Impressive Results From Small Tracts of Land By Colby Ward - Rick Philippi
Feb 6, 2009 - 7:27:30 AM
Last month we discussed habitat practices for small acreages that will build a foundation that enables quality whitetail hunting year after year. This month we are going to tackle the actual management of your herd. We will look at culling practices, predators, buck to doe ratios, age structures and overall deer numbers and how they effect your ability to grow monster bucks year in and year out. Next month, we will discuss proven hunting strategies that produce monster bucks off of small acreage parcels.
First of all, lets get one thing straight - whitetail deer management is not an exact science but more an art. There are proven practices and things to consider, but really you need to be constantly assessing your herd and how it is responding to the practices you have in place. I like to say, we are tweaking it year to year. Areas that need assessing are: Overall deer numbers compared to the carrying capacity of your land, buck to doe ratio, fawn survival rates and predator impact on your herd.
There are two options for working with biologists that can assist in your management plan. Contract out with a local biologist or utilize the resources provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife. We have a great local Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist that is very knowledgeable of the latest management practices and equally familiar with best practices for our area. The state recently went online with a system that allows participants in their program to log on and view whitetail management analytics for your area. Our biologist helped us get started with night survey routes, assessments of our overall deer numbers, buck to doe ratios and fawn recruitment numbers. Each year we get together and discuss our plan and together determine steps we should take to reach our goals.
The first step in managing your herd is to determine what your goals are. Things to consider are: managing your property for trophy management, Quality buck management, or numbers management to name a few. Our goal is to produce good numbers of above average bucks on a consistent basis. Good numbers and above average are key in our plan, so we fall into the quality buck management program.
Low Fenced, small acreage tracts can produce monster whitetails.
Too many deer will reduce the quality of habitat and not provide the nutrients needed to maximize the genetic potential of your herd. I do believe that most areas have much better genetics than they realize, but hunters and landowners may never see the true potential of their herd due to bad management practices.
In order to accomplish our goals we must maintain a careful balance of the right numbers of deer, while maintaining the proper balance of mature bucks so year in and year out we have trophy bucks ready for harvest.
Author's daughter with her management buck taken during the 2008 season.
Herd numbers should be maintained below the carrying capacity of the land to insure that there is plenty of quality forage to consistently grow big racks.
Buck/doe ratio is an important variable, as too many does will extend your breeding season, which wears down even the healthiest bucks during the rut and extends your fawning season. Bucks that are worn down are much more susceptible to disease, the hardships of winter and takes them longer to get their bodies in shape for growing large racks. An extended fawning season allows predators such as coyotes to eat many more fawns. Coyotes are going to get a percentage of your fawns and the more drawn out the fawning season; the more impact predators will have. Surveys have proven that coyotes will eat as many as 70% of a first year fawns. Another factor to consider is buck fawns born late in the year, have a tendency to always be behind in body and antler growth.
Author with one of many coyotes taken during the 2008 hunting season.
Fawn recruitment is a key measure to keep your eye on. If you do not have a good percentage of fawns making it past January and February, then something is out of kilter. It could be that your herd is at or above the carry capacity of your land, or it could be that your predator population is too high. We have experienced a high coyote population this year and our fawn numbers have suffered. We are making it a point to shoot any and all coyotes to get things back at the right levels.
Culling is a much talked about subject. Specific to small acreage management, I believe rather than trying to cull below average bucks the best practice is to insure that genetically superior bucks are protected. At least protected to an age that allows them to show their true potential and able to produce enough to insure that their gene pool is past on to as many does as possible. Careful attention should be devoted to insuring that these genetically superior bucks are not harvested at a young age. Young bucks that have great potential can fool many hunters thinking they are older than they really are. I believe superior genes can be suppressed to the point that they are rarely seen due to the practice of shooting young ten point bucks.
Mature whitetails are a hunter's ultimate challenge.
Many hunters are anxious to shoot a ten, eleven or twelve point buck when they have the chance. Years of this type of behavior can have a significant impact on your gene pool. Bucks with the worst genetic potential are passed by and the bucks with the best genetic potential are shot year after year, resulting in herd of below average genes. Age structure of your buck population is one of the most critical factors to game management.
Judging a deer's age on the hoof is not the easiest thing to master, but given some practice it can be done. I hunt with a really great group of hunters that all share the same management philosophy and goals. In just a year or two our entire group has gotten really good at determining the age of the deer in our area. We compare game camera photos, do some videoing, track the age of deer that are harvested and have regular discussions during down time and between hunts. With a little focus it can be accomplished. Once you get to this state, your management plans can be accelerated.
Another mature buck roaming the author's 500 acre low fence hunting property.
Whitetail deer are not domestic animals or crops where you have significant control, especially on smaller parcels of land. When managing smaller parcels of land, I recommend forming coops or at a minimum get to know your neighbors and share your goals with them. More and more hunters and landowners are interested in managing their lands and the wildlife that reside on their lands. You never know, your neighbors might be just as interested in game management as you are.
As mentioned earlier in the article, whitetail deer management is not an exact science, but more an art of applying management best practices with constant monitoring of your herd, habitat and surroundings and then making appropriate tweaks to improve the capabilities of your herd. By allowing superior bucks to reach 4.5 years of age or older, improving your buck to doe ratio and keeping your herd numbers below the carrying capacity of the land you will greatly improve your ability to grow monster bucks, providing yourself and your fellow hunters a richer experience in the field.
Next month, we will explore proven hunting strategies for small parcels of land. Until then let those young bucks walk and happy hunting!