It’s here: Special antlerless modern-gun hunt opens Saturday
The first opportunity for hunters to go after deer with a modern rifle this fall will take place with the early hunt for antlerless deer on private lands. The special season will open on Saturday, and runs through next Wednesday.
Hunters are encouraged to harvest antlerless deer early in the season for a variety of reasons. A balanced harvest helps produce a balanced deer population. Removing older, dominant and often barren females early in the season removes them from the nutrition equation and allows more forage for other productive does and yearlings.
Taking these does early in the season makes it easier to identify the older does and helps with the problem of accidentally harvesting young button bucks. Early in the season, the does are obviously larger than yearly bucks—but within weeks, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell them part.
One rule of thumb is to avoid shooting solitary deer. Young bucks are driven away by their mothers in fall and these youngsters often amble about alone just trying to find food, a place where they can fit in and other deer they can join. Hunters should wait until there are several deer available to shoot, taking the largest one—which is usually a dominant doe. A solitary deer is very likely a button buck wondering the woodlands.
If a hunter tags meat early in the season, it changes his perspective. He can then concentrate on his goal of getting a buck. When hunters harvest does early in the season, it changes the ratio of bucks to does, and can actually affect the rut by reducing doe numbers in the herd, increasing competition among bucks and can make the rut more intense and more defined by peak activity.
When doe numbers are controlled, bucks began to act like bucks. They have to fight for the right to pass on their genes, and hunters are more likely see bucks battling in the woodlands than they have in years past.
Another benefit is that bucks will respond to calls. When they have to search for a mate and even compete with other bucks, they will readily come to deer calls. Rattling antlers, using grunt tubes, fawn and doe bleat calls, and other sounds may draw deer on the run. During the early fun, does may come on the run to the distress cry of a fawn.
Hunters have had the option to shoot antlerless deer for years now, but the special antlerless hunt with modern gun makes it very convenient for them to take their does early, and also makes it illegal for them to harvest bucks. It’s a good opportunity that can have results if hunters will their part to balance the herd with a balanced harvest and then reap the benefits that follow sound deer management.
Calling deer really works!
If you’re a deer hunter you’ve likely heard that big bucks can be called in with certain calls or with rattling antlers. It really works, especially in areas where the buck/doe ratio is under control.
There are many grunt/snort/wheeze/bleat calls on the market, and all of them will work at the right time when used properly.
Rattling antlers work best primarily just before and during the rut. Bucks come in to see who is fighting. Some are curious and some are downright mad that other bucks have invaded their territory. Does will come to rattling, too, probably to watch the “boys” fight over them.
Deer can also be “called” with food plots and feeders, or scents which tap into their desire for food, companionship, or sex.
Calling deer isn’t theory, it is proven fact. If you don’t have a couple of deer calls, and perhaps some rattling antlers, you’re missing the boat on what can be one of the most exciting methods of hunting our native whitetails.
After your deer is down
The Arkansas deer season is already underway for archery and crossbow, and will soon be open for other hunts. Regardless of how hunters harvest their deer, there is a certain order to things once they have made a good shot and their deer is on the ground.
Before you move the deer from the spot where it falls, the paperwork should be filled out properly and the deer should be tagged. It was formerly a common practice to wait until the deer was in camp to affix the tags. Today, failing to tag one deer immediately can result in a citation for failure to tag game.
Once the deer is tagged, it can be checked in with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission if the hunter has a cell signal. Deer can be checked with a phone call or with a smartphone application. There are no longer any physical check stations available, but deer still must be checked within a limited time after harvest.
After that, the hunter will make decisions about transporting the deer, getting it back into camp and thinking about how he will deal with the processing of the meat. The first option is whether to field dress the deer or just take it to camp.
As it sounds, field dressing is the removal of offal in the field. It is best accomplished by rolling the deer on its back with the hams slightly downhill from the head. The goal is to unzip the hide down the center line, then turn the carcass to one side and dump all the intestines and organs out on the ground.
Field dressing deer makes them weigh considerably less, and should be employed when deer have to be manually moved or packed into camp in a backpack or by plane or boat. If weight is not an issue, field dressing is not required. It is, however, always beneficial to cool the carcass, help reduce spoilage and take care better of the meat.
The hunter can take the deer to a custom butcher or packing house, or he can dress and wrap the meat himself. Another option is he can give the carcass for the hungry and opt to pay or not pay for the processing.
Either way, the carcass should be chilled quickly. It can be chilled in a refrigerated meat house at a camp or on a meat pole in chilly weather during the November hunt. In warm weather, the carcass can be put on ice place.
The best option is to put ice in the chest, then put the meat on top of the ice. The carcass should be quartered, with hams, shoulders and loins separated. Keep the ice replenished in the chests, leaving the drain plugs open so the water will drain. The meat should remain cold and dry—and should not be immersed in the water.
From there, the meat can be cooked in camp, dressed and wrapped for the freezer, or taken to the butcher. Custom processing like jerky, meat sticks, bratwursts, sausage and other special cuts can be worth the extra charge, and it’s just some of the benefits that can come from shooting game cleanly, caring for the meat well and using to make the great meat products you want from our valuable natural resources.
You can butcher your own deer, and do a better job
If you’re a novice, the task of field-dressing and butchering your deer may seem like an awesome task. It’s not, but you’ll need a little instruction. Get an older hunter to help, or research books or the Internet.
Basically, you’ll need to remove the entrails after tagging your deer. This can easily be done in the field. Roll the deer on its back, unzip the deer from neck to crotch without puncturing the intestines, and roll them out.
Skinning isn’t hard. Hang the deer up by either end, then pull or cut the skin off the meat. It can be easily pulled off with a winch or a rope and some help. Make some preliminary cuts down the legs to make it easier.
Venison fat, sinew, gristle, bones and bloodshot meat can impart a “gamey” taste to the meat, so the best bet is to remove them. Trim relentlessly, and discard everything except the best lean meat. Cut boneless steaks from large muscles in the hams and loins, and use the rest for burger, stew or chili meat. Wrap only boneless, well-trimmed meat for the freezer.
Grind small trimmed pieces into burger without added fat and use it for soup, chili, tacos, lasagna, etc. For meat loaf or burgers, mix it equally with cheap hamburger. Or, mix it with fresh pan sausage and add seasonings to taste for a lean breakfast sausage.
You only need a knife, a meat grinder and some freezer paper to butcher your deer, along with some knowledge and effort. And, the result will be far superior to any deer processed with a band saw.
If you prefer meat sticks, bratwurst, summer sausage, or smoked link sausage, take your trimmings to a specialty butcher or learn to make these items at home. It takes a little equipment, but making sausage is one of the oldest forms of meat preservation, and the results can be delicious.
Fried deer steak
Ask hunters in Arkansas how they like their venison and the majority of them will list fried venison as their preparation method of choice. It’s a favorite at our house; we use a recipe that is simple yet delicious. My late friend, Larry Neill of Waldo, taught me much about frying meat and much of the method came from him.
Backstraps and tenderloin pieces should be sliced into steaks, then pounded with a steak mallet until they are about one-half inch to one-quarter inch thick. Season the steaks with your preference of spice blends. Our favorites are Tony’s, Lawry’s, Cavender’s or Slap ya’ Mama splice blend.
Next, dip the seasoned steaks into all-purposed flour, then into butter milk, then back again into the flour. Just remember to use the dry-wet-dry method and the batter will stick to the meat as it is frying. Fry in oil hot that is hot enough to sizzle when the meat is dropped into the pan. It probably is about 365 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer. Fry until the crust is golden brown and the meat is barely past pink. Store it on a wire rack over a baking pan, keeping it in a 200-degree oven until all the meat is cooked.
Drain most of the oil from the frying pan, leaving all the little brown bits of flour and meat. Increase the heat a bit and add enough all-purpose flour to make a slurry in the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste, then thin with water or broth.
Make some green beans, mashed potatoes and some hot bread or biscuits. Serve the meat and potatoes with a bit of gravy. Add some dessert to the menu and it will complete a meal that is fit for king—but most often available to the lowly deer hunter.
New wildlife officers join AGFC enforcement efforts
Ten new faces will be joining the ranks of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officers this fall. The latest class of wildlife officer cadets celebrated graduation from the AGFC’s training program today at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway.
The process to become a wildlife officer began in June when 13 men and women were selected from several hundred applicants to participate in the AGFC’s wildlife officer training program. All applicants chosen were required to have a minimum of a four-year college degree, four years of full-time law enforcement, four years military law enforcement or a combination of those criteria.
During their 16-week training, cadets spent most of their waking hours at the H.C. “Red” Morris Training Center east of Mayflower on Lake Conway. They received 740 hours of training in self-defense, firearms, first aid and rescue, drug enforcement, physical conditioning, criminal law, and wildlife code enforcement.
Capt. Sydney Carman directs the cadet-training program, with many AGFC enforcement officers serving as instructors. Other experts teach specialized topics.
“We handle most of the training in house, but we do have special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teach a special course on federal wildlife law instruction,” Carman said. “We also typically have instructors with Arkansas State Police come in to assist with training on child abuse and domestic violence situations.”
Carman explains that the intense training regimen and variety of topics is a requirement for all wildlife officers because of their duty to enforce all state laws in addition to wildlife laws.
“There’s no telling what sort of situation a wildlife officer may find him or herself in while working, so we want to make sure our cadets get the training they need to be prepared for what may come.”
Each officer is assigned to a duty station based on the current needs of the Commission but accommodations can be made to ensure officers that are familiar with certain areas are assigned near them if possible.
“Wildlife officers are part of the community where they live,” said Assistant Deputy Director Pat Fitts. “The more familiar and comfortable people are with an officer, the better he or she can enforce laws and help the community with its needs.”
Job announcements to fill vacancies are done on an as-needed basis but retirements and promotions have enabled the Enforcement Division to recruit for one class per year for the last few years.
“Being a wildlife officer is a job people love, and many stay until retirement,” Carman said. “Right now we just have a lot of people that have been on the job 30 years that are moving on, which has caused these vacancies to open up more frequently.”
The 2017 graduates and their county assignments are: Eric Cain, Sebastian County; Rodney Myers, St. Francis County; Tod Haskins, Jackson County; Carter Vance, Craighead County; Szymanski “Rick” Fields II, Pulaski County; Channing Sanders, Saline County; Audrey Hunter, Lincoln County; Benjamin Waldrip, Lee County; James Gould, Poinsett County; and Brian Tatum, Van Buren County. (AGFC Press Services)