Habitat management could help in the hunt for velvet bucks

Published 9:46 am Monday, August 1, 2022

STARKVILLE — Permits for Mississippi’s Velvet season open for sale on Monday and there are a few things hunters and landowners can manage leading up to the season. Steve Demarais, an MSU professor in Wildlife Management and Co-Director of the MSU Deer Lab, said this time of year is critical in a buck’s development. 

Bucks in velvet need minerals and nutrients as they grow their antlers. Velvet describes the shiney hair-like texture growing antlers have. Underneath this velvet is a layer called perichondrium that is strong and bonelike. 

The growth rate of antlers slows dramatically during late summer. Autumn equinox correlates with the antler solidification and velvet drying out. Right now, most of the antler is finished growing, and by August 15 all growth has stopped and the antler starts to harden. 

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“From that point forward it is about adding more minerals to the structure. If you look at the antler content at this point it is about 50 percent protein,” Demarais said. “That time of year is one of the more challenging times for deer. There is a mismatch in qualities of food and what they need. The forage available is low quality but there is a high demand for nutrients.”

Bucks go into velvet during the spring and summer. According to the Mississippi State University Deer Lab, Antlers will grow as fast as three-quarters of an inch a week for yearlings and 1.5 inches per week for adults during peak growth periods. 

MSU deer lab emphasizes active habitat management in outreach programs such as their YouTube page Deer University and their podcast Deer University. Proper habitat management helps bucks gain the nutrients they need to build strong healthy antlers. 

One of the ways you can help deer on your property this time of year is through a process called mineral stumps. Former Mississippi State Assistant Professor Marcus Lashley discovered the management practice as a hunter in the woods and he was able to determine why deer selected to eat young hardwood sprouts over forbs they prefer. 

Lashley had cut trees down near his bow stand to create a shooting lane. In the process, the trees would try to resprout with multiple green shoots. Deer selected those sprouts and he discovered through further research it was because the leaves had more nutrients to balance out the root system below the ground. 

It may be too late to get a food plot planted near your bow stand, but right now would be a good time to chop some trees down as you create shooting lanes. This opens up the canopy allowing for more forage and creates the mineral stumps Lashley determined had more nutrients than the first growing tree had. 

“Now is a really good time to think about getting them set up. Our information indicates it does stimulate high protein and nutrients in those young leaves deer love to eat,” Demarais said. “It is a way to supplement nutrition and help with the harvest of the animals. If I wanted to harvest a buck for the velvet season I would create them as an attractant.” 

Demarais said he would consider mineral stumps and placing mineral licks near stands ahead of the seasons. A hunter who could then identify trails to those stumps and licks would be in good shape. 

Late summer and early fall is a demanding time for deer. They can not consume enough minerals through their natural diets and will start to take minerals out of their skeletons so creating mineral stumps by using a chainsaw is a great way to help deer and the harvest.

Deer activity during the summer velvet season should be more predictable. At this time, bucks are still in their bachelor groups and are not concerned about mating dominance yet. Demarais clarified deer always have a social hierarchy in their groups but they are not sparing for breeding control. 

“They will be in their bachelor groups and will be more predictable,” he said. “It is after a velvet shed that they become a little unpredictable.” 

He said there is a strong chance hunters could harvest a buck in velvet. The hunt dates are Sept. 16 to Sept. 18 and were chosen in order to facilitate the harvest of bucks still in velvet. 

There are a few regulations for this season. First, hunters can only harvest legal bucks, they can only use archery equipment, all harvested bucks must be reported the day of harvest and any harvested buck must be sampled for Chronic Wasting Disease within five days of harvest. Hunters have to purchase a $10 permit if they are residents and the velvet season is included in the non-resident deer permit of $50.

Landowners and hunters interested in learning more about habitat management can listen to the MSU Deer Lab podcast called Deer University and read information on the MSU Deer Lab website. People interested in management assistance programs can enroll in the DMAP program or request a private lands biologist visit from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.