Hunters are faced with this dilemma each time a group of deer present themselves for harvest. This article is to help you answer this question once and for all.
First, we need to establish a set of ground rules. A deer management plan, not just a lease contract, needs to be specifically addressed and organized. What specifically are your goals and objectives, other than to shoot a nice buck? Do you want to see plenty of deer or simply the best deer you can? There is a huge difference here, so be careful how you answer. Also, how dedicated are you at achieving your stated goals and objectives? This is not a trick question, but one of sincerity and honesty. If you have a one year lease, are you willing and able to pass up that young buck? What if you own the land or have a long term lease? Now we are getting somewhere.
If you have a long term lease or own the land, why not raise the best deer you possibly can? I realize there are those who simply want meat to eat—and we will address that too—so be patient!
OK, let’s assume you have a long term hunting arrangement on this piece of heaven so let’s get started managing it. First, you need a survey method that is fair and representative of the terrain and habitat. Once the survey is selected and the actual data is in hand, look at what can be taken from the property in order to make it better. If you only have six bucks and one hundred does, shooting bucks is not an issue so forget it for this season. Female management is the need for this property and once that issue is controlled, then, and only then, will we address the bucks. Harvesting bucks on this property is only adding to the problem and certainly not helping it.
If, on the other hand, you have thirty bucks and fifty does, now we can manage both sides of the population. If you want to see lots of deer with little concern for quality, simply harvest about 25-30% of BOTH sexes and go on down the road. In this situation, you basically remove the recruitment for that current year and the population and ratios stay static, ensuring a constant population each year.
If, though, you have this same ratio and you are concerned about quality, we will need to delve deeper. A deer hunter, very generally speaking, wants to shoot the largest buck possible on the ranch. A manager, however, wants to shoot the sorriest buck on the property and leave the biggest buck for breeding. Hey, don’t throw rocks at me, I am a deer hunter too you know!
So, we inventory the buck segment and carefully select the WORST bucks from each age class for harvest. Trophy buck harvest is very light and only the oldest quality bucks are removed, none of the best quality young bucks are removed. Of the female segment to be harvested, select the oldest female possible, ensuring the younger females are the offspring of the better-managed segment of the buck population and therefore assumed to be from better genetics than the older does.
Now, there are issues with bowhunters and Managed Lands Deer Permit (MLDP) holders when selecting a mature female with fawns present to harvest so early in the season. The answer here is DON’T, not yet anyway. Basically, a fawn is weanable once it loses the spots. That means basically that it will not starve to death if the mother is removed. So, don’t harvest a mature female with spotted fawns. Keep her for harvest later in the season, once the fawns are self-supporting (about November to be safe). So, first priority for female harvesting is any mature female without a fawn present or obvious milk bag. Removing as many mature unproductive females early in the season will create more and better habitat for the remaining deer, tighten up the adult sex ratio, improve future fawn survival rates, and lessen the chance of accidentally removing a buck fawn later in the season. People that elect to wait late in the season to complete their surplus antlerless harvest are not realizing the full benefits of their management. They also usually harvest far too many buck fawns since the little bucks closely resemble a middle-aged doe, are usually alone, and are the first to come to the feeder or food plot.
Based on the idea that you want to manage the resource, no matter the length of your lease or your ownership status, here are my buck harvest recommendations for our great area:
Yearling bucks: harvest all three and less point bucks. Yes, that means long and short spikes alike. A yearling buck is defined as eighteen months of age, this does not include “nubbers” in January and February. Leave the bucks with four or more points alone so they can grow up and make you proud.
Two and three year old bucks: harvest bucks with seven or less total points and leave the eight-plus points along to grow up and make you proud.
Four year old bucks: harvest any buck with eight or less points unless he has some great redeeming quality and you want to see more big eight points. Some folks like huge-framed eight points, but rarely will they score very high. I would take the eight or less points out and move closer to better genetic gains quicker.
Five years and older bucks: At this age, most hunters will recognize this buck as fully mature. For genetic gains and optimum management effectiveness, and if two five-year-olds are standing side by side and one has eight points and the other ten, you should shoot the eight point and allow the ten to breed another day. This is where the deer hunter and deer manager diverge. This is where your management and dedication shows. Which one will you shoot?
OK, meat hunters, here goes. Do not shoot, for any reason, an immature buck that does not fit in the age criteria listed above and make up the sad, old, poor and ridiculous story about needing meat to fill the freezer. You will have passed multiple older does in order to select for that one little buck, so I don’t buy your story at all. If you really and truly need just meat, I can’t think of a single reason why you have to shoot a buck to do it.
Again, I know this doesn’t apply across the board to everyone, but I hope you see the mechanics and benefits of proper deer management by this exercise. By harvesting the biggest buck in the woods and doing nothing about controlling the does, you are NOT managing the population—except in a negative way. Do your part to improve the herd and the habitat, and take responsibility for your actions.
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