Over the past decade, annual rainfall totals have fallen well below their mark, leaving woodlands, grasslands and crop fields with a little less moisture than normal. But since early this spring, the faucet has been on, and drought is a very distant memory. For wildlife and hunters, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Hunters can expect a unique experience this fall with an exceptional collection of animals roaming the woods.

Water is a critical component to life. All animals and plants rely on precipitation and the water cycle to fuel their own biological processes. The regular rain events of the recent spring and summer developed a vast collection of fungi, herbaceous plants and woody plants at a critical time when animals needed them the most. Warm-season forages are critically important to deer during a special time of their life cycle. 

For beginners, the spring and summer rains have come at an ideal time — when a new crop of whitetail fawns entered the world. Most were born between May and late June in the Carolinas and will nurse until the end of the summer. Even though fawns will not consume food until later in the summer, nursing does will have every opportunity to consume plentiful and nutrient-rich foods during a time when daily lactation would normally detract from their plump physiques. They can better contribute to heavier fawns and less environmentally-stressed lactating mothers. In the deer world, it is healthy to be fat and happy. 

All of the trophy hunters out there may experience a more-impressive collection of bucks this season. Antlers are considered the fastest-growing animal tissue on the planet. As a result, the nutritional demand is remarkable, and in areas with poor food resources, antler mass will quickly suffer.  

Typically, antler growth is fueled by key minerals found in plant tissues. Antler growth becomes visible around the first of May, with small protrusions erupting through the hair line, and it will continue to grow until the blood supply is halted in late August. Antler growth comes from calcium, phosphorus, protein and by the help of a unique element called manganese. This process can only convert calcium into antler tissue via the presence of manganese. 

During actual antler growth, the biological process that forms the velvety antler tissue extracts minerals from the deer’s bone tissues as well as consumed protein from their daily diet. Since 80 percent of antlers in the velvet or “living” stage are composed of protein, the most important nutritional component during the antler growth period is without a doubt, protein. Bucks must consume loads of highly nutritious forage, packed with protein, to produce the largest antlers possible. Again, if protein is insufficient in their summertime diet, antler mass will suffer no matter how great their genetic lineage is.  

Under the recent rainfall regime, warm-season food plots — if not flooded — should be growing at a rainforest-type rate. Warm-season plantings of soybeans, peanuts, chicory and peas are rich in protein and have high levels of manganese that are both critical for growing large, massive antlers. 

Beyond food-plot and other agriculture plantings, the rapid and unmistakably endless growth of natural forage covering the landscape will convert to a quick energy source that will also be packed with key nutritional compounds required during this special time of need. 

Thanks to the excessive rainfall this season, hunters should prepare for an interesting season, with plenty of fatties roaming the woods and a hopefully a noticeable change in the antler sizes of mature bucks.