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Mid-Michigan Branch

Quality Deer Management Association

WHITE-TAILED DEER MANAGEMENT TIPS

Although many of the management principles we use today are based on some pretty technical information, the basics of deer management are actually quite simple. The following represents a brief outline of effectively producing quality animals for your hunting experience.

Much has been said about the genetics of Whitetails. For years, hunters felt that protection of spike bucks would assure a steady supply of older bucks in later years. Then, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, at their Kenville Management and Research Area, conducted a study that concluded that spikes were inferior to forked antlered yearlings. Much public confusion, and often, erroneous conclusions by the outdoor press resulted from this study. Many landowners readily accepted the spike buck work as a "magic bullet" for deer management. All you have to do to produce top quality bucks is to shoot every spike buck you see; and some individuals went about this task with a vengeance. To their disappointment, however, herd quality did not increase at the level anticipated. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department never said "once a spike, always a spike." They actually said in their study that spiked yearlings did not produce as good a set of antlers as did forked antlered yearlings in later years.

But recently there has been further complicating information about the genetics of whitetails. Dr. Harry Jacobson of Mississippi State University has shown that very little can be predicted from looking at a yearling's antlers. Apparently, there are three completely different growth strategies. There are early bloomers, late bloomers, and some bucks just improve in antler quality evenly over the years. What does all this mean? It means that there is really no need to worry about genetics in a well-managed deer herd. Nature will take care of itself when it comes to genetics.

 

STEPS TO PRODUCING QUALITY WHITE-TAILS

Let's take a look at a reasonable approach to quality deer management. Three basic steps to producing quality deer are: (1) Adequate harvest of female deer and increase the fawn crop, (2) Improve age structure, and (3) Improve the buck-doe ratio.

One way is to increase the fawn crop. The white-tailed deer is really no different from the domestic cow. Cows produce more calves with higher weaning weights if the cows are on a good nutritional plain. In a wild deer herd, one of the best ways to do this is control herd density. And, to control herd density--remove the does. But how many does should be removed? In this regard, simply stated, deer herds maintained at carrying capacity means that the herd has leveled off in growth, with additions (births) equal to subtractions (deaths). In well managed deer herds, however, the population is maintained at well below carrying capacity (usually 50-60% of carrying capacity). Does will produce more fawns when the herd is held at lower levels.

Most of our deer herds, whether they occur in Michigan or Texas, have the same problem, an over-harvest of bucks and an under-harvest of does. The result is a very young buck population and a very old doe population. The best way to remedy this problem is to cut back on the buck harvest and increase the doe harvest. Again, this is tied to the principle of population control. If you strive for an average age of bucks harvested to around 2.5 years, that is younger than the age at which maximum antler production is achieved, but it represents a realistic goal. And more importantly will result in an improved age structure in the deer herd along with an improved buck/doe ratio, all to the overall improvement of the welfare of our deer herd.

From a practical point of view, one primary reason why dressed weights, percent spikes, lactation rates, age structures, and buck/doe ratios are poor or even deteriorating - too many deer!

 

 

Consultations

If you wish assistance in the management of your deer herd, contact your local wildlife biologist or other consultative services such as Dr. Deer, Inc., Rt. 5, Box 2585, Nacogdoches, Texas 75961, 1-800-428-6296.

ANTLER MEASUREMENTS

Antler development is an indication of the overall health of a deer herd and can be used as an index of management success. Counting the number of points does provide a useful measure of antler quality, however, measurement of beam length, beam circumference and inside spread are more meaningful. Beam length is measured from along the main beam from the burr at the base to the antler tip. Beam circumference is the circumference of the main beam halfway between the burr and the first point. Spread is the inside spread between the main beams and measured at right angles to the centerline of the skull at the widest point between the main beams. It is essential that these measurements be collected if you're interested in managing for quality bucks.

DIRECTION FOR DETERMINING LACTATION IN DOES

Check all female deer to determine if they were lactating or "in milk." This can be done by stripping the teats for milk or by cutting into the udder with a sharp knife and checking for the presence of milk. Lactation records allow you to estimate the fawn production for your area. The more fawns you produce, the more bucks there will be to harvest.

FIELD AGE OF DEER

Age information is extremely critical to the management of deer herd. This allows the manager to predict what percentage of the herd is being harvested and what numbers in each age and sex class should be harvested to obtain your herd management goals.

DOE POPULATION AGE STRUCTURE

The percentage of 2 1/2 years or younger does in the harvest is an excellent indicator of the vigor of your herd. The "Quality Zone" for the per cent of does 2 1/2 years or less is usually 70 to 80%. Should the number fall outside the quality zone, you probably have not harvested enough does.

DOE LACTATION RATE

The "Quality Zone" for the percentage of does lactating ("in milk") is 80 to 90%. Again, should the number fall outside this percentage, you probably have not harvested enough does.

Yearling Buck Dressed Weights

The dressed weight of yearling bucks provides an indication of the overall nutritional quality of your range. Consistent dressed weights of less than 80 pounds usually indicate an over population problem.

Percentage of Yearling Spiked Bucks

In a well-managed herd, the normal occurrence of spiked antlered yearling bucks should probably not be more than 15%. A high percentage of spikes in the harvest indicate a potential problem, either from over-population or from poor site/soil conditions.

Average Age of Does and Bucks

Average ages of does and bucks harvested are an excellent indication of the age structure and buck/doe ratios. An average buck age of 2 1/2 years represents a realistic quality deer management goal. (In comparison, a trophy deer management goal would require an average buck age of 4 1/2 years, the age at which a buck is just starting to approach, 80% of its peak potential antler growth.)

Summary

From a practical point of view, one primary reason why dressed weights, percent spikes, lactation rates, age structures, and buck/doe ratios are poor or even deteriorating - too many deer!

 

White-tailed Deer Management Progress Evaluation Forms
Note: The "Quality Zone" Area in the Following Charts May Have To Be Adjusted For Unique Conditions in Your Deer Management Area

DOE POPULATION AGE STRUCTURE

PER CENT OF DOES 2 1/2 YEARS OR LESS

100%

                     

90%

                     

80%

                     

70%

     

Quality

Zone

           

60%

                     

50%

                     

40%

                     

30%

                     

20%

                     

10%

                     

YEAR

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

The percentage of 2 1/2 years or younger does in the harvest is an excellent indicator of the vigor of your herd. Calculate the percentage of does 2 1/2 years or younger in your harvest and color in the appropriate bar. If the bar falls within the Quality Zone, you are OK. Should the bar fall outside the quality zone, you probably have not harvested enough does.

DOE LACTATION RATE

PERCENT OF DOES LACTATING

100%

                     

90%

                     

80%

     

Quality

Zone

           

70%

                     

60%

                     

50%

                     

40%

                     

30%

                     

20%

                     

10%

                     

YEAR

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

Lactation is the biological term for "in milk". More does will have weaned their fawns prior to the hunting season. However, even if a doe has weaned, evidence of milk will be present in the udder. After all records have been taken from harvested does calculate the percentage of yearling age class or older that were in milk. Then color in the bar for the particular year up to the percentage rate. The colored bar should enter the Quality Zone, if not you probably have work to do with your herd.

YEARLING BUCK DRESSED WEIGHTS

DRESSED WEIGHT OF YEARLINGS

 

130 lbs.

                     

120 lbs.

                     

110 lbs.

                     

100 lbs.

     

Quality

Zone

 

Northern

Deer

Including

Mississippi

Delta

90 lbs.

                     

80 lbs.

     

Quality

Zone

 

Southern

Deer

Excluding

Mississippi

Delta

70 lbs.

                     

60 lbs.

                     

50 lbs.

                     

YEAR

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

Dressed Weight of yearling bucks provides an indication of the overall nutritional quality of your range. Consistent dressed weights of less than 80 usually indicate an over population problem.

 

 

YEARLING SPIKE RATE

PERCENT YEARLING SPIKES

100%

                     

90%

                     

80%

                     

70%

                     

60%

                     

50%

                     

40%

                     

30%

                     

20%

                     

10%

       

Quality

Zone

         

YEAR

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

In a well-managed herd, the normal occurrence of spiked antlered yearling bucks should not be more than 15%. A high percentage of spikes in the harvest indicate a potential problem, either from over-population or from poor site/soil conditions.

AVERAGE AGE OF BUCKS (In Years)

6.5

                     

5.5

                     

4.5

       

Trophy

Mgmt.

         

3.5

                     

2.5

       

Quality

Zone

         

1.5

                     
                       

YEAR

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

19__

Average age of bucks harvested is an excellent indication of management progress. Color in the appropriate bar for the year.

 

HARVEST RECORD

SEASON 19__

AREA: _______________________________________

Antler Measurement (Inches)

Deer No.

Date

Sex

Age

Dressed Weight

Points

L Beam Circum

R Beam Circum

L Beam Length

R Beam Length

Inside Spread

Doe In Milk Yes/No

Hunter

Other

                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                           

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© 1996 Mid-Michigan Branch Quality Deer Management Association

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Web Page Webmaster: Boyd Wiltse, Secretary Mid-Michigan Branch QDMA
Page up-date 6 January 1999.
The QDMA Logo shown above is Trademarked and may not be used without written permission from QDMA National Headquarters (call 1-800-209-3337 or write to QDMA, P.O. Box 227, Watkinsville, GA 30677).