Whitetail Deer Management

The increased interest witnessed in white-tailed deer management over the past couple of decades stems from the popularity of white-tailed deer hunting. Managing populations of deer has provded that big bucks could be produced just about everywhere through controlling herds and enhancing habitat. Whitetail deer management has moved forward with increased research on habitat enhancement techniques, antler restriction regulations and herd improvement through selctive harvests and genetic manipulation.

Free-ranging whitetail deer need the food, cover, water and space provided by their habitat to surive. However, whitetail deer management, particularly for growing big mature bucks, involves manipulating the age structure, genetics within the population, and herd nutrition. A whitetail’s habitat should furnish the basic necessities of life: nutrition, water, and cover. The diversity of vegetation on an area is the key to meeting cover and food requirements.

Basic whitetail deer cover needs are low-growing vegetation for hiding cover to protect fawns, mid-level vegetation or escape cover to provide protection from predators, and overstory vegetation such as trees and shrubs to protect deer from weather extremes. Properties interested in managing for maximum herd health must provide low and mid-level forbs and browse plants to meet the nutritional requirements of deer. Many properties also provide supplemental foods for whitetail in the form of free-choice protein pellets and/or food plots. Supplemental feeds allow properties to carry a few more deer, and they usually have improved fawn recruitment.

Deer habitat can be improved by vegetation manipulation commonly called habitat management. Among other things, range management includes balancing wildlife and livestock numbers to fit the food supply, instituting rotational grazing systems, and manipulating plants by mechanical means or by use of prescribed fire. Deer prefer low successional plant species. Learning about the whitetail's diet is an important part of deer management. Plants found in the wild provide higher protein levels than sacked feeds as well as many of the plants commonly used in forage plots.

Deer Management Techniques

There are several deer management techniques that can be employed to improve a local deer population. If habitat management is already under way, then managing for good age structure, especially with the buck segment of the population, should be the first priority. In order to manage for older age deer herds, a manager must manipulate the herd to produce some young deer, some middle age deer, and some older age deer. Having a nutritionally healthy deer herd at or below the carrying capacity of the land usually means a highly productive deer herd. This means that excess deer need to be removed yearly in order to maintain the herd at carrying capacity and in good nutritional health.

The genetic potential of whitetail bucks can not be fully achieve if deer are not properly nurished. However, not all bucks have the same genetic potential. Selective buck harvest, or culling, can help, though the genes for truly large antler growth may not exist on every property. Through line breeding, many commercial deer breeders have concetrated the genes for superior antler growth. These deer are offered for sale, and in some situations can be an effective way to improve the genetics of a confined deer population.

In order to turn over a deer herd every 6 years, a 17 percent input of young deer is needed each year. Having a nutritionally healthy herd with a buck to doe ratio of 1:1 and an 80% to 100% fawn crop means more offspring are produced than needed. However, management is required to keep the population at the proper numbers for the habitat found in an area. Deer surveys should be an intergral part of every deer management program. Spotlight surveys are the best way to estimate the deer density of an area on most properties. When conducted properly, camera surveys using motion-triggered cameras can also provide good herd data, such as the number of unique bucks in an area. When combined with other information, such as daylight sightings, a better picture of the entire deer herd becomes available.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are the smallest members of the North American deer family. Whitetail are found from southern Canada to South America. They are an important part of the landscape in all areas where they are found. During summer months deer often use fields and meadows, searching for forbs high in protein, but whitetail deer are primarily browsers. Read more...

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