• Deer diet key to your last shot
    November 25,2012
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    Well, the just-ended firearms buck season didnít go as planned, you say. Donít fret. You have one more chance to put some venison in the freezer.

    The Vermont muzzleloader deer season, which opens on Saturday and runs until Dec. 9, means a bonus for those hunters who applied for, and received, an antlerless permit.

    Iíve been hunting with a smoke pole in Vermont for more than 20 years and, truth be told, the bucks Iíve shot have been few and far between. I get to see a good number of does in the December woods and I hunt hard, but the antlers just donít seem to appear.

    I was reading an outdoor magazine recently and the writer went on and on about how many still-randy bucks are running the woods. That may be true but, in my neck of the woods, the bucks seem to have gone underground.

    One aspect of the muzzleloader season I try to focus on is what deer may be feeding on in early December. That robust fall crop of goodies is all but gone, so deer are forced to rely on whatever is available out there.

    Some 10 years ago, I did some scouting in my favorite deer woods a few days before the smoke pole season opened. While moving through a side hill one afternoon, I came upon a good amount of wild raspberry bushes. Wild raspberry can often be found in areas that were logged over a few years earlier. It is a small sticker bush with green leaves and the deer seem to love nipping off the leaves.

    I found an old stump, with a good tree right next to it and, a few days later, I got to that spot just as daylight began to creep in from the east. With an antlerless tag in my backpack, I felt confident that, if I hunted the place long enough, I might just punch that tag.

    About 90 minutes into opening day, I caught movement, down below. Moments later, a fawn popped into view. I looked behind that young deer and spotted two more, both adults, about 40 yards away. The last doe was the biggest so I brought the muzzleloader up, centered the crosshairs on her chest and touched off a shot. She dropped from where she stood and was dead in seconds. That doe dressed out at 126 pounds.

    The point is, temperatures drop considerably in December and deer must get up and move in order to feed. The trick is to find out what they are feeding on.

    One December, a few years back, I was hunting on a large tract of state land. A fresh snowfall made tracking deer that day a piece of cake and I was stunned by the number of tracks I followed that led to young hemlock trees. The deer were clearly feeding on the young evergreens, thanks to the freshly nipped branches and evidence of fallen cedar needles on the snow. Acorns, standing corn and any fruit remaining under wild apple trees are also favored food. But most of these foods are hard to find come December.

    One good bit of advice would be to check the stomach contents of any deer you are fortunate enough to take in December. Those deer that I have shot in the late season seem to have mostly grass in their stomachs.

    Good luck out there and, above everything else, hunt safely. A blaze orange hat and a like-colored vest might be a good idea, particularly since, for many hunters, any deer will be a legal deer.

    @Tagline: d.jensen62 @yahoo.com
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