Deer Management: 11 Things (2021) You Ought To Know

Deer management practices have been in place in various states for years now.

For instance, in Missouri, white-tailed deer are the most popular big game species, and the state estimates the population is around 1.4 million.

They’ve been working to control this population through the science of wildlife management, increases in suitable habitat, and regulation of season length and bag limits.

Additionally, some of the lauded deer management techniques have fallen out of favor in recent years.

For instance, protecting antlerless deer from harvest is no longer the favored tactic.

Instead, management practices like quality deer management (QDM) are prioritized.

In this blog, we’ll talk through what management of white tailed deer is and the different methods that are available. 

1. What is deer management?

Deer management is the practice and philosophy of wildlife management employed to regulate the population of deer in an area.

Deer management is important for numerous reasons.

Some of these include:

bulletRegulating the population’s size

bulletReducing negative effects of the population on the ecosystem

bulletMaintaining the integrity of other populations

2. Why is deer management necessary?

A deer population will continue to grow until it reaches the carrying capacity of the ecosystem.

The carrying capacity is defined as the maximum population size of a biological species that can be sustained by that specific environment.

Some of the factors that can influence the population size are food, habitat, water, and other natural resources available.

In essence, it’s the environment’s maximal load.

When this occurs with the deer population, it often causes issues for plants and wildlife in the same ecosystem.

Plant life can begin to disappear locally because of browsing, and other wildlife may be impacted because they also depend on certain plant species for food.

Ultimately, this lowers the biodiversity in the ecosystem and changes the composition of the habitat, region, or area until deer management has occurred, and the location has recovered.

One other impact of deer populations reaching the carrying capacity is an increase in human and deer interactions.

These effects include crop damage, car accidents, property damage, Lyme disease transmission, etc.

These interactions can occur in both rural and urban areas depending on the location of the ecosystem in question. 

3. What methods of deer management are used?

Deer management can be broken down into two categories: lethal and nonlethal.

Here’s an overview of both.

bulletLethal deer management

1. Hunting: Hunting is an incredibly common practice used to regulate deer populations.

Often deer that are hunted are used as either a food source or a trophy.

Deer hunting is usually regulated by a government agency with tag limits for both bucks and does and conducted in seasons.

Deer hunting may be done with a bow and arrow, a rifle, a muzzleloader, or other approved weapons.

bulletNonlethal deer management

1. Chemical repellants: A deer repellant may produce a bad smell, burn the tongue, or taste bad.

The goal of a repellant is to keep deer away or minimize the damage of deer in a heavily affected area.

These chemical repellants may be natural or artificial.

Typically, they benefit gardens and orchids the most.

2. Fencing: Fencing is another method that is used.

It creates a physical barrier that prevents a deer from entering the area.

The fences — either electrical or high tensile — will typically range from 3 to 10 feet tall, and they’ll prevent deer from causing damage to an area.

The type of fence necessary for the area will typically be determined by the amount of time and type of management.

3. Wildlife birth control: Birth control vaccines have been created to help prevent does from having fawns for up to 3 years.

Naturally, regulating the birth rate can help to control the growth of the herd and the subsequent population of deer.

The vaccines are administered by dart or by shot.

This management is an alternative to hunting and most effective in urban areas where hunting is challenging.

 4. What is the top deer management strategy?

As you determine the best management plan for your land, consider this quote, “no amount, or quality level, of habitat improvements can overcome a low-quality hunting approach.”

The way land is hunted ultimately determines how successful a deer management program is.

It will always be easier to consistently harvest mature bucks on a parcel with an average habitat that is hunted properly than it will be to find success with a great habitat that is hunted poorly.

The level of attraction will increase with high-quality habitat improvements, and hunters will have a greater risk of spooking the higher number of deer that are attracted to the land.

5. What hunting practices can be improved?

There are several hunting practices that can be improved, specifically when it comes to hunting mature bucks.

The following practices that are mentioned below are specifically relevant when analyzing a deer management program.

Evaluate each of these as you consider a deer management program and see where you can improve.

bulletExcessive ATV use

bulletFood source stand locations

bulletPoor stand timing and stand rotation

bulletLow potential sit opportunities

bulletPoor doe harvest practices

bulletObtrusive hunter movements

bulletPracticing immature buck and doe family group hunting tactics, instead of mature buck methods

6. What is traditional deer management?

Traditional deer management is the practice where antlered bucks are harvested regardless of age or antler quality.

In this practice, few does are harvested.

This method is also known as the “maximum buck harvest management,” and it’s a strategy that every state in the country has used at some point.

Some continue to use it today.

This strategy may work when the deer herd is below the habitat’s carrying capacity; however, it fails when the herd equals or exceeds the carrying capacity, which is something to keep in mind.

7. What is quality deer management?

Quality deer management (QDM) is the philosophy of managing deer herds in a biologically and socially sound manner within the existing habitat conditions in an area.

This management philosophy encourages landowners and hunters to take an active part in establishing and achieving defined deer management goals.

QDM strives to produce healthy deer herds and balance these herds with existing habitat conditions by protecting young bucks from the harvest and ensuring the recommended number of antlerless deer are harvested.

So, for example, if a habitat will support 20 deer per square mile, this strategy says to put 20 deer per square mile on it.

If a habitat will support 30 deer per square mile, put 30 deer per square mile on it, but don’t put 30 deer on a habitat that can only support 20.

QDM seeks to improve the age structures so that bucks can reach all age classes (rather than just 1.5 and 2.5 years).

By not shooting the majority of yearling bucks annually, this can be accomplished.

How is the number of antlerless deer determined for harvest?

The following criteria are used:

bulletDeer density (number of deer in an area)

bulletSex ratio (number of bucks relative to the number of does in an area)

bulletHabitat condition

bulletLandowner objectives

QDM promotes sound deer management by improving the age structure and sex ratio, managing the habitat and keeping detailed records on the deer observed and harvested to ensure the success of the program. 

8. What factors influence QDM?

Research shows that three main factors influence deer antler and body development: age, nutrition, and genetics.

To successfully manage deer, you must understand their biology and how to respond to changing conditions.

bulletAge

One of the most important factors in quality deer management is understanding the age structure within the buck segment of the herd.

This is because the presence of mature deer in the herd creates normal social behavior during the breeding season.

You can see this with a greater number of scrapes and rubs.

Here’s a quick explanation of age as it pertains to bucks.

Bucks normally grow their first sets of antlers by around age 1.5.

About 20 percent of buck fawns may develop hardened antlers at 8 months of age.

Hunters do not typically see this because it happens after the hunting season and indicates that nutrition is adequate to allow fawns to reach the critical body mass needed to initiate antler growth.

At 4.5 years old, bucks tend to reach maximum skeletal growth, their peak weight 5.5-6.5, and their maximum antler size at 6.5 years old.

Some locations see a lot of bucks harvested at the yearling mark (1.5 years old).

However, QDM strives to make sure that bucks reach older age classes.

The attitudes and practices of hunters impact the success of this program greatly.

If you are a landowner with a smaller plot of land, work with your neighbors.

Some small properties may not be able to contain the home ranges of several bucks due to space.

However, a successful QDM program is possible if adjoining landowners have similar goals and objectives.

bulletNutrition

The quantity and quality of available forage vary widely from area to area and directly influence body size, antler size, reproductive success, fawn survival, and timing of the rut.

Antler development is greatly impacted by the protein, energy, and minerals available in a forage before and after antler growth.

The minimum level of protein in forage required for maximum antler development varies with age, but research has shown that a diet containing 10 percent protein can be adequate for antler development for adult bucks, and a diet of 16 percent protein is actually better.

That said, weaned fawns will require up to 20 percent protein in their diet for optimal growth.

bulletGenetics

A buck’s potential antler development is determined by the genetic traits that are passed on by both parents.

These genetic traits are influenced by environmental factors, including weather conditions and rainfall patterns.

As such, the genetic potential of a deer herd will never be expressed until adequate nutrition is available, and animals reach full maturity.

The genetic influences on a herd are complex and cannot be manipulated by landowners or hunters.

That said, landowners and hunters should focus on providing adequate nutrition and allowing younger bucks to reach maturity.

 9. What is trophy deer management?

Trophy deer management (TDM) is yet another method.

This strategy is where only fully mature bucks (around 5.5 and 6.5 years old) with high-scoring antlers are harvested.

The exception is low-scoring middle-aged bucks.

Additionally, in this approach, does are aggressively harvested to maintain low deer density and optimum nutrition for the remaining animals.

Overall, TDM is not practical in the U.S. and is generally viewed negatively by much of the hunting and non-hunting public.

10. Should does be harvested early?

While reading about deer management, you’ll read a lot about “antlerless deer harvest,” and this is one of the most vital aspects of managing your herd correctly.

If you own significant portions of hunting land, then you’ll want to focus on harvesting your does early in the season.

Harvesting does ultimately saves you money, leaves more resources for the rest of the herd and takes stress off bucks, which results in better antlers for the following seasons.

11. How can you determine deer management goals?

If you’re a landowner, implementing a quality deer management program takes time and commitment.

The quality of your deer herd will constantly change, and you may need to improve the quality of your available habitat, which can take years.

That said, as long as you have community goals and objectives and collaborate with others in your area, you’re on the right path.

Here are some sample goals that you can use as you strive to set realistic objectives for management decisions:

bulletCollect and record data, including the ages and weights of harvested deer

bulletMaintain the deer population within the carrying capacity of available habitat

bulletImprove the buck-to-doe sex ratio

bulletImprove the age structure

Final thoughts

If you’d like to improve the productivity of your hunting land, have good deer food, provide better cover, or experience fewer poaching problems, you’re not alone.

Those who hunt whitetail deer on private lands often want the same thing.

With the right deer management strategy, all of these goals are attainable.

While there isn’t a “one size fits all” strategy for growing and maintaining a healthy deer population, you can analyze and manage your land according to its own variations.

If you have a small plot of land, be ready to work with your neighbors to ensure your habitats are suitable.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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