How to Conduct a Herd Monitoring Profile

Improving habitat is only one of the challenges of managing a whitetail property under QDMA guidelines. Determining an adequate harvest of the right deer is just as essential as providing food and cover, and the best way to discover that is to create a rough profile of the deer living on your property. This process—called “herd monitoring”—will help you set harvest goals each year. Here’s how to start.

First, don’t worry about taking a census. You’ll never be able to count every deer. Rather, your goal is to create a rough profile of your herd that includes buck/doe ratios, age structure, herd health and reproductive success. Start by simply observing and recording the number, sex, location and estimated age of every deer you see, either while observing food plots or hunting. Write your observations in a journal.

If your personal observation time is limited, invest in one or two trail cameras, which will help survey deer numbers 24/7. For best results, place a camera near a deer-friendly site, such as a food plot edge, mock scrape or mineral lick. Mount the camera on a tree trunk, fence post or stake within 25 feet of where you expect deer to be. Leave the camera out for five to seven days before checking it for photos. Remember, you’ll have the best success if you treat your camera sites like hunting stands— limit the number of your visits and time them so deer are least likely to be present. Also, driving to your camera sites in a Polaris Ranger XP® will reduce the time you spend at each location and give you another excuse for an enjoyable ride! Electronic fuel injection guarantees fast starts and top performance, and new front Dual A-Arm suspension design delivers improved ride and handling.

Another method for determining deer numbers is to monitor habitat. The presence of a “browse line”—the absence of brushy vegetation and tree limbs as high as deer can reach—indicates an overabundance of whitetails and means higher harvests are needed. Also, inspect food plots to determine how heavily deer are impacting their growth. Here again, signs of overuse mean deer numbers need trimming. Install exclusion cages (small wire structures that prevent a deer from eating) in your food plots, will reveal how your plants would look minus hungry whitetails.

The final aspect of herd monitoring is to record information about the deer you harvest. Here’s where your logbook/journal comes in handy again. Record the sex, weight and estimated age of every deer you shoot. Viewed over time, this information will reveal trends in the numbers, composition (bucks vs. does, young vs. old) and health of your whitetail herd. If you have any questions about your observations, an excellent resource is an issue of “Quality Whitetails,” which is published by the QDMA.

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Weekly QDM Tips

Prep for Winter: One quality many properties lack is an absence of prime winter cover for deer. Plant conifer (evergreen) trees like pine, spruce and fir to provide the thermal cover whitetails love during the cold months. State game agencies usually sell seedlings of such wildlife-friendly trees for a very nominal cost, and they can usually be ordered in bulk quantities.

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