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Dec. 1 marked the start of the muzzleloader deer season.

Many hunters take to the field with a smoke pole in search of that elusive buck that escaped them during the firearm season. Permits are unlimited, and all permits are for either sex, so obtaining one is easy. Permits may be purchased online and printed from your computer. No drawings or waiting to see if you will be able to hunt. Additionally, season choice tags will still be valid during this season.

If you are heading out to partake in some late-season deer hunting, take time to adjust your tactics. Hunting deer during this late in the season will not be the same as it was earlier in the year. The deer have different needs and motivations during this time of year and a good hunter will adjust.

If you think that the late hunting season is not as good, think again. Late-season hunting can be very productive and is a prime time to get out. There won’t be any crowds in the woods, with the colder temperatures driving away the fair weather hunters, but the deer are still there for the taking.

One consideration is that you may want to move your stands. If you are a bowhunter, and have been hunting in close to the trails leading into feeding areas, you need to move your stands back to about 75 yards. These later season deer have been pressured during the firearm season, and have less tolerance for human activity. Also, your weapon has a much greater range, so get your stands back away from the trails.

You may want to move your stand closer to bedding areas, rather than right on the feeding grounds. Deer will tend to move later in the evening, and return to heavy cover earlier in the mornings. Because of this, deer will be arriving at the feeding areas in lower light conditions, and legal shooting light may have expired.

While you are moving your stand, try to get it higher up. If you have moved into heavier timber, extra height will give you better visibility, and most muzzleloaders have enough range to give you more opportunities. Those late-season does have survived the rifle season and they will blow your cover if you’re spotted. You will have to let them go by before the larger bucks will show up.

The major feeding areas may change in late season too. Deer will need lots of high energy food to stay warm and outlast the winter. Take advantage of any snow cover to check for activity and tracks leading into the feeding areas. Trail cameras can sometimes be undependable in colder weather, so lean on your tracking abilities and do some good old scouting. You will learn a lot more about the habits of the deer.

Conventional wisdom is to not pressure the deer out of their bedding areas. Sometimes it pays to get more aggressive and hunt right into the heavy cover that the deer are bedding down in. Remember, the deer will only stand for so much pestering, so it is a gamble to move in really close. But, if it is a calculated risk, it may pay off and Mr. Big just might slip up.

Hunting during the muzzleloader season has it’s own set of challenges and opportunities, but can be very rewarding. Don’t forget to practice with your smoke pole before setting out to hunt. Muzzleloaders can sometimes be finicky, and you don’t want to have a misfire when that big deer is in front of you. Make sure that the sights or scope are accurate, so that you don’t have to explain to all of your friends why you missed.

And most importantly, have fun.

Taxidermy Tip of the Week

I have a lot of people ask me many different questions about the beetles that I use for cleaning skulls. I’ve compiled some facts and interesting information about them to share with you.

Carpet beetles, hide beetles, skin beetles, dermestids, whatever you call them, they are all members of the dermestidae family. The name itself says it all. Derm means skin, este means to consume, and idae means family. So, we have a family of skin eaters. Yummy.

There are about 120 different species of dermestidae in the United States alone. I do not know exactly which species I am using, but they get the job done.

The life cycle of a dermestid beetle is about 5 months from egg to adult. The beetles morph from hatched larvae to pupae to adult. There are actually several different stages, but I’m not really that interested.

The larvae are the most voracious eaters, and will consume the most volume of flesh during this stage. Eggs hatch in about 4 days, and the larvae grow for about 5-6 weeks before burrowing and entering the pupae stage. After 7-8 days, the adult will emerge, and the females will lay eggs after about 2 months. Each female will lay around 90 eggs.

Dermestids prefer temperature and humidity controlled conditions for peak performance. Ideal temperatures are between 77-86 degrees fahrenheit, and less than 50 percent relative humidity. Too much humidity attracts predatory bugs, such as mites, which will kill off the beetles.

Most organisms do not eat hair. Hair contains keratin which is a protein undigestable. Dermestids have an enzyme in their digestive tract which digests hair and fur, which makes them quite unique.

I maintain three separate colonies of beetles. Two colonies have anywhere from 10,000-20,000 beetles in them, and the other colony is smaller. The two larger groups will strip a deer head of all flesh and tissue in about a day and a half if conditions are right. The smaller colony is used for smaller items which need a less aggressive cleanup.

The beetle colonies are housed in a separate building away from the taxidermy shop. Care is taken to avoid escape of the beetles, but some may get away and venture out into nature. When a colony becomes too large for the housing, some are harvested and sold to other taxidermists.

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Daryl Keyes is owner of Pheasant Hollow Taxidermy. His columns on the outdoors are featured regularly in The Telegram.

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