore, they are going to be on their feet more. In other words, you are going to see more deer when it is cold, generally speaking. But as far as rut, the breeding season itself, when the female is going to come into estrous, the weather has no effect at all. That is totally timed by the amount of sunlight. The amount of sunlight is going to trigger hormones. And, interestingly, an individual doe is generally going to come into heat almost the exact same day every year. The cold weather plays no part in it.

MYTH: Conservation officers can search my house without a warrant

Chris Reed: When you hear that in the field, you kind of keep a straight face and you want them to continue that myth. But that’s false. We are bound by the same Constitution and Bill of Rights that every law enforcement officer in the country is bound by. We have to establish probable cause and go those same routes.

“Mississippi Outdoors Radio” airs each Monday at noon on Supertalk Mississippi.  

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