It has happened to every hunter at least once in their lifetime.
It's a special feeling you get, when the deep trenches of your bowels
signal you that the last bean burrito you ate from the night before
hasn't been sitting too well. To confound the problem, you have been
constipated for a week and now, all the pain in the world hits you at
7:00 AM in your favorite tree stand. By this time, I'm sure you know
what I'm talking about; it goes by different names such as dump, do-do,
crap, Number 2, leaving a deposit, pinching off a loaf, defecation,
Since you're already 20 feet in the air, you have one of two major
decisions to make. One, you could climb down from your tree stand and
walk to a discrete place and do your business or two, in those real
stressful situations, you could squat down over your stand and wait
for relief to come.
A problem develops if you're 20 feet in the air and you realize there
isn't any toilet paper, and all the leaves are on the ground or too
far to reach. Instead of panicking, you find a solution to your problem
by getting out your trusty Gerber knife and cutting off the tops of
your socks. Or for those multiple wipe episodes, you can always tear
the pocket off your T-shirt.
Most every hunter has gone through something like this and, believe
it or not, this has actually happened (many times) to my good friend,
Tony Canami. Tony is one of those guys who has left his mark in every
parcel of woods for a 50-mile radius in Harford County, Maryland. You
always know Tony was in the woods by the number of cut off Nike socks.
Since Tony hunts almost every day, hunters in his area can tell where
the hot spots are by the number of "used" socks.
One day, Tony and I were discussing all the "science" concerning
deer feces and what it can mean to hunters. Unlike the opening paragraphs,
the balance of this article will focus on the art and science of deer
pelletology from a biological point of view. Needless to say, this
article will be full of it!
What do droppings tell you?
1. Poop Texture can tell you what deer are
Many hunters are probably saying to themselves, "What can I learn
from a bunch of deer droppings?", "Can we actually get closer
to deer by learning something about deer pellets?", "Do all
deer defecate in the same area?" or "Are buck droppings larger
than does?" Surprisingly enough, all of these questions have been
answered within the scientific community.
Whenever we come across a pile of droppings, the shape can give hunters
many clues as to what the deer have been eating. Generally, the round
individual droppings indicate deer have been eating leaves, browse and
twigs. Whereas, the lumped (all-in-one) droppings tell hunters deer
have been eating grasses and forbs. Whenever your hunting in a feeding
area and see lots of lumped droppings, you should look for the closest
grasses to key in on. Vice versa, if a hunter identifies many round
or individual droppings it would not be best to hunt a food plot with
cool season grasses.
||Round, individual droppings incate
deer have been eating browse such as leaves, twigs, and acorns.
||Lumpy droppings indicate
softer to digest; grasses, clover, alfalfa, apples, and other forbs.
Many hunters have tried to say they can tell the sex of the deer from
the size of individual droppings. I can only think of the time when
my dad rounded up all us boys and tried to find out who forgot to flush
the commode. We all admittedly denied the very large, floating logs
and shortly, found out the guilty party... none other than our good
Although this example may be going too far, work within deer pens
would also point to the fact that the average hunter can not identify
does from bucks through their droppings. In fact, some of my trophy
deer droppings have come from penned does. An exception to this occurs
when you have older aged bucks in your area. But, considering that
most of the country supports very young bucks, "betting the farm"
wouldn't be in order.
Way back in 1940, researcher Logan Bennett came up with an idea that
is still used in today's deer management. He found that deer defecate
13 times per day. That's right, count'em, 13 times. It's no wonder
why, hunters can actually smell deer! And if your wondering if those
large piles are from bucks, biologists have found that some adult bucks
may, in fact, produce more pellets per group. Biologists have also
found that 75 is the average number of pellets per group (can you imagine
the poor soul who had to count through all those samples). So, the
next time you wonder onto a Boone and Crockett poop pile, you just might
be a short distance "behind" a deer of a lifetime.
||We read this article and decided
to do our own investigation. We found a fresh pile of droppings
and doug down through the leaves until we found em all. We then
bagged them and counted each one. The total was 94.
2. Poop counts can tell you how many deer
are in the area
What does this information have to do with hunting? Well, one of
the questions hunters always ask biologists is "How many deer are
there in this area?" The answer can be found in the number of
droppings in the area. Bennett and other biologists determined the
defecation rate for deer by simply walking various transects along an
one square mile area and counting every pile of "woodland nuggets".
Hunters can easily do the same and would be advised to conduct this
population index every 24 hours after a snowfall. For example; if,
after one day, you count 169 droppings along your transects, simply
divide by 13. The density of deer within your hunting area is 13 deer
per square mile. As with any population index the more times you sample
your area the more accurate your results.
Other researchers have found that deer may average more piles of dung
in the spring and fall. This is probably due to the increasing amounts
of fiber added to the bulk feces between spring and fall. Evidently,
as the diet changes from succulent leaves and forbs in spring to mature
vegetation in summer to courser items in fall after leaf-drop, the number
of pellet groups increase. Other data has found that defecation rates
among adults and juveniles also differ with diet. Researcher Ryel found
that bucks may have a higher defecation rate then does in winter.
3. Poop location can tell you where the deer
are feeding and bedding
What else can research tell us about a bunch of droppings?
One very important field clue is the approximate location of where the
deer are feeding and bedding. Just like many people, shortly after
a good meal they're off to the "reading room". Furthermore,
I'll also bet the first thing you did this morning was head to the bathroom!
Whenever you find a clumped distribution of droppings, you are in very
close proximity to one of two areas...the feeding or bedding area.
Since bedding areas are always hard to locate and you don't want to
push deer from their beds, feces can be a great asset to their location.
Another field clue we can identify from pellets is what the deer are
eating. With a little practice you would be amazed as to what you can
identify. In fact, by picking through the various "specimens",
hunters can readily determine a deer's feeding habits. Since your already
picking through them, I might suggest rolling and/or rubbing around
in them? I better repeat this...that's right, rub them all over your
body. Before you think this is nuts, please hear me out.
Did you ever wonder why a dog will roll all over a dead rabbit or
opossum? Instinctively, if he can cover his predator scent with that
of another prey species he will become a more efficient predator.
Just like hunters stepping in cow manure or by rolling or rubbing deer
pellets onto your person and tree stand, you can effectively cover up
some of your predator odors. Since droppings are located almost everywhere
and they're FREE, hunters could not ask for a better cover scent.
To prove this point, myself and another biologist took dropping from
one deer pen and placed them on the ground of another pen of totally
distinct deer. The results were very interesting. The typical response
included a monarch doe and her fawns coming over to investigate the
strange droppings, smelling them and simply continuing on with their
feeding without becoming alarmed. Obviously, our next test was on wild,
free-ranging deer. Just like the penned deer, the wild deer checked
out the unfamiliar odor, but did not become alarmed. Originally, we
hypothesized that since penned and wild deer were socially use to all
other deer within the herd, a foreign deer might cause some degree of
alarm to the investigating deer. This definitely was not the case.
We also wondered, what if we used urine and feces from other species.
Before we could actually test our hypothesis, I came upon an actual
"feces thesis" done by researcher Howard Steinberg. Steinberg
tested the response from deer towards feces from other herbivores (vegetation
feeders), omnivores (both vegetation and meat eaters) and carnivores
(meat eaters). He found that deer had the greatest aversion toward
carnivores such as timber wolf, dog, bobcat and cougar. Interestingly
enough, no matter how many times the carnivore samples were presented,
the deer never became accustomed to it. But what about the other samples?
Deer exhibited some aversion to the omnivores, but not as much as the
carnivores and hardly any voidness to the herbivores.
What should surprise you, was that other deer droppings exhibited
the greatest amount of interest from his study animals. Whenever you
hunt one area, a good idea is to collect those special little woodland
nuggets in a plastic bag and use in a different hunting area. Since
deer are generally curious animals, using pellets from one area could
be the final trick you need to bag your deer. Using deer droppings
as a cover and attractant scent should now make a little more sense.
Furthermore, I would be neglectful in my duties if I didn't inform
you that those woodland nuggets keep quite well in your freezer. Some
may think this article is ridiculous, but the science of deer pelletology
can indeed, help many hunters key in on many aspects of deer movements
and patterns. And last, but not least, I might as well say it; if you're
thinking I'm a 6-foot tall, 210 pound "turd", hanging some
20 feet up in a tree stand, your literally right!
||Studies have proven that deer pay
attention to droppings made by carnivores such as wolves, coyotes,
and humans. They are somewhat attentive to the droppings of omnivores
and pay no attention to those from herbivores.
Are deer pellets the answer you need to get closer to deer? Scientific
research has shown that deer may be able to identify other species of
animals from samples of their droppings.