- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2008

The things hunters go through to attract and subsequently keep whitetailed deer on properties that are leased, bought, or used with the owner’s permission is astonishing because there are so many deer in the states surrounding the District. It hardly seems necessary to try and bring more of them to any given tract of land.

On the other hand, it could be just what the doctor ordered.

The fellows who hunt on Dr. Peter Malnati’s wonderfully wooded and partially open acreage down by the Port Tobacco River in Southern Maryland have mixed feelings regarding the need to draw more deer to Doc’s property. Heaven knows there are days when the place appears to be the whitetailed wizards’ Grand Central Station so many are seen in the early mornings and around sunset.

Still, there are those who believe that with a bit of human intervention, bigger bucks can be “grown.” It is important to hunters who want a larger than usual animal with antlers that beg to be measured by an official Boone & Crockett Club scorer to see whether their size is worthy of entering the record books.

Me? I’m a connoisseur of venison - have been since my family introduced me to the most tender cuts of roe deer when I was but a toddler in the mountains of southern Germany. I’m not a trophy hunter, but some of my Charles County friends and neighbors are, so if Malnati tries to feed the deer a better diet than his acorn, beechnut and greens-rich woods and meadows already deliver, so be it.

Doc has experimented with planting Imperial Whitetail Clover, sold by the Whitetail Institute of North America in Pintlala, Ala. He runs his tractor across portions of two fields and readies the neatly plowed furrows for a good spreading of the expensive clover seeds. If all goes right and the rains come at a crucial time of growth, all the better. The clover grows; the deer and wild turkeys will discover it and from then on you’ll be hard-pressed to keep them out of the luscious, juicy greenery.

Other hunters find a smartly chosen woodland margin and place a cattle salt lick, or more expensive mineral/vitamin/salt combination licks designed for deer and sold in some farm stores, hunting catalog stores (Cabela’s, Gander Mountain or Bass Pro Shops are typical) and local sporting goods outlets.

Most of us follow old hunting traditions that begin with a number of pre-hunt deer scoutings. We check over the entire property and - especially in autumn - look for buck antler “rubs” on the trunks of trees. If nothing else, it shows that one or maybe more bucks have been in the area either to rub off the velvet from their summer antlers and get ready to stage mock fights, or they practice for the real thing when the courting of females is called for. An old belief is that the larger the rubbed tree trunk is, the bigger the buck’s antlers will be. I don’t know whether that is true, but it sounds inviting.

All of us also look for pre-rut and full-rut “scrapes,” hoof-cleared patches of forest or field margin dirt usually seen directly under an overhanging low tree branch. The bucks urinate into the dished-out plot, sending a message to the split-hooved females that Mr. Handsome is in the neighborhood.

If you spot several of those in close proximity, get down on your hands and knees and see whether you can smell the buck. If not, it can be a false scrape, which is possible, or the buck has not yet really gotten into playing the love game. Either way, erect a self-climbing deer stand nearby and spend some quiet time on it before the gunning season starts. You’ll be surprised with what you will see.

If the buck rubs, scrape sites and deer droppings (they look like loose or packed licorice jelly beans) are found along with a good supply of beech nuts and acorns, you’ve hit the jackpot. Make sure you don’t place the tree stand too close to such sure-fire deer signs. New stands that are too close, human odors and overdoing the walking in the woods surely will spook some of the bigger bucks. (They didn’t grow large by being stupid, you know.)

And if there’s a persimmon tree along a woodland edge on your hunting property, I strongly suggest to station yourself within a safe shooting distance from it. You will see deer come to the tree, looking for the tart persimmons they love.

Whichever way you structure your hunt, now is the time to get a good look at what you have. Don’t pay any attention to the folks who see dozens of deer along the roadsides every day as they drive to work. You won’t be hunting those critters. You’ll be after wild deer, some of which have never even seen a car.

cLook for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com