How many times have you heard someone say that they would love to see a pasture full of 180” deer? As a private consulting biologist, I hear it often and usually just nod my head when I hear it. Not that growing 180” deer isn’t possible in your pasture, it is very possible. But what may not be possible is producing the proverbial “pasture full” of them.
You know the old saying about having your cake and eating it, too, I presume? Well, this is basically the same idea. You can have a pasture full of deer and you can have a few 180” deer, but you honestly can’t have a pasture full of 180” deer. The native habitat can only produce so much forage in a given year and one animal needs to eat so much forage to support itself per year. Then you need to consider the space, water, and social requirements of the animals along with the climatic conditions in which they have to live. That being said, a 180” buck is a special mix of genetics, excellent nutrition and, of course, age requirements to reach his genetic potential. The chances, or randomness, of this scenario playing out are rare indeed so realistically expecting it to play out with every buck in your pasture is expecting a bit too much.
When I ask clients to specifically explain the goals and objectives for their ranch, many of them cannot do so. They, of course, want to grow big deer, but when I query them about quantity and quality issues, they hesitate as if they have not given it much thought. Think of it this way, why can you only run so many head of cattle, or sheep, or goats on your property? It is density-related, definitely, but what happens to the quality of the animals as the quantity increases? The two are inversely related, which means as one increases the other decreases and vice versa.
Managing for quality animals is as basic as keeping your stocking rates (density) BELOW the carrying capacity of the habitat, using a supplemental feeding program, maintaining a tight adult sex ratio, having a good ratio of mature bucks in the herd and actively managing your habitat according to the climatic conditions. With the proper use of a bullet, genetics may be selected for or against, and with time, your quality will increase. Quality production is about controlling the numbers and ratios and being steadfast and vigilant every year to keep the system balanced over time along with making adjustments as climatic conditions warrant.
Managing for quantity is differentiated by keeping the stocking rates (density) AT or ABOVE the carrying capacity of the habitat, using an aggressive supplemental feeding program, maintaining a wide adult sex ratio favoring females, and harvesting as many bucks each year as annual recruitment will allow. Genetic selection with a bullet is usually not required due to increased harvest pressure, decreased quality nutrition/habitat, and harvesting the bucks at an early age as they will never reach their full genetic potential anyway. Quantity production is a numbers game – by raising more total deer, you get to shoot more total deer.
Now that the differences have been made obvious, which scenario would you prefer? Which scenario do you believe creates the best habitat for other animals like quail, rabbits, and turkey, or erosion control, or disease prevention, or even predation rates? If you were a deer hunter, where would you want to hunt? If you were a deer, where would you like to live?
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