Monday, October 5, 2009

Gut Piles and Deer: Every Stomach Tells a Story

© 2009 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
$g&m f9bd 45kd q!?5.
What can you learn from poking around guts?

I got to thinking about guts and viscera about a week or so ago after a comment on NorCal's blog post, Pear Jack. I studied biology, and I am a bit of a student of Quality Deer Management. That led to the post on QDM in Florida, which now leads to this one! It's amazing how things work out.

An animal's viscera should be studied with the same scrutiny that you give to the antlers. Many things become apparent, not the least of which is a good understanding of a deer's anatomy.

So, what can you learn from poking around in a whitetail deer's gut pile?

Well, as it turns out, lots.

Deer are ruminants. That is to say the eat their forage, hold it in their stomachs, and regurgitate it at leisure to chew it up some more. Then they swallow that and burp up another partially digested mouthful and grind that down. So a whole lot of food goes down in mouthfuls, to be chewed up later. With that in mind you can see how the remains of what a deer has been eating will tell you a lot about where it's been. Now that I've pointed that out it's a no brainer, but how many of you actually go through the trouble of actually looking?

Next time you bag a deer, after you have gutted it and hung it, take a moment and separate the paunch (stomach) from the rest of the viscera. Take a sharp knife and slit it open. If you're a little squeamish, (Really?) put on some gloves. Then just reach right in there and pull out a handful or two of partially digested plant material for inspection. It might smell a little by the way...

Back in the day, we would bag the sample for analysis. You can do the same if you carry some ziplock bags with you. Just secure a couple of cups of stomach contents in a ziplock bag, rinse the outside of the bag off, and take it home or camp for inspection. It would be a really bad idea to forget it in a the car. Heat and fermentation will jointly conspire to ruin your life.

Get a small pail, and dump the contents of your new science experiment in. Best you do this outside; the Mrs will not appreciate your sudden interest in biology. Gently pour water into the gooey mess until the bits and pieces separate, sloshing it around occasionally with your hand. There will be particles of all sizes, and what you want to do is separate the larger pieces from the smaller.

You can use a piece of quarter inch screen as a colander, or carefully pour off the smaller, ground up bits and pieces.

Now it's time to carefully inspect the remains.

What are you finding? Are there chunks of acorns, or is it all greens? What kind of greens are there? Pine needles, tree leaves, shrub leaves or is it grass? Maybe it contains mushrooms or tubers and roots. Give it a through going over, and really try to identify what it is that you are going through.

Now it's time to correlate what you have found, with what you know, or think you know about the land you are hunting on.

If you've been on a stand and the deer you take has a belly full of acorns, try to find out where these came from. You might have thought that no oaks were in your immediate area, but the deers stomach contents tell you otherwise. If everything has been burned by the cold, and you find green material in your examination, you need to go and look for the spots that are still green. It could be a hardy plant stand, or near a thermal mass like a swamp, or sheltered but sun filled area. Look around and really take stock of what you have and is available to the deer.

If you keep records, (You do, don't you?) and you're writing this information down, you will see patterns develop that you can use to your advantage. As the seasons unfold, you will learn to anticipate what the deer are going to forage on next, and prepare accordingly.

Checking the stomach contents of your harvested game can be very illuminating, especially if you do it on a long term basis. Patterns will emerge and make you a better hunter by anticipating which seasonal food sources deer use.

Related Posts:
Quality Deer Management in Florida

Albert A Rasch
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert is actually a biologist. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com


Phillip said...

Great post, Albert.

I don't really keep these kinds of records these days, because I'm pretty familiar with the habits of the animals and place I hunt lately. I know, within a reasonable degree of error, where and on what the critters are feeding at different times of year.

However, when I hit a new place I do pay pretty close attention to the stomach contents and scat of the quarry. Likewise, if the familiar habits are disrupted, there are always two likely culprits... increased predation (two or four-legged), or a new preferred food source. Predators leave their own clues, but if it's a new food source, the best way to find out what it is is to take a look at the "gooey bits".

There's a lot more to hunting than being able to shoot a rifle or a bow. Thanks for directing folks back to the woodscraft of our sport.

SimplyOutdoors said...

Oh where was this post a few days ago when I was gutting out the doe I just shot.

We always pay attention to food sources, and pretty much know what the deer will be feeding on during different times of the year, but I had never thought to actually check stomach contents.

Thanks for the tip.

Wild Ed said...

After you take what you want to study rake away the brush, leaves and other debri around the gut pile. I come back in a few days to a week and check the tracks to see what has been there to feed. It lets me know what predators are in the area unless a hog finds it first then they eat it all.

Borepatch said...

Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger.


I'll bet the rats tipped better, too ....

Kirk Mona said...

Some co-workers and I just went through a deer's stomachs and took lots of photographs. It was fascinating. We then encased samples of the stomach walls in a clear plastic resin so we could teach kids about the different sections of the stomach and what they do. If you are interested you can check out the photos and description of how each part works at

Patrick D said...

Hello friend excellent post about Gut Piles and Deer: Every Stomach Tells a Story thanks for sharing!! I was looking information about stomach flu symptoms