Dusty McGehee: Deer herd management

In our area, primitive firearms season is upon us and next Saturday, October 30, will be the opening day of modern rifle season.  Like most of you, I’ve been running trail cameras to get an inventory of what I have and picking out the target bucks that meet my age criteria to chase this season.  One thing I’ve noticed in my camera surveys is that fawn recruitment isn’t where it should be on our property.

While there are a few factors that could affect fawn recruitment, I believe that habitat and available forage is the main contributor in my area.  Simply stated, there are too many deer in my area for the habitat to support a healthy fawn crop.  I am basing this on my camera surveys and physical sightings of over half of my adult does (2.5 years and older) having no fawns.

So, what can we do to improve the herd?  There are habitat improvements such as timber management, prescribed burns to increase forage, year-round food plots, etc. that will help but we can talk about those at a later date.  In my opinion, the easiest and most effective way to improve the quality of our deer herd now, is by harvesting does.

When is the best time to harvest does?  There is no “bad” time, but I believe the earlier the better. The fewer mouths to feed through the fall and winter will only increase the amount of nutrition your deer will have through their toughest months.  To help her body support carrying fawns, a healthy adult doe needs proper nutrition coming into spring.  This will also result in higher lactation rates.  Reducing the deer herd early in the season will also lead to less stress on your bucks which will result in better antler development the following year.  Which let’s be honest, we all want to be able to have our bucks grow to their full potential.

What age doe to shoot?  Biologically speaking, it doesn’t matter the age.  Personally, I target the older ones who have a knack for ruining my hunts by being vocal when they detect me.  For table fare, the younger age class deer might be more desirable. 

There are still some folks out there with the “old school mentality” that refuse to shoot does.  Those that, if their freezer gets low, will pass on the 10 does that have come by, to shoot the first small buck that comes in range.  While that’s their right and totally legal, it doesn’t make much sense to me.  Our buck to doe ratio in this area tends to lend heavily to having more does than bucks.  Bucks and does are born at a 1:1 ratio, so while accomplishing your task of “getting meat,” why not harvest the deer that helps get the herd closer to the way God intended?

If you’re hesitant to shoot a doe because your freezer is full, don’t forget most of our local deer processors have a way to donate a deer at no cost to the hunter.  Also, many have teamed up with the organization Hunters For the Hungry. This organization provides venison to our local food banks and distributes to those in need in our community.  Last year they distributed over 50,000 pounds of food across our great state.  Even if your processor doesn’t participate with this program, most have a donation list for local people in the community that are in need.

Good luck to all the hunters getting out in the woods in the coming days.  I wish you the best of success in bagging that big buck, or perhaps a trophy doe! 

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