Each time you pull the trigger on a white-tailed deer you are making a management decision. But, are you making the right one? Hunters need to understand how deer are managed in order to assure the future of deer hunting.

As states try to incorporate site specific information into their deer management models, hunter involvement is becoming more and more important. Hunters are being called upon to help establish harvest guidelines and to use good judgment (based in science) before pulling the trigger.

Partnerships are being established between hunters and state wildlife agencies, partnerships that are good for deer and deer hunting. But hunters can’t hold up their end of the bargain if they don’t know the basics of deer management.

Take a stab at the deer management Q&A below to see how you size up as a deer hunter/manager:
Q. Why are we moving toward site specific management for deer?**
A. Site specific management allows you to fine tune your herd where broad region management doesn’t. Some states use wildlife management units (WMU’s), others use counties or some other broad-brush approach to dividing up their whitetail hunting areas. Trouble is, they are almost always too big to manage with any degree of precision, especially with so much emphasis on reducing deer numbers.

Q. How are deer populations generally managed?
A. Through doe harvests. Harvesting approximately 30% of the adult does in a given herd will generally keep populations constant. Harvest less than 25% of adult does and the herd will grow. More than 35% it will decrease. This is a general guideline.

Q. How many deer can exist on a square mile (640 acres) of hunting land?
A. It varies dramatically. With great habitat 50-75 or more can do nicely, poor habitat, fewer than 20. Cram 100 deer or more into a square mile and they will generally start destroying their habitat. This can lead to a gradual decrease in numbers and in some cases a population crash.

Q. How do you know if you have too many deer?
A. The most reliable measure would be to take a hard look at your habitat to assess deer impact. Too many deer will result in habitat destruction.

Q. How do I do that?
A. This is a somewhat oversimplified answer, but basically you look over your hunting area to determine how much impact deer are having. You look at browse lines in trees surrounding fields and open spaces, at regeneration of preferred food species (oak, ash, maple, etc) in woodlands and how much browse is being consumed (more than 3″ per stem is generally too much) in browsing areas. No regeneration of preferred native species, or abundant evidence of over browsed plants and you have a problem.
Q. What is carrying capacity?**
A. This important concept refers to the number of deer that can exist in a given area without negatively impacting the available habitat. If deer are damaging the habitat you can either take the deer numbers down or create more habitat to accommodate more deer. Carrying capacity can vary greatly within a few square miles.
Q. How do I count the deer using my property?**
A. Take a survey by posting a person with a note pad on each feeding area and taking a tally at pre-determined times (e.g. 6:60, 7:00, 7:30, etc). Or doing a spotlight count in open spaces at night. Or doing a camera survey over a food source which will attract deer to the camera. Camera surveys (100 acres per camera) have proven to be the most reliable but check baiting regulations first. You will need a doe estimation formula for a camera survey.

Q. How do I determine buck-to-doe ratios?
A. Conduct a same time count survey and keep track of unique bucks, and all does and fawns. Throw out the fawns (can’t judge sex) and compute the ratios of bucks to does. Or, do a camera survey (with estimation formula)
Q. What is fawn recruitment?**
A. Fawn recruitment allows you to index the number of fawns to does who would become adult deer were it not for hunting mortality. It is best measured just prior to hunting season and accomplished by counting the number of mature does and comparing them to the number of fawns. An average index is somewhere around 1 or 1 fawn to 1 adult doe. 1.5 fawns to each doe are high and represent a healthy productive herd while .4 or .5 is sub average. As predators continue to proliferate, this index is becoming more and more important.

Q. Why does fawn recruitment matter?
A. It helps you determine how many does to harvest and can give you a good feel for how many fawns are being taken by predators. It also tells you how well your property is performing as a wildlife producer.

Q. What is a good buck to doe ratio?**
A. 1 to 1 is exceptional, 2 to 1 good and 3 to 1 okay. 4-5 or worse to 1, buy bullets, shoot does and leave the bucks alone (provided you have plenty of deer). This assumes you like seeing bucks from your stand.

Q. What about older aged bucks bucks?
A. What about them? If you want them, quit shooting yearlings and convince your neighbors to do the same. If 40-50 % of the bucks on your property are older than yearlings or 2.5 or older, you are doing pretty well. But, it’s really tough to get more than 10% of bucks into the mature (4-5 yr. and above) category.

Q. How do I judge age?
A. That requires practice and an understanding of what the various age class deer look like in your area. Antlers are not always your best bet. Look at body shape, posture, walk (stagger) for clues and practice, practice, practice. Good age judging materials are also available.

Q. How can I encourage good antler growth?
A. The key to antlers is age (5-6 yr. old is about prime time for large antlers) and nutrition. Good mineral rich dirt usually means good nutrition if planted with the right stuff. The one thing the big buck areas have is good dirt.
Q. Where can I get more information on deer management?**
A. The Quality Deer Management Association is an excellent source as well as Dr. Grant Wood’s excellent book Deer Management 101-managing Your Way to Better Hunting available at

If you got 12 or more right you probably know your way around the deer management world and are qualified to hold up your end of the deer management partnership. Missed a bunch, bone up and lend a hand.

Next week: “The Other Half of the Deal”. Stay tuned.