Hunting > Whitetails

Questions for the Deer Doctor

A lesson on deer habits and behavior from one of the most respected whitetail scientists in the nation.

Grant Woods, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife biology from Clemson University, is one of the most respected whitetail scientists in the nation. In 1990 he founded Woods and Associates, one of the first deer management consulting firms in the country. Woods is a popular public speaker on all things whitetail, and in 2004 he co-wrote the acclaimed book Deer Management 101. He lives in Missouri and is a hardcore deer hunter.

Mike Hanback: You have done some cool research on "signpost" rubs. What have you found?

Grant Woods: The big trees are rubbed by older bucks (3½ years and up) year after year. Look closely at one and you'll see the rub scarring. Our observations suggest that older bucks deposit pheromones on the rubs, and this plays an important role in the dominance/subordination process in a herd. All deer interact with signposts-they will smell and touch them-but only older bucks make them. The rubs act as communal pheromone wicks and are located in areas with high deer traffic.

MH: What do a lot of rubs on a ridge or in a bottom tell a hunter?

GW: We have found a correlation between the number of rubs and the number of older bucks in an area. The better the age structure of a herd, the more rubs and signposts that appear. On one of our management projects in Tennessee, we started out noticing about 700 rubs per square mile, or 1.1 per acre. After five years of good herd management, it increased to an amazing 5,000 rubs per square mile, or 7.8 per acre. The size of the rubbed trees also increased significantly.

You've taken hundreds of thousands of deer pictures with trail cameras. Where is the best spot for a hunter's cams?

GW: Set them near hot scrapes and keep them up and running for weeks throughout the rut. You'll get pictures of most every buck that lives on your property, and also the transient bucks that come through looking for does. Most of those pictures will be at night.

Does camera flash spook deer?

Some people will argue that deer don't react to a flash. I find this true in areas where deer frequent feeders and become conditioned to the flash, like Pavlov's dogs.

But most deer react more to white flash than the red flash of most infrared cameras. However, a high percentage of deer also react (at least notice) a red flash. In fact, the red flash from some units is much stronger than others; it gives a longer flash range, but it can also disturb deer more. By the way, deer react more to flash when the units are set on trails or near feeding areas, both places where deer tend to be on high alert.

For my research these days, I'm using the newer cameras that don't have any visible flash, white or red. I am getting lots of photos of deer that appear totally undisturbed. I also get more pictures of mature bucks trailing does or immature bucks. To me, these new cameras are worth the extra cost to capture data of older bucks for hunting or for research.

MH: You speak often of "hidey-hole" food plots. Explain.

A hidey-hole is a small patch of green forage in the woods where deer can grab several mouthfuls of food before they move on to a larger green field or crop. I use a leaf blower to clear a spot about 20x20 feet wide where I see sunlight hitting the forest floor. I'll take 10-10-10 fertilizer and sow it over the cleared spot. Next, I'll put down some winter wheat, buck wheat, peas or any seeds that will germinate on top of the soil and produce a crop quickly after the first rain. You can plant a hidey-hole two weeks before bow season and have a great little hidden spot to hunt.

You've been quoted as saying, "Deer are slaves to their stomachs." What do you mean?

It's simple, really-deer must eat. Food is the main thing that drives their movements and patterns most times of the year. The hunter who focuses his strategy on food sources can't go wrong.

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4 Responses to Questions for the Deer Doctor

Adam scott wrote:
November 05, 2012

Can deer tracks tell you if its a doe or a buck

Michael wrote:
November 07, 2011

Is it safe for you to feed your herd in a trough feeder or just leave them to forage naturally

daniel paquin wrote:
October 19, 2011

for us in the north of quebec is the peek of the rut started by the frost, shortenest of day light or just the time of year and is it at that time do we use doe in heat urine and rattling, thank you in advance

Alex Leverett wrote:
October 05, 2011

What is the oldest Doe in the wild ever killed on record? I killed one in Talbot co Ga. that was aged at 18 to 22 yrs old.