ESCANABA - One of the things I planned on doing this month was to get out to a couple of my hunting spots to look for shed antlers and signs of rut from last deer season that weren't there when I last left the woods in December. I also wanted to get a peek at the physical condition of local deer as they transition out of winter.
Overall, the deer herd should be in great shape this spring as we come out of the third consecutive mild winter across the Upper Peninsula. The last blast of snow did not have a big impact on those deer away from the safety of thermal cover in wintering yards. It did serve to provide some essential moisture to those areas of habitat that would have been dry and of high fire risk before green-up occurs.
Biologists are reporting that most fawns viewed to date are not showing a whole lot of stress. According to MDNR Biologist Brian Roell of Marquette, "They're looking extremely good; no puffy cheeks like we'd expect to see from the fawns this time of year."
Many times when afield, we can have a chance encounter with whitetails. This is a time when their metabolism is changing, actually speeding up, and they're once again foraging for food.
I'll frequently hear hunters report on their annual inventory of which deer made it through the preceding winter, based on those they familiarized themselves with during the fall. They can identify individual deer and know their immediate habits.
I'll also hear from other outdoors enthusiasts, including hunters, who would like to learn more about the local deer population and follow them throughout the year, but are not sure what to look for in determining what information deer behavior offers.
For those who are novice at tracking deer during all four seasons in the U.P., a new video documentary is available.
The Upper Peninsula is home to one of most accomplished outdoors writer/photographers by the name of Richard P. Smith. He has written 24 books, 11 of which are still in print, that deal with wildlife; including hunting, especially in relation to whitetail deer and black bear.
Smith and his wife, Lucy J. LaFaive, have collaborated on a just-released 90 minute video that captures the life of deer in the truest sense. The presentation covers eight years of research where Smith spent time literally walking among whitetail deer groups. Smith followed one particular doe from age 1.5 to its present 8.5 years of age. He has also been able to monitor her offspring, both as a family unit and individually as they matured, especially the bucks. Only one previous video produced through Smith Publications was similar in nature, and it detailed techniques in field judging black bear.
The new DVD, "Walking With Whitetails", addresses such behavior and where deer go, what they do, what they eat, how they interact with one another and how long they live.
There are scenes that even the most experienced outdoorsman has not been able to witness.
You'll be able to watch does nursing their fawns as well as other interactions between mothers and their offspring. One particular scene is that of a mature buck taking a nap.
Now I've been able to walk up on bedded deer several times in my life. The first two encounters were by accident and one was planned. I've never been able to keep them in view very long as they rapidly became aware of my presence and soon after moved away.
In his video, Smith travels alongside a mature buck as it laid down to rest. Smith sat along side, a short distance away, as the buck drifted off to sleep. It not only slept but reached R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) status, a process our bodies go through during the deepest level of slumber.
I'll often hear hunters speculate how generations of bucks have developed, including antler growth. Smith was able to follow the male offspring of his special doe and watched for similarities between them as well as how they process velvet off their antlers and other dominance rituals on deer up to 4.5 years old. This segment includes antler rubbing competitions between mature bucks, lots of battling bucks, a buck breeding a doe, all the way to antler shedding as winter arrives.
Walking With Whitetails also chronicles deer mortality and the span of life between sibling deer, whether doe offspring help rearing fawns and what impact coyotes have on the deer population.
I can honestly say that after viewing this video, there are not too many other questions I can come up with that have not already been addressed by Smith. I also feel a little more confident that deer are more likely to accept my presence if it seems less likely that I'm stalking them versus cohabitating like Smith has been able to do.
The DVD is great viewing not only during this time of year, but is also a good primmer going into fall when we get real serious about monitoring deer behavior.
The Walking With Whitetails DVD can be ordered for $24 postpaid from Smith Publication, 814 Clark Street, Marquette, MI 49855. You can also access information and order through his website at www.RichardPSmith.com.
You can also buy a copy for $19.99 at Book World outlets. Smith will be on-site at Book World in Iron Mountain Saturday.
I give this DVD two thumbs up as being informative and interesting for those who are serious about learning everything they can regarding the behavioral traits of the whitetail deer.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.