2,286 Acres Leesburg, GA
 

Whitetail Deer 

Current State

 

When we first bought Fox Creek, we knew it had everything necessary to be a primo Southern deer property under the Tecomate Management System.  The 225 acres of openland meant we could grow more high-nutrition food than the deer could eat.  Thanks to fire, open woodlands, fertile soils and just the right mix of hardwoods, the native deer habitat was superb.  Though the Plantation had been leased for several years to a handful of Florida hunters, their annual harvest of 12-14 bucks, mostly young and intermediates, and about as many does was relatively modest and didn’t overly concerned us.  We also knew Fox Creek was surrounded by large landowners who either didn’t hunt or hunted very little.  From sign, sightings and reports, we knew Fox Creek supported a high deer population.  Factoring all that in, we anticipated a high-density herd with a reasonably balanced sex ratio and good buck age structure.  We were right, except every index was better than we expected!  

From data gathered by our preseason

camera census ending August 30, 2019, 

we put together a herd

reconstruction model and were,

frankly, shocked by the results…in

a good way!  Our 10 Reconyx Cameras

revealed the following:  

 

135 distinct bucks 

Buck age structure: 

1.5 yrs. – 32

2.5 yrs. – 32

3.5 yrs. – 33

4.5+ yrs. – 38

 

An amazing 71 bucks over 3.5 years old and 87 with 8 points or more!

Buck/doe ratio – 1:1.35

            Resulting in 182 does 

Recruitment rate of 85%

            Resulting in 155 fawns

Minimum population of 472 (with no factoring for deer NOT censused) 

            Resulting in a deer/4.8 acres and an adult deer/7.2 acres

 

Those numbers alone would be extraordinary, but the reality is that those numbers do NOT represent a total census.  From experience, we think the actual total number of deer living on or frequenting the Plantation is over 600.  While Fox Creek does indeed support a high-density herd, it is obvious that the abundance of nutritious food and prime habitat on Fox Creek is drawing in lots of deer from surrounding properties, which fortunately for us have little or no hunting pressure! 

 

The size of bucks impressed us even more than the number of deer!  Many of the mature bucks (3.5 and older) grossed over 130, several topped 140 and a few bettered 150!  BIG for Southern bucks!  But it didn’t end there – five were in the 160s, with one over 170!  Giants anywhere, and far better than we expected!  More BIG surprises are sure to come.  With management, the deer potential is as great as any place in the South!  

 

Future Management Potential

While a current population estimate of over 600 deer and photos of multiple bucks topping 150 may seem as good as it gets, Fox Creek will only get better as the Tecomate Management System matures.  The future strategy is simple – enhance the already good nutritional plane and implement a disciplined harvest strategy. 

For even better nutrition, we would plant the 225 acres of open ground in nutritious food plots and/or ag crops.  By far, the most important part of the plan is warm-season, high-protein plantings.  Our strategy is: 

  1. Plant at least 50 acres in high-protein mixes of perennial white clover, chicory and alfalfa. 

  2. Plant another 50 acres in high-protein, warm-season annuals, namely sunn hemp mixed with forage cowpeas and lablab.  

  3. Follow that up in the fall with cool-season, energy-producing cereals like oats, wheat, etc., laced with red, crimson and/or arrowleaf clover, if the grain is NOT to be harvested as an ag crop.  

  4. On the remaining 100-125 acres, farm warm-season ag crops such as corn, milo and especially high-protein soybeans and/or peanuts.  

  5. Then follow that planting in the fall with cool-season cereals. (Grain only if an ag crop.)  

  6. If we see a need, we would keep increasing the high-protein perennial plots, which are critical since they supply essential high-protein nutrition in the spring, before the annuals come on, when antlers first start growing and fetus growth really kicks into high gear.  Missing that window is at the cost of antler size and fawn health.  

 

The large acreage and distribution of food plots/ag land on Fox Creek make it doubtful supplemental feeding will ever be necessary.  But if it is, the next step in the nutritional strategy would be:

  1. Supplemental feeding of high-protein pellets and/or whole cottonseed.  Both have pros and cons and both provide good nutrition.  We suggest testing for at least 3 months to determine which the deer prefer before making a final choice.  Generally, it takes longer to get deer on cottonseed than pellets, but once on it, they (and we) like it.  If supplemental feeding is employed, we would expect the heaviest use during the spring and fall “shoulder” months between annual crops and in early summer right after fawning, when the does are reluctant to travel far from the fawns. 

  2. One supplemental feeding site per 150 acres (about 15 on Fox Creek) is a good place to start.  Place between food plots and ag fields to provide ready access to does during the summer. 

  3. If usage is high, add supplemental sites to fill the obvious holes in coverage.  

  4. Once we reach a feeding site/100 acres, rather than continue to increase the logistical difficulties of feeding more sites, we prefer to place additional feeders at each site to increase access for more deer.  The drawback to supplemental feeding is that access to feed is largely based on a deer’s position in the herd hierarchy.  “Nose-to-nose” competition prevents does, fawns, younger bucks and some submissive older bucks from getting their “fair” share.  That problem does NOT exist on food plots where deer have SPACE!

 

A critical part of management is a disciplined harvest strategy weighted toward inferior bucks, i.e., cull/management bucks. Generally, a cull is a 2½-year-old or older buck that is FAR below average in quality for his age class.  They should be removed when legal opportunity presents.  Until a program is advanced and being fine-tuned, we don’t recommend harvesting 1½-year-olds because their genetic potential cannot dependably be determined at that age.  Management bucks can be defined as 3½ and older bucks that are average or below average, most often with less than 10 points, for their age class.  While management bucks, of which there are many, generally don’t have the antler size or characteristics to warrant carrying them to peak age and having them compete for breeding rights with quality bucks, they do represent a valuable recreational component of the deer hunting program.    

 

The goal for above average bucks (“quality bucks”), especially 10-pointers and better, is to allow them to reach peak age for size and maximize their genetic contribution.  These are the deer you want to sire the next generation of deer. The deer on a property at any given time are a direct genetic reflection of their fathers (and mothers but we can’t effectively select the better of them) and to a lesser but still significant degree their grandfathers.  Given that, simple logic dictates that better bucks produce better fawns, and vice versa.  This is true and why a strategy that removes inferior bucks and gives quality bucks every chance to breed will result in better and better deer (both bucks and does) with every new generation.   

 

There is an “ideal” age and a “realistic” age for harvesting quality bucks and the two may not be the same, depending on mortality rates outside your control, especially neighbor hunting.  You have to realistically determine the right age to try to harvest quality bucks based on the risk-reward of waiting another year in hopes for bigger size.  In heavily hunted places or on small tracts, we sometimes recommend a minimum harvest age of 3½ if the risk of loss is too great to wait longer.  In places with modest pressure or good-sized tracts, say 500-1,000 acres, 4½ might be the right age for quality bucks.   

 

On Fox Creek, we recommend a minimum harvest age for quality bucks of 5½, and especially so for trophy-class bucks, i.e., the top-ends.  However, as a rule of thumb, we never like to take more than 50% of the quality 5½-year-olds. Why?  Because they are prime breeders and the genetic heart of the herd and with more age a few will “pop” and get bigger and/or become interesting “character” bucks.  

As the Tecomate Management System progresses, what is “average” will increase and adjustments must be made in what constitutes the different classes of bucks.  In time, with a disciplined harvest and great nutritional program, the number and size of quality bucks and trophy bucks on Fox Creek will increase, providing the opportunity to harvest some of the biggest bucks in the South!  

 

Normally, we give a “top-end” estimates after an assessment, but the truth is we don’t know what the ultimate potential is on Fox Creek!  It’s well over 160!  We already have several of those.  It’s over 170! We already have at least one of those!  Bucks topping 200 have been taken in the area!  Suffice to say, the top-end potential is “HUGE” on Fox Creek Plantation!                 

 

One last word on deer and quail.  On Fox Creek, it is possible to have your cake and eat it too, meaning you can have exceptional hunting for both quail and deer with relatively modest compromises in management intensity on both programs to reach a “happy balance.”  Only the owner can decide THE priority or how two or more priorities are weighed in the ultimate management plan.

Tecomate Properties, LLC