Fall is the time of plenty for whitetails and savvy hunters know that the key to killing fall bucks is to hunt food sources. Trouble is, deer food is everywhere; a deer can fill its rumen almost anywhere, and therein lies both the problem and the solution to hunting fall whitetails over food. Deer are what deer scientists refer to as “concentrate selectors”, which means they are very selective about what they eat and they stay on it until they find something more to their liking. They shift from one food source to another depending on what’s available and what they are craving at any time. With the deer woods full of food, how do you know what foods the deer are concentrating on?
You can hang a camera on each and every food source on your hunting property and hope you can pick up a pattern of what the deer are feeding on, or you can visit the skinning shed and take a look inside a deer and observe what the deer are using first-hand. Analyzing the contents of a deer’s rumen is the best and most reliable way of determining what deer are feeding on at any given time, and it’s a cinch to do. If you choose option two, here’s a step-by-step guide to deer food forensics 101:
- Carefully open the deer and identify the rumen; it’s the big, vein-wrapped, green-blue-gray watermelon. Move it away from the intestines and any and all tubes.
- Get off to one side, puncture the rumen then slit it open. The off to one side part is to avoid any nasty junk that may blow out (from built-up gas) of the initial incision.
- Grab a cup or shovel or something and put a couple of cups, most of the goop, in a dirt strainer (trappers use them) or course sieve (cooks use them).
- Flush out the nasty stuff with a hose (not in a sink or you will be calling a plumber).
- Dump what remains on a clean surface and start pawing through it (you can use the tip of a knife if you are squeamish). Most likely you will find multiple foods.
That’s all there is to it, no fuss, no muss. It’s best done in a skinning shed but can be pulled off in the field if need be. Take a good look. Take a gander at the picture above and start asking yourself: Had this deer fed heavily lately? What foods had he fed on? What hadn’t he fed on? What is the nutritional composition of the foods he used, and what if anything do they have in common? Was he a random sampler who just ate as he walked or was he or a purposeful feeder on a mission, and if so, what was the mission? That’s the forensics part.