DEER MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS
It requires a substantial amount of time and effort to create and maintain a trophy deer herd. The only way to evaluate your deer management program is through a dedicated system of collection and tabulation of harvest data.
A thorough and consistent system should be set up with a yearly refresher class to review how and what information should be collected. The data should at least include antler measurements, age, weight, sex, and presence of lactation in doe deer.
Tabulation of this data can chart improvements in animal quality as well as reflect trends in range condition and gives the game manager some idea of what is required to meet future goals.
COLLECTION OF DATA
Regardless of what data is collected, the importance of consistency of technique cannot be over stressed. Each hunter must follow established guidelines so the data can be compared accurately.
For example, if deer weights are to be recorded and some weights are recorded from field dressed animals but others are "live weight" measurements, accurate comparisons cannot be made. This style of collection would not lend itself to a true evaluation of the herd.
The gender (male/female) of each deer harvested should be recorded. As simple as it seems, many hunters incorrectly record this data. Animals should be registered as male or female, not as buck or doe, to avoid the confusion invloved with young antlerless males.
No matter what data is collected, it cannot be compared accurately if the animal’s age is not taken into consideration. This can be illustrated if you consider someone referring to a person that weighs 100 pounds. If this person is a young man of 12 years old, he could be the correct weight for his age. However, if this individual happens to be a 45-year-old man, he most likely could be in very poor condition.
Now consider a 100 lb. (field dressed) deer that is ½ years old or five years old. This information really qualifies the animal.
Accurate estimates of deer age can be determined through identification of characteristic wear patterns on the teeth of the lower jaw. Many landowners, game managers, and state game departments require hunters to remove and tag a jawbone from each deer harvested for future age identification.
There are several aids available for the hunter to be able to identify a deer’s age. By cutting the mouth open and comparing the deer’s lower teeth to a chart that illustrates characteristic wear patters for each age class hunters can age deer.
Accurate weights should be recorded from each animal harvested. All animals should be weighed the same, whether field dressed or "live" weight, for accurate comparisons to be made.
If there is fat present on the back, base of tail, and/or in the body cavity, a deer is in good condition. Lack of fat present indicates fair condition while ribs, backbone, pelvic girdle showing under the skin indicates poor body condition.
Fawn survival correlates to the presence of does lactating. This is not an indication of present pregnancy or breeding desire, but indicates if she successfully raised fawns.
The most common measurements taken from buck deer are those from the antlers with the number of points having long been hunters’ standard for comparison.
While points are not necessarily a characteristic of age, the older a deer gets the more likely it is to increase in number of points as he fulfills his genetic potential. When recording number of points only those 1" or longer should be counted.
The technique of using a string while taking distance or length measurements leads to very accurate measurements.
This works well as the string can easily be maneuvered around basal burrs and traced along main beam and tine lengths for an accurate reading.
Use a section of string that has a knot in one end. Place it at the area to be measured and trace the distance along or around the area and mark the final length. This length of string is then measured to within 1/8 inch with a tape measure or ruler and then recorded.
Spread is probably the second most collected data from buck deer. It is also probably the most overrated.
In official scoring methods, spread is not weighed as heavily as antler lengths or number of points.
Spread is also the most miscalculated before the shot leading to the proverbial "ground shrinkage". It is always amazing how someone can tell antler spread within ½" on a distant buck running through the brush. The same person can’t tell if a fish he is holding is over the required 12 inches to be a keeper.
We recommend that outside spread be measured. This is a better evaluation of antlers since we only take one circumference measurement (basal). Inside spread tends to punish the heavy massed antlers unless several other measurements of main beam circumference are used.
To measure outside spread, find the widest point perpendicular to a centerline of the head (from between the eyes to the nose). Hold the knot end of the string on one side and extend it to the other side in an effort to determine "how wide does a door have to be" for this deer to pass through.
To record this data, hold the knot of the string just above the basal burrs and trace it around the antler. Mark where the string meets the knot and measure that length with a tape or ruler.
Record deer’s left and right antler basal circumference.
MAIN BEAM LENGTH
Hold the knot of the string above the basal burr and trace it along the outside of the main beam.
Track the string three or four inches at a time and move along the string until you reach the tip of the antler.
Measure this length of string to within 1/8" and record. These measurements should be taken from each antler.
Tine length should be measured holding the knot of the string at the base of the tine and the intersection of the tine and the main beam (on the tip side of the main beam). Extend the string to the tip of the tine and compare this length to any other tine that may be close in length. Measure the string with a tape measure or ruler and record to within 1/8".
This section should be information concerning the animal’s condition.
Things about antler deformities, leg injuries, previously being shot apply to this category.
This information can aid in an evaluation of a deer herd.
SIZE OF FETUS (optional)
Breeding activity can be pinpointed by removing deer fetus from does. Although this is not a difficult thing to do, some training in anatomy is required for location of the area to be removed.
Once removed, the fetus can be measured with a fetus scale. These scales are akin to rulers that indicate age of the fetus in number of days. With simple subtraction, the date of conception can be computed.
TABULATION OF DATA
Data should be logged in and sorted according sex and age. Averages should be made of each age class by age so proper comparisons can be done. Yearly comparisons of these averages can be made of each age class.
Data collected from any age class can be compared to those of the same age taken the previous year. An increased quality can also be displayed by comparing deer one deer age class tracked from year to year. 1.5 year old deer compared to 2.5 the next year, etc.
Dramatic increases in weight can be charted early in a management program while increases in average beam circumference for any particular age class, for example, may take several years to show up. This information can be converted into visual aids in the form of charts and graphs that emphasize any trends in management programs.
Weather conditions such as drought are vivid reflections in a management program. Low fawn survival during a dry period creates few numbers in that particular age class. If most of these deer are killed during the first years of life (as with most hunting places), there will most likely be very few of that age class reach 5½ years of age. This creates a lack of trophy aged animals and, therefore, a lack of trophies taken. Proper interpretation of tabulated data can predict these situations.
To be considered when comparing data:
1. How was it collected – carefully and accurately?
2. Can the number of deer harvested in a particular age class be fairly reflective of all the deer in that age class? (If only one 3.5 year old is killed, it is not necessarily reflective of all the deer that age class)
3. Are measured increases reflective of quality management or great range conditions? (Hopefully both!)
While much effort is exerted on deer management in the areas of how many deer and what caliber of deer is to be harvested, the final evaluation of any management program can only be made through consistent collection and tabulation of harvest data. Proper interpretation of the results can determine what stage the management program is in and what efforts need to be taken to accomplish desired results for the future.