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Hunting Water Sources for Whitetail Deer

Hunting Water Sources for Whitetail Deer

Every living creature on planet earth is physically submitted to meeting basic survival needs. Dependent upon what creature we speak of needs can differ. The whitetail deer is driven by some very foundational physical needs which include food, water, shelter, and a basic instinct to avoid danger and reproduce. Whatever creature we speak of that is unable to meet these needs becomes extinct. Many hunting strategies of whitetail deer revolve around food, and mating. Perhaps the reason this is so is because whitetail deer hunting strategies are most easily employed when the hunter focuses on the food source, and the rut. However if we were to really examine the two most basic needs of a whitetail deer it would be food and water that would be ranked as primary.

There are very few hunting articles that address whitetail deer hunting strategies surrounding how to successfully harvest trophy whitetail bucks based upon water sources. In order to better understand how successfully hunt whitetail deer near water let us first visit, and educate ourselves on the basic drinking requirements of a whitetail deer.

How much does a whitetail deer drink daily? A common misconception is that whitetail deer drink only in the morning before they go to sleep and then in the evening. Whitetail deer don't really care if it is crystal clear water or not. They are more likely to drink someplace within there territory than to wander off to a better source, in an effort to prevent predators (such as you and I) from discovering their core area. Secluded areas are preferred even if it's just a muddy puddle left by the rain. Deer like all living things require water in order to survive. In the winter the deer requires about 1 1/2 quarts for every 100 pounds of body weight per day. In the warmer months they require about twice that much water. Although whitetails will seek out water much of the water that they need can be found in the food that they eat most of which is between 50 and 90 percent water. In the winter the deer can meet their daily requirement by eating snow or by licking ice if open water cannot be found. Although surface water is not as important to whitetails as food or cover, in drier climates a lack of available water can prevent animals from using the landscape completely. Cattlemen have known this for years, and as a result, they distribute water sources to encourage better utilization of the available forage. Using an aerial or topographical map you can determine where the water sources on your property may lie.

As aforementioned, food and cover most often times play a heavier role in predicting whitetail deer movement than the location of a water source when whitetail deer hunting. When hunting whitetail deer around water sources you must simply know that in most climates in North America a whitetail deer finds it much easier to tap into a water source than to locate a reliable safe food source with a dependable bedding area to avoid detection.

In no way am I suggesting that hunters that employ or hunt water sources for whitetail deer are wasting their time. I am simply saying that the benefits of hunting whitetail deer by locating food sources and bedding areas may be more productive, unless the hunter truly understands how whitetail deer use water sources on a higher level of play. Let us visit a recent example as late as 2009. In the state of Missouri water sources. Thus very few hunters focus on hunting water sources for whitetail deer. Throughout September and October in 2009 I had been scouting numerous trophy bucks on a property for hunters in our camp. Iím not certain at what exact time I began to lose track of these bucks however the day arrived when it seemed as if they had disappeared. Most of the time I rely on aerial photographs to solve pieces of the puzzle in an effort to pattern trophy whitetail deer. When I looked at this particular aerial photograph I noticed its perimeter was literally pronounced or outlined by a pretty good size creek. This particular property was a rectangle in shape except for one portion of five acres which from overhead on the aerial photograph simply looked like an arm. During 2009 Missouri deer season the state inherited its fair share of rain and many creeks were shoulder deep. This particular arm of timber that stood out and was surrounded on three sides by the river was literally unapproachable from the north, south, and west. In essence this particular arm of timber was surrounded on three sides by water that was 5 foot deep. Also this particular piece of timber was very dense as it was a pin oak thicket. I suddenly realized what was going on.

My hunch was that the trophy bucks that had disappeared have literally found a safe haven. For if they were to bed in this area, if any predator approached it would be forced to noisily splash and swim the creek in order to reach the monster bucks. Therefore all the bucks had to do in order to stay safe was rest in the thicket surrounded on three sides by water, lay down and face the only direction from which a predator could approach without being detected. This was not a case where I was deer hunting over a water source as if it were a lure or an attractant. This was a case where the whitetail deer were using the water as protection and outsmarting predators until the first morning I placed a hunter within weapon distance of the location. It didnít take a long for blood to spill, and smiles to stretch faces why we measured antlers of a huge buck killed from the thicket. The deer in the area had grown so accustomed to using this water source for safety that several deer were harvested from this thicket. One of the monsters I harvested at the end of the season after hunters left, which hangs on my wall at this very moment. Hunting whitetail deer over water sources isnít the key. Its understanding how easy it is for them to use water as a shield against predators, and looking for the secret locations they drink from in the Midwestern States at least.

I have found while some old school outdoor writers focus articles or whitetail deer stories about how to hunt whitetail deer over water sources, the truth is water is abundant throughout the Midwestern United States and wise whitetail deer hunters do not necessarily use water as a lure or base tree stand setups up on bodies of water. Wise whitetail deer hunters learned to discriminate and educate themselves on how whitetail deer use water sources for travel and safety.

Let us visit another example. Early season in Missouri deer hunting 2009 large amounts of rainfall cause tributaries to overflow drastically. I literally watched as some low lying farms were destroyed because of Levee breaks. I watched some farms in low lying areas turn from wonderful bedding areas to nothing but mud and sand. During 2009 Missouri deer hunting we literally had to rethink our whitetail deer strategies surrounding water sources. It wasnít that the deer were lacking water. Itís that the deer had literally been forced from their home range because it was underwater. We learned quickly that the once awesome river bottom farms were now under water and void of deer. The water literally pushed whitetail deer into the hill country. Rather than being stubborn and hunting the river bottom farms our camp improvised and began hunting hill country. After all the herd had been forced to higher ground. It was here that our Missouri archers saw 116 pope and young bucks in five days and were given 42 shooting opportunities at less than 30 yards to harvest record book whitetail bucks. Again I say hunting whitetail deer over water sources was not the focus but rather the focus was that water sources are often dictate where the buck of a lifetime awaits you.

As I have outfitted and hunted whitetail deer in the Midwestern United States for nearly 20 years has exposed me and afforded me the opportunity to observe how whitetail deer utilize water sources. On most of our properties throughout the Midwestern United States the terrain is normally about 50% timber and 50% agricultural crop fields. Our land tracts in the Midwestern United States do not normally present huge bluffs and steep inclines which are difficult to negotiate. Rather, the timbered portions of these land tracts from which we hunt whitetail deer in the Midwestern United States present terrain which is a series of oak ridgeís without much more than 40į angles up hill which are easily negotiated by whitetail deer hunters. Because of this between the various oak ridge colonies or parcels thereís a multitude of creeks and low lying areas that always hold some amount of water that whitetail deer utilize. Thus what occurs thus whitetail deer in the Midwestern United States do not normally need to leave the confines of the timber to consume water. Instead whitetails have a short walk to water sources and are not forced to expose themselves to human beings in order to meet their needs of thirst. Envision this for a moment. A big buck is bedded in the bed area on a side of an Oakridge and at anytime can easily travel a short distance to a shallow creek bed to get a drink. Unlike locations in Mexico, Arizona, Montana, in other locations which do not possess a multitude of water sources for whitetail deer, the hunter that focuses on hunting a pond or lake in the Midwestern United States for whitetail deer is usually a unsuccessful. As aforementioned the majority of the whitetail deerís diet contains vegetation and agricultural crops that possess high volumes of water as well as the small creeks and ditchs which are holding water between and among timbered areas.

Another general rule about water outside of hunting over water to kill whitetail deer is that gut shot deer normally find a cool hole of water or a stream to rest in. Hereís the facts on this aspect of water and whitetail deer. They do this to reduce fever associated with such a shot. Gut shot deer rarely bleed externally! Yes there is an entrance and exit wound, but the intestines and stomach often close them up. Besides, the gut area offers very few arteries and blood vessels to bleed.

Once the paunch (stomach) is ruptured, semi digested food and stomach bacteria enter the body cavity. This makes the deer sick and it will eventually lay down where it will expire after a long time. Blood loss is minimal and slow and will almost always be internal. These reasons are why one should wait a minimum of 8 hours before attempting to track a gut shot deer.

Blood sign will be minimal, so also look for semi-digested food matter when tracking. If the trail is lost, circle the area slowly and try to pick it up. If it is not found, leave. Come back in a few hours and start working in ever widening circles. Now you are "nose" tracking the deer. A gut shot deer will emit the internal gases and the "gut" smell that can lead you to it.

If you wait until the next day, and can not find any sign, then look around the closest water supply available. A gut shot deer will more often than not get up and go to water to drink. Once there, they will drink a tremendous amount of water and founder or expire from internal hypothermia.

In essence, when hunting whitetail deer over water sources in the Midwest you will find yourself doing more successful by placing tree stand locations along the small shallow tributaries. Youíll be able to intercept trophy whitetail deer by hunting water sources that are not vast but rather more secluded. However in other states located in the extreme south west portions of the United States hunting water sources for whitetail deer can be very productive. Deer use water daily. Their water needs are partially supplied by succulent plants. Lack of free water on dry ridges may deter deer from using these areas. A minimum of one source of permanent water per square mile (the approximated home range of a deer) is needed to secure year-round use of the available deer range.

Let us visit a scenario where a whitetail deer hunter should consider hunting whitetail deer over water sources. In New Mexico we find a region that has limited water supplies. Seasonal movements involving migrations from higher elevations (summer ranges) to lower winter ranges are associated, in part, with decreasing temperatures, severe snowstorms, and snow depths that reduce mobility and food supply. Deep snows ultimately limit useable range to a fraction of the total. Deer in the arid southwest may migrate in response to rainfall patterns.

When startled, a Deer will move in a series of stiff-legged jumps with all four feet hitting the ground together. This gait offers two advantages: it allows the deer to out-distance predators in rough terrain, and to see above the thick brush. If necessary, they can turn or completely reverse direction in the course of a single bound.

Deer are active primarily in mornings, evenings and moonlit nights. This inactivity during the heat of the day is a behavioral adaptation to the desert environment that conserves water and keeps the body temperature within livable limits. Sweat glands and panting also provide evaporative cooling during hot periods.

During the middle of the day, the Deer beds down in a cool, secluded place. The mature buck seems to prefer rocky ridges for bedding grounds, while the doe and fawn is more likely to bed down in the open. Thus in a region such as New Mexico hunting whitetail deer over water sources can be THE key to harvesting a great whitetail buck.

Droughts often times can force whitetail deer to water supplies from long distances. This is a great time to take advantage of hunting whitetail deer over water sources. A "drought," as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is, "A long period of abnormally low rainfall, especially one that adversely affects growing or living conditions." Drought or not, this year many Eastern-region hunters can expect to contend with dry conditions during the deer season. Dry conditions cause deer to move around more for food, and this year's dry conditions should make things a little more difficult for deer and a little easier for deer hunters. Agricultural crops as well as natural mast are affected when the water table is low. With less water to go around, crops grow slower and produce less. If the water shortage is severe, crops may be stunted. In the worst-case scenario, crops won't grow at all. Oak trees, a staple for deer, may produce fewer or smaller acorns. This means deer will need to eat more often. State game biologists have been keeping statistics on deer populations, hunter success rates, mast crops, antler growth and other data for decades. They found a direct correlation between the annual acorn crop and hunter-success rates. When the acorn crop is low, deer must travel more to find food. This extra activity translates into hunters' seeing more deer. When hunters see more deer, they have a better chance of putting meat in the freezer. In general, there is usually a positive correlation between the mast crop and antler beam diameter. Antler size and growth rates could be affected by dry conditions, but biologists point out that there are other factors determining beam size, such as the mineral content in food. Crop damage and property damage by hungry deer are also the product of low mast production. The ways deer react to dry weather conditions should be considered in your hunting strategy and tactics. Deer are creatures of habit, and they are resourceful. If they cannot find acorns, they will look elsewhere. Under extreme conditions, deer will feed on agricultural crops, landscape plantings and just about anything else they can find. Corn fields will see more deer activity during dry periods, and if your hunting area abuts farmland, set up on a trail that leads to known bedding areas.

Success really comes down to knowing the area you plan to hunt. Clues garnered during scouting treks can be golden; however, sign picked up during a scouting trip in September can be useless if opening day is in late October or November, especially if the dry conditions continue throughout the season. When dry conditions prevail, more scouting is in order because deer will move frequently in search of new food sources. You must find those sources, too, because they will be your best bet in encountering a deer.

If you were to write a top 10 list of deer's favorite food, acorns, apples and farm crops would be high on the list. Deer will, however, eat whatever they can get. One past season was particularly dry, and the acorn crop was nearly nonexistent. I helped field dress a doe and was immediately struck by the odor of cedar. This particular deer had obviously been browsing on cedar, and though cedar may not be a deer's first choice for food, it will do when there is little else to eat.

Usually, deer get most of the water they need from the plants they eat, but in dry conditions, deer may need to take in more water. Biologists know that deer drink water, especially when running during the rut or in hot, dry conditions. Hunting hotspots include areas laced with streams, creeks, a river or swamps. These water sources will have rich soil, a variety of succulent plants and brushy edges, which provide good food and cover for deer.

Finding deer in dry weather requires some detective work. Do you know of any private landowners who have had deer chowing down in their pumpkin patch or corn fields? How about the landowner whose ornamental shrubs have been turned into stumps by famished whitetails? One advantage of dry conditions is that getting permission to hunt from affected landowners may be easy. Many landowners who are on the fence about hunting may grant permission when deer start to cost them time and money.

When you do talk to landowners, find out when the unwanted visitors come in to feed. Look for trails they have created, and determine if the runs lead to another feeding area or to bedding sites. Hillsides facing south or east are good sources for bedding deer.

One area I hunt is typical former farmland reclaimed by second-generation forest. In the recent past, this particular piece of land had plenty of acorns. Annual rainfall had been average, and deer activity was normal, and I saw the average number of deer I usually see on that patch of woodland - nothing more, nothing less. There was a lot of sign, particularly rubs and scrapes. Near these rubs was a forgotten orchard, but the trees still produced fruit. I spent a few days in a tree stand overlooking those old apple trees and saw no buck. The ground under the trees was littered with apples, yet this buck seemed more interested in acorns. Maybe that particular buck was not a gourmet who liked to mix up his meals and instead was a basic acorn and grass eater, but I will guess that this year, with fewer acorns available, he will make short order of those apples, and others will be right behind him.

Deer need cover and lots of it. Ideal deer habitat, say biologists, is about 30 percent brush and edge. Look for recently thinned woods or clearcuts, regenerating burns or overgrown fields. Deer also favor the fringes of areas and like to travel the edges, lingering here and there to browse. Look for does to bed in large areas of dense cover. A buck will often hide in smaller, thicker pockets. Small swamps, brushy fencerows and high-ridge thickets are where you'll find the big boys. When the rut and hunting pressure build up, bucks travel from cover to cover, utilizing several core bedding areas. They will also want a sip of water, so keep this in mind as you consider hunting areas.

The nice thing about hunting in dry weather is that you can always hear what's coming through the woods, but the noisy duff can work against you, too. If you prefer to sit on the ground with your back to the trunk of a tree, clear out the dry leaves under and around you. Any hunter will begin to fidget after sitting in the same position for hours on end, and the sound of crunching leaves and twigs will be amplified throughout the woods as you reposition yourself. To avoid this, clear your spot before the season starts so the deer can become accustomed to the change. If you can smell the scent of a fresh-cut twig or bough, rest assured that the deer would know something is different, too. When I try a new spot on a whim or a hunch, I make sure there is nothing under me or around me that will create extra noise. I believe that making a small amount of noise during the initial setup is preferable to continuous, sporadic crunching and rustling during a hunt.

If you are a still-hunter, you will soon find that dry conditions make for a noisy hunt. Fallen dead leaves will be crisp and crunchy, and stalking deer on them will be like walking around on potato chips. The most productive on-foot hunts include driving deer with a few partners or, if you go it alone, hunting from a tree stand or ground blind.

Scent is also affected by dry conditions. It has been said that wet conditions pull and hold the scent down to the ground, such as during a light rain. The theory is that deer cannot pick up the scent in rainy weather, but bucks have been known to come into the scent in the rain and after a rain.

In dry conditions, the scent has less humidity to draw it down or cling to, so scents linger and can easily be carried by the wind. Many people do not like to hunt in the wind, but with dry conditions and a good attracting scent during the rut, or by using a cover scent later in the season, a success story may come out of a windy day. Even though dry conditions are not desirable, they can help increase your chances for success.

Have you ever heard the old saying of not putting all your eggs in one basket. When you seek out a whitetail deer outfitter make sure your outfitter has both hill country ground and river bottom ground. This way no matter whether the outfitter faces to drought or flooding you will have somewhere to pursue trophy whitetail deer. In addition to a varied and ample food supply, be advised whitetail deer hunters look for a whitetail deer outfittter with a permanent water supply to take care of drought situations. You will be amazed at how a little ditch of water or a huge water hole can serve the water requirements of the whitetail deer. Whitetail deer can usually get along without water because of the moisture in their food, but they will drink surface water in the late summer and fall. Another benefit of permanent water is that the browse plants around water have soft tips, which the deer like. Whitetail deer will eat semi aquatic plants to suffice water needs of the whitetail deer.

Riverbottom Whitetails
Still, the relationship between record book entries and river systems is plainly evident throughout the country, especially in heavily farmed states. For example, in Iowa the best deer counties are not the most heavily farmed, but tend to have a mixture of farmland and forest cover associated with river bottoms. Counties bordering the Missouri, Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers account for the majority of entries from Iowa. This pattern is evident in nearly all states, especially along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri River systems.

The relationship between deer densities and number of entries is also interesting. States with high deer densities and long firearms seasons with liberal bag limits produce, on balance, fewer entries. States with lower deer densities, shorter gun seasons, and more restrictive buck harvests tend to produce more entries. A good comparison is between Ohio, which averages around 10 deer per square mile, and Mississippi, which averages more than 30.

It is very obvious that the richest most fertile soil in the United States is located in river bottoms. Because of this deer are naturally drawn to river bottom areas as all their needs are met, which soybeans chest high, and water is plentiful along with bed areas. The Riverbottoms of the Midwest hold the richest and best crops with the highest nutrients in all the continent. This is where whitetail deer are naturally drawn to in order to gorge themselves on the best nutrients in abundant supplies, thereby producing the largest whitetail buck racks in the entire world. Hunting riverbottoms for huge whitetail bucks is one of the biggest keys to filling your deer tag each and every year. I will take a river bottom over any other land tract given the choice when pursuing whitetail deer. It is in these river bottoms of the Midwestern United States that dreams come true.

Remember when hunting whitetail deer over water sources that the key isnít thinking that you must hunt over the water to kill monster bucks coming to a water source. The key is understanding how to use water sources to your advantage while deer hunting.

Darrin Bradley

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