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Protecting Deer Is Not Managing
Public Relations - Farming
A deer hunter held a meeting at his house a couple of years back in which a dozen angry landowners and six or eight deer managers met with four top DNR agents to resolve the issue of crop damage. Some of the farmers didn’t own any timbered land so there was really no way for them to shoot the deer (legally) that were preying on their crops. The deer came off neighboring land, ate their crops at night and then made it back to sanctuary before daylight the next day. If you were one of those farmers, you would be even angrier than they were. The meeting was surprisingly civil given the group’s makeup.
The DNR personnel offered workable solutions but any solution takes effort. One thing came out of that meeting that was very significant. Most of the farmers stated that the deer hunters they let hunt were not interested in shooting does. They just wanted a trophy buck – preferably a trophy buck. They wanted to shoot that buck and then get back home in time for the Michigan vs. Ohio State game on TV. Buck hunting is not going to solve anyone’s problems.
This brings up a very important point. Every deer hunter has to take the stewardship of the herd seriously. The only people likely to hammer the does as hard as they need to be hammered are either angry farmers or deer hunting landowners who really understand deer management. No one else has the incentive to spend hours on stand trying to shoot one more doe or to exert the energy needed to drag another one out and deliver it to the locker plant. That has to change. Landowners need to find incentives that will turn hunters into stewards and not just consumers.
How to Shoot More Does
One famous quote has been handed down from deer biologist to deer biologist and it is worth repeating here. When asked which doe was the best one to shoot, whether it be the older doe or the younger doe, the one with the twin buck fawns or the one with the twin doe fawns, the biologist stated, “Whichever one stands still long enough for you to pull the trigger.” In other words, it is much more important to get with it and put serious heat on all the does than to try to be clever by targeting certain ones.
Most states now offer the tags that will help you do this work. But, you are very likely to need lots of help. In some of the hunting areas, even the deer managers are waking up. They will let responsible local deer hunters shoot a buck as long as those hunters are willing to buy the tags and shoot every doe that comes past within range. If the guests start trophy hunting (hoping to shoot the best buck on the farm) of if they start waiting until the end of their hunt to shoot does, they lose their privileges. A guest hunter’s number one responsibility is to shoot what the landowner wants him or her to shoot.
That type of program can have an impact and it improves public relations by including other responsible people in your deer management plan. The bottom line is this: you need help. If you think you can shoot all the does that you need to shoot by yourself, you are likely to fail miserably and soon your management area will fall victim to the critical mass principle. There will be too many deer and it will take an act of God to thin them back down to where you can manage them again.
Always remember, if you have a decent number of deer to start with, it is always easier to bring the population back up if you shoot too many (very unlikely) than it is to bring it down if you let it get out of control. Managing deer numbers is like going around a corner on an icy road. You definitely want to keep the car below the speed limit so you have a little margin for error (which is analogous to keeping the deer herd below the maximum carrying capacity of the land). When you fear you have overshot your doe herd, you are probably just about where you ought to be.
Figuring Out How Many Does to Shoot
Every situation is different; that is why private consultants, like Grant Woods, are so popular now. However, it is a basic rule of thumb in areas with adequate nutrition that you can shoot 40% of your deer every year without creating a drop in deer numbers.
Does this Apply to Bucks?
Too many deer is too many deer even if most of them are bucks. While it is rare to find an area with too many bucks, it is possible. Once you start shooting does aggressively to can produce a herd that has a high number of bucks. At that point you need to ramp up your buck harvest. Again, protecting is not managing – even when it comes to bucks.
There are a growing number of questions from people recently who asked why they are seeing more deer, and more bucks, but the size of those bucks is going down. The main reason is simply that there are too many deer reducing available food at all times of the year.
The second reason is not quite as obvious. When you are protecting bucks, you are protecting all the bucks. Most bucks in any herd don’t have the genetics to be a Shaquille O’Neal. They are more likely to be a Rodney Dangerfield. Yet it is amazing how often the mature bucks with the smallest racks tend to be the most aggressive and the most dominant. Just like in a street fight, dominance comes down to attitude more than anything else. Some bucks are simply meaner so they rule the roost – it seems that they usually have smaller antlers.
A bully buck with an ugly rack can monopolize a ridge for several years keeping all the other bucks away during the fall that might have better genetics and be more desirable to hunt. In areas with some hunting pressure, the bully bucks tend to be easier to kill because of their aggressiveness making them natural targets that will quickly disappear. However, in protected buck herds, they thrive. Removing these bucks with a controlled strategy is a great plan. A buck with better antlers will hopefully take their spot on the farm.
In most areas of the country, the biggest problem is not poaching, CWD or some other disease (at least not yet). The biggest challenge facing deer managers is the need to shoot more does and keep the herd numbers in check. When that happens in a controlled setting, the results are much better herd health, a better buck to doe ratio, more enjoyable deer hunting, more opportunities for non-landowners to get involved and better relations with neighboring farmers.
It is every deer hunter’s responsibility to help keep the herd under control. Remember, protecting is not managing. Protecting is easy; anyone can do that. It takes someone with a real commitment to the future to manage deer properly.