HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR FALLOW CULL DURING THE WINTER MONTHS
“Get the majority of your doe cull done by Christmas” I was always told twenty years ago by experienced professional stalkers. Which is fine, but not always practical as on many of my grounds in the Chiltern’s the deer move off my areas in December and January to feed on the natural food of beech mast and acorns on places where there is no deer management and so our efforts are poorly rewarded!
By February they start to return but have been significantly wound up by human pressure that they become virtually nocturnal so achieving any cull can be a challenge.
Whether it’s from the regular dawn & dusk forays of the local dog walkers, the past months’ tap-tap-tap of a beating line of the local shoot or the once a month run through with the hound pack, it all adds to the day to day stress of a wild deer’s life and makes our job as deer managers’ a difficult and challenging one with regards to achieving any significant cull.
Many of my woods have a significant populations of deer all living side by side with suburbia and living almost in peoples back garden’s as they search for safety & easy food source. I find that I can sometimes be more effective by going and sitting in a quiet woodland place mid-morning, and waiting for the deer to resume their feed shift, and with short day light hours at this time of year I can be out in the woods most of the day.
I have areas of sanctuary where the deer can be found throughout the day, chosen by them, the thicket of hazel or perhaps rhododendron has afforded them protection for years as it is unsafe to shoot here as it has no backstop or sits against a village or highway. In a bizarre way the deer use the human encroachment into their habitat as a safeguard against pressure from our cull activity.
It’s adjacent to these areas of that I set up my discreet safe cull areas, where from late-November through to springtime I feed my deer to specific hopper feeders, in order that I can assess just what is in the area and then implement my cull as they pass to and from the food source.
I am fortunate that one of my farmers has let me bag and store many of the cleanings from the back of the grain store, and this has resulted in several tons of wheat, rapeseed, barley & beans mix being blown out the back and I am very happy to re-cycle these back as winter feed for my deer & duck pond. Over the years I have found the best food is feed beans. All three deer species, present on my ground, Fallow, Roe & Muntjac will eat them in preference to any other cereal feed especially in the leaner months of January through to mid-March. I think they are attracted by the high fat content, especially if you add a spoonful of molasses syrup to a bag.
The Fallow especially will travel miles to my feed areas and along these routes my cull assistants will take advantage.
I use a steel oil drum or galvanised dust-bin as my hopper as they are relatively squirrel proof with a feed plate below it or a slit cut in it, that presents the food at the desirable height (depending on which species I am try it attract).
Along with feed I provide salt & mineral licks throughout the areas I manage, something I learned many years ago from my friends on the continent that deer will always be attracted to a mineral source and the quality & health will always benefit. I have tried many over the years from rock salt to flavoured pastes, however the easiest to obtain and one I use the most is Chelated Rockies block for sheep or try the specialist deer block by KNZ available from Donnington Deer Management (http://www.doningtondeermanagement.co.uk/other-items/ ) at a cost of about £10.00 they last about 4-6 months depending on your population and usage.
The minerals are important for growth and health and red deer, fallow & roe go mad for them. I mount them on a cut tree post, cutting grooves down it with a chainsaw. The damp elements cause the mineral salt to absorb into and pour down the outside of the post which the deer lick directly or off the wood, they relish at all levels.
As you may be aware I monitor my feed areas with Trail camera’s which are without doubt the best thing I have invested in, in the past few years, many man hours of reconnaissance have now been greatly reduced by the use of this modern technology. The cameras are simple to set-up and use plus provide high quality images and video clips.
I now rely on my cameras to help me gain valuable information on feed times, frequency and deer populations which help with our efficiency in getting carcases to the larder.
A wily Fallow doe that brings her family group out to feed early afternoon each day can be outsmarted with a stalker placed in a seat an hour before, also a bucket of beans in front of my camera produces images that you can virtually measure off screen so that you decide whether a certain mature buck is at his best or past his ‘sell by date’.
With time costing money even to a recreational stalker, we all want to be more efficient at reducing the hours per carcase it takes to harvest.
The results from attracting and retaining your nomadic deer population for the long term will hopefully, as they have for me, outweigh the investment in food and minerals as you see more deer in the larder and a reduced population which is healthier and acceptable to farmer & forester alike.
So do your homework, feed your areas and regularly change feed area’s and seat locations as deer are very quick to realise where is safe and which habits and pathways are the safest. Good luck.