Quality deer management: Managing inferior young deer

We are in the final week of December 2009, and there will be one more month of deer gun hunting in Areas 1 and 6, but the best is yet to come.

I hunted all day Monday and Tuesday (Dec. 28-29) and the weather was absolutely perfect; however, the deer movement was absolutely zero. I think the peak rut in the Clinton area is over, and with the approaching full moon deer are just feeding at night. I have cages in two of the green patches, and the grass and clover in the cages is 4 or more inches in height while on the outside it is like a putting green. Cages show what type of feeding pressure is being put on a patch by the deer. It also appears that the mast crop in our area is gone.

The philosophy of quality deer management is to let them go so they will grow. Basically the management objective for bucks is to pass up all the 1 ½-year-old bucks and allow them to move up to the 2-year-old age class. Most hunting clubs that have a buck-management program probably have a high 2 ½-year-old buck kill with a few showing up as 3 ½-year-olds. They pass up the 1-year-olds and shoot them as 2-year-olds. Private landowners practicing buck management probably take it to the next level, pass up 1- and 2-year-olds, and shoot 3-year-old and older bucks. Those who desire a trophy management program probably focus on the 4-year-old and older bucks.

Buck management can be difficult because hunters have to learn to recognize the various age groups in order for the program to be successful. This can be difficult and is one of the reasons for keeping good harvest records so the members will know what the average body weights and antler development is for the animals they are targeting.

Even with this information it can be difficult. The reason is that within each age class there are animals that are below average, average and above average. For instance in the Clinton area which is primarily southeast pine/hardwood habitat, 1 ½-year-old bucks average about 115 pounds. They average three antler points, the beam length average is about 6 inches and the inside spread is about 6 inches. As these bucks become older, they increase in body and antler size, and the averages for a mature (4 ½-year-old buck) are 171 pounds, eight antler points, 4 ½-inch bases, 19-inch beams and 15 ½-inch inside spread. Not a real trophy-class animal, about a 110 to 120 on the B&C scale, but they are a challenge to hunt.

We often see 1 ½-year-old bucks that have spikes less than 3 inches, while some have spikes less than one inch and weigh about 90 pounds. As these deer move up in the age classes they eventually become (maybe) 150-ound 8-pointers with 15-inch beams and 12- to 14-inch inside spread. The nutrition in this habitat is simply not present to allow them to catch up and become average or above-average deer.

On better habitat, 1 ½-year-old bucks that are below average have a better chance to catch up and reach their potential. These small adult bucks really present a problem for the hunter since he probably thinks they are just a young deer that is going to get bigger, when in reality they will not.
In this situation, the better buck management scheme is to harvest deer from all age classes. The focus would be on those bucks in each age class that are below the average and will not become the quality animal that is desired. Quotas for each age class should be set based upon the population and the desired harvest. Most clubs and landowners involved in buck management are probably under-harvesting their buck population.

This can be a waste of the deer resource because as a buck becomes older, the natural mortality increases due to various factors and bucks that are passed up may not be around next year because of this. Some studies have found the annual natural mortality of adult bucks to be 25 percent or greater.

In the Clinton area, I have always suggested to clubs and landowners that they harvest these 1 ½-year-old bucks that have spikes less than 3 inches long and very low body weights, not because they are genetically inferior but because they are way below average and on this habitat will not catch up and become the animals we are managing for.

I prefer to let other deer that hopefully have more potential get the energy from the plants that these inferior deer would be eating rather than carrying them for several years and then harvesting them and throwing their rack in a basket in the barn.

Much has been written about shooting spikes and culling deer, and I will discuss this more next week. There is a good article in the January issue of Louisiana Sportsman about this: If you haven’t read it, get a copy and read it.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will begin the season setting process for the 2010-11 hunting season at the January Commission meeting. I have been suggesting that the gun season needs to be moved into a later framework for the Area 6 hunters to give them better opportunity during the peak breeding times (January and February). This year the season goes to the end of January, but unless changes are made hunters will lose that last week of January as the calendar changes.

I encourage hunters from that area to attend the Commission meeting set for Jan. 7 at the LDWF headquarters building in Baton Rouge.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy new year.

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About David Moreland 239 Articles
David Moreland is a retired wildlife biologist with LDWF, having served as the State Deer Biologist for 13 years and as Chief of the Wildlife Division for three years. He and his wife Prudy live in rural East Feliciana Parish.

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