Post-Rut Stress: How Hunters Can Help Deer Recover
February 14, 2022
Winter & post-rut stress strains survival rates in deer herds. Learn 4 ways, including supplementing deer minerals, you can help deer recover more quickly.
By late November the rut winds down, most hunters have hauled in a buck and headed home, and the woods are growing quiet again. It’s also the season winter and post-rut stress in deer sets in—and the peak period of natural mortality for adult bucks. It’s a critical time when whitetails need ample resources to battle the elements and overcome losses from the rut.
So how can hunters and conservationists help? We play an important role in not only helping deer survive post-rut, but also thrive. This article looks at ways to speed up recovery by improving your herd’s habitat, supplementing feed, and managing deer population. First, though, let’s look at what physiological effects rutting season has on deer, and particularly bucks.
Effects of the Rut on Deer
During the rut, bucks’ typical foraging behaviors and movements change, and they instead expend crazy amounts of energy on rutting activities. Their attention switches from finding food to a steely focus on scraping, rubbing, fighting, seeking, and chasing does. This flurry of testosterone-fueled activity and disinterest in food can span weeks to months and thoroughly exhaust males.
When the rut finally wraps up around the first of December, bucks are drained of energy and reserves. In fact, bucks can drop 20-30 percent of their body weight during the rut. To put that in perspective, let’s view it in human terms. If you’re an average 6-foot, 180-pound male and you drop 25% of your body weight, that equates to 45 pounds. You’ve plummeted to a lean 135 quid—and that’s in just a short month’s time.
Such drastic weight loss leaves bucks heading into winter in depleted and dangerous conditions. Some that chase does too hard may succumb to starvation if plentiful food sources aren’t available. If deer do survive winter on lean resources, they’ll spend spring and summer refueling, but may not have time to add much weight before the fall rut begins again.
Deer Activities After the Rut
We know the stressed state bucks are in after the rut, but how do their activities and habits change to compensate? Post-rut is all about resting and refueling. That means about the time you’re finishing your Thanksgiving leftovers and waking from a turkey coma, deer are just starting to hammer food sources and settle in for some sleep. Bucks will usually find a place with ample forage and go into seclusion in some out of the way, hard-to-reach area of cover.
During this time they seek protein sources to rebuild muscle and put body weight back on. But specifically, what are they looking for? Remnants from agriculture crops and native browse make up a huge part of their diet, as well as leftover hard and soft mast. Food plots, if available, can also supplement nutrition and help with recovery.
Hunting Tip: December can be a great time for hunting. Bucks are back in a routine, hitting food sources, and once again become easier to pattern. And because the weather has cooled, they daylight more as they get up to move and eat. Check out this blog for more info and tips on how to hunt post-rut.
4 Ways to Decrease Post-Rut Stress in Deer
A conservationist’s aim post-rut should be to help deer recover quickly and keep them headed in a positive direction through the winter. This ensures you have more young males entering spring in good shape and more does fostering healthier fawns. Here are some herd management practices the National Deer Association recommends.
1. Quality Food Sources
Want to encourage more natural nutritional resources in your herd’s habitat? Try these two ideas:
- Encourage forest cover. Woody browse—like twigs, stems and dormant buds—is important winter deer nutrition. Encourage more of it by thinning mature forests and putting sunlight back on the ground.
- Plant fall food crops. Include annual clovers and perennial white and chicory clovers in fall food plots. They’re nutritious, preferred by deer, and last into summer.
2. Balanced Deer Density
A crowded herd can create food scarcity and increase mortality rates in deer post-rut. So how do you remedy it and prevent starvation? Balance your herd density. If your herd’s food sources and population are balanced, there will be adequate nutrition for all—which means healthier deer and higher survival rates. Balance deer density by harvesting enough does to reduce competition for winter foods.
3. Balanced Buck:Doe Ratio
Creating a balanced buck-to-doe ratio in your herd will result in a more intense, shorter rut that’s easier on bucks and helps them get back to feeding, and recovering, more quickly. Encourage a healthy buck-to-doe ratio by:
- Harvesting an appropriate number of does each fall.
- Increasing your buck population by protecting yearlings and age classes up to three years old.
4. Supplemental Feed
When December arrives and deer season is in the rearview, many hunters pull the plug on their supplementation program. This may seem like a logical decision, but you shouldn’t overlook the benefits of a good supplemental feed—especially at a time when deer need it most!
If you live in a state where feeding and baiting is legal, put out a supplement at your mineral site starting in late summer or fall. Deer may only nibble on it through the rut but will noticeably amp up usage in December. Providing supplemental feed is an important part of helping deer put weight back on and recover post-rut. Just make sure you choose a high-quality supplement that packs the protein and minerals deer need.
Redmond Hunt Tip: Redmond Apple or Cherry Bomb supplement has palatable protein ingredients, plus added vitamins and 60+ natural minerals deer need for optimal health and recovery. Cherry Bomb is super effective at attracting and nourishing deer September through the first week of January, but we recommend introducing it at sites around July to get deer used to it. Click this link to learn more: How to Use Cherry Bomb Long-Range Deer Attractant.
While December might be the most wonderful time of year for humans, it’s the most difficult for deer. Post-rut stress can have dire consequences on a deer herd, but you can play a significant role in helping them recover more quickly. Just remember to encourage natural food sources on your property, provide quality supplements, and manage your deer density and buck-to-doe ratio. Doing so will help you see healthier does, higher fawn survival rates, deer entering fall with bigger antlers, and more young males joining the ranks of mature bucks.
Need a balanced, high-quality supplement to help your deer refuel through the winter and recover from post-rut stress? Redmond Apple or Cherry Bomb has your herd covered. The Bomb has 60+ minerals and is packed with natural protein ingredients deer love. Click below to learn more and purchase today!
1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute: A Hard Day’s Night: The Lingering Effects of the Rut
2. National Deer Association: Help Deer Refuel After the Rut
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