THE ULTIMATE DEER MANAGER
To shoot or not to shoot, that is the question.
The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are on public record for achieving a goal of 1.3 million healthy deer, and a better balance of the adult buck to doe ratio of 1:2.5 or better, state-wide, along with long-term improvement of the habitat. These are lofty goals and only attainable with the cooperation of landowners and hunters. It is estimated that at least 75% of all the deer in Michigan are on private property. Twenty-five years ago 75% were on public land.
The DNR and NRC have slowly been conditioning the deer hunters to accept the concept of passing on and protecting young bucks with recently passed restrictive rules. The new rules of protecting spikes on South Fox and Drummond Island, along with the second buck having four pts. on a side minimum starting in 1997 is an excellent beginning toward a goal of balancing the age structure and sex ratio of our deer.
The increased anterless permits in some areas like DMU 107 with unlimited permits is sure to address the over-population of deer. The unlimited permits available in areas like DMU 107 were petitioned for by the Michigan Farm Bureau. At first look, it appears scary. "There go all our deer!" After close scrutiny, it appears more like a stroke of genius.
The new, three points on a side minimum buck rule in DMU 107 also, at first look, may appear scary to some. Arguments against it are, "You are shooting the wrong deer, (shoot the spikes and protect the 6, 7 & 8 pt. yearlings)." "Why protect any buck?" along with other reasons.
The 3 pt. minimum buck rule for DMU 107 was proposed by Mr. Marc Yenkel of Clare and supported by the Mid-Michigan Branch of the Quality Deer Management Assoc. (QDMA). This was the fourth attempt by Mr. Yenkel. By a vote of 4 to 2, the NRC saw merit in this proposal, and that it fits with the long-range goal of state-wide minimum buck rules that protect at least 50% of the 1 Ĺ yr. old bucks. The NRC chose Marcís 3-pt. minimum rule over a 2-pt. min. on one side rule proposed by the DNR for DMU 107.
This DMU 107 rule is a demonstration. It has a 5-year life with a survey made by the DNR on landowners and hunters after the third year. The approval needed for continuance after the third year is exceptionally high. There will be a minimum of 66% approval needed from both the landowners and hunters. The survey will have a multiple choice and if your choice is, not sure, it will count as a "no" vote. If you choose, I donít care, which sounds pretty close to a yes, it wonít count for anything, but void your really "yes" vote. In any event, the hurdle is high and the demonstration will have to be a resounding success to continue.
Let us analyze the new rules, first the unlimited anterless permits. This rule fits in perfectly with the QDM goal of having you, the landowners and hunters, being the ultimate deer managers. Every time you make a decision to shoot or not to shoot you are impacting your deer herd. Will the greedy hunter or the exasperated farmer with devastating crop damage extirpate the deer? I think not. Even if there are a few in this group, they can only affect their own private land, and what hunter wants to destroy their future recreation. Many farmers complain and threaten, but deep down they enjoy the thrills that deer give and really just want the deer population to be sensible.
Okay, you have agreed to take on the responsibility of a deer manager. How many and what type of anterless deer should I harvest? It all depends on your habitat type, your neighbors land use, your soil type, your own preference, your financial means, and many other factors contribute to your decision. Your first thought correction is to understand that it is safer to over-harvest than under-harvest anterless deer. Try to work with a DNR or private biologist. They know more than any group Iíve ever met. Set your target at 50% to 70% of the maximum carrying capacity. Be concerned about impacting the surrounding area adversely, from deer-preferred crops to a major traffic area. Work on the adult doe population first to lower the number. These gals are the most productive; you can even take a lower percentage of yearling and doe fawns. This will test your identification ability. Try to keep the harvest
of button bucks to a minimum.
Thereís a theory, which has proven itself that 90% of orphaned male fawns do not disperse. Also 90% of unorphaned male fawns disperse due to their motherís wishes. If you are concerned about inbreeding, try to harvest does without fawns or does with doe fawns only. On the other hand, if the inbreeding potential does not bother you, shoot the doe with the twin button bucks.
Work on your habitat type. 30% min. should be cover. 30-50% should be forest with a timber-harvesting program. 3-10% could be food plots with the higher number used for smaller acreage. 500 acres being the top end of small acreage, and 5000 acres being the beginning of large acreage. 20-30% should be open areas and a few watering holes should be in the cover.
Like my doctor says when I get a physical, "Letís get to the business end." And just what is this business of protecting young bucks all about? The phrase "well begun is half done" applies to deer. I am sure it is rare but there may be times when the biologist suggests a small number of male fawns be harvested. If this ever becomes your condition you have the responsibility to harvest a few. Just like when selecting a certain doe class to achieve an end, there is a choice that should be made when harvesting male fawns. This takes some careful observation on your part. Select the smallest and least developed button bucks. In 1997, I observed a medium-sized doe and her fawn for at least 10 minutes, and decided to take her. There was something too casual about her behavior, and as I looked at her shorter-than-normal head with the gun scope, I noticed the buttons.
The male fawns that have well-developed buttons tend to stay superior. This superiority tendency applies to the 1-Ĺ year old bucks also. Our 1998 keynote speaker, Dr. Harry Jacobson, noted that 9 & 10-pt. yearling bucks keep that edge. He also emphasized to not discount that lowly spike buck. There are many reasons for yearling spikes. Among them are; poor soil conditions, tough winters, does not getting caught during their first estrus and giving birth a month or more later than the optimum birthing period, doe fawns getting pregnant and giving birth later, does giving birth to twins or triplets and not being good milk producers, and dry summers can stress both does and fawns. These and other reasons create a stressed fawn entering the winter season. If he survives the winter he will play catch-up and put the nutrients into bodybuilding not antler growing. This leads me to note a most important part of deer management. It takes an exceptionally tough winter to kill a deer that enters it in tip-top shape.
There is much discussion on the need to protect yearling bucks and the methods used. The object of protecting young bucks is to create a more natural deer population in the sex ratio and age structure. As the natural condition advances, and this takes time, the habits of deer and hunting experiences change. It is natural to advance in steps when setting up minimum buck rules. Starting with protecting spikes in areas like DMU 107 protects approximately 20% of the yearlings. This is way too low and will not give positive results, which leads to dissatisfaction and ultimate failure. A 3-pt. on a side minimum rule based on data received from the DNR protects 50% in DMU 107. This should produce some positive results but this is a minimum standard and the results will show it. A better standard is 4 ptís. on a side minimum like the second buck rule. This will protect up to 85% of the yearlings. This is our recommendation for the hunters to use voluntarily in DMU 107. The results will be obvious and occur sooner.
For optimum QDM results, the entire 1-Ĺ yr. old buck age class should be protected and let mother nature take its course. Donít worry about the little inferior bucks that may breed their daughters. The inbreeding is dealt with by the dispersal events, and when the older dominant bucks appear, they quite handedly control the social order. An aggressive 2 Ĺ yr. old buck with a decent rack and good body size can take total control of his area. He will do the bulk of the breeding, suppress the breeding instincts of the yearling bucks and this includes older bucks that donít have what it takes.
If you are interested in protecting the entire 1 Ĺ yr. old age class you will need to learn the top limits of the antler growth in your area and set your standards to protect up to that level. Using points will work in poorer areas like the U.P. but not likely in areas like DMU 107, where 9 & 10 pt. yearlings occur. It is better to add beam length to your standard. Using a minimum of 3 ptís. on a side and including an antler beam length of 14" minimum should protect 90% or more of the yearling bucks in DMU 107. It is not difficult to gauge antler length. There is a natural measuring tool available. Use the deerís ear (avg. length 6") which layís next to the main beam and double it. This is approx. 12". Add a couple imaginary inches and youíre there.
Using the above information and striving for a buck-to-doe ratio of 1:2 or better will give you a start in becoming an ultimate deer manager. For the remainder of the knowledge needed, work with the experts. This includes your DNR biologist, private consultants, joining the QDMA and receiving the quarterly journal jam packed with vital information and other successful ultimate deer managers. See our web page for membership, food plot information, and much more athttp://members.tripod.com/~mmbqdm/index.html or call the National QDMA at 1-800-209 DEER.
Keep the fun in hunting!
President, Mid-Mich. Branch QDMA