The day of the hunter as deer manager has arrived. Every hunter has a role to play and every hunter should have a working knowledge of how harvest rates affect herd population dynamics. You can’t depend on state wildlife agencies to keep track of local herds for you. Deer management should be site specific and if you aren’t doing it this is a good time to start.
Fawns are the lifeblood of your deer herd and fawn recruitment–the percentage of fawns that make it through to the August/September time period–provides the best way we know of to keep track of predator impact and the reproductive potential of the herd.
I stated that taking 25 to 30 percent of the does out of the adult herd would keep herd numbers constant and you should adjust your harvest guidelines up or down depending upon your goals and management objectives. But what if you don’t know how many does are in the herd using your property?
You may not know your numbers but you should be able to gauge how many deer you are seeing by using trail cameras or doing evening field surveys. If you believe you have an abundance of deer, you might be able to take a doe for every 50 acres or more. Think your herd is a little light? Better back off to one doe for every 200 acres or even more. Very unhappy with what you are seeing, keep your doe tags in your pocket and start doing some habitat work to bring your deer numbers back.
The Quality Deer Management Association suggests adjusting harvests to habitat quality and suggests the following: if you have high-quality habitat, you can generally take one doe for every 25-100 acres and still keep the population numbers constant; moderate-quality habitat one doe for every 100-300 acres; and low-quality habitat one doe for every 300-660 acres (or more).
This is all good and well unless the high-quality habitat you have is the result of a very light deer density. Then it makes no sense at all to harvest one doe for every 25-100 acres. These are very general guidelines but you have to start somewhere and these guidelines have been used on thousands of managed properties across the country.
Remember, these guidelines are best used in conjunction with a fawn-recruitment survey, which will help you determine the adult deer replacement rate. One August/September fawn for every adult doe is average, .5 fawns for every adult doe below average, and 1.5 fawns for every adult doe above average. Adjust your doe harvest rates accordingly.
Let’s say you are hunting a 600-acre property with moderate to high-quality habitat quality. To keep the population the same you would harvest somewhere around 3 to 5 does under average fawn recruitment (1.0)). But your fawn recruitment index is quite low, say .3 due to a coyote population explosion. To keep your population constant you had better ratchet down your harvest rate to closer to 1-2 does until your recruitment rate comes back to normal (if it ever does).