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Trophy Deer Management

Updated on June 20, 2012

Both these bucks came off the same small property

Deer Herd Management

Hunting is the primary method for maintaining deer populations throughout North America. Conservation goals such as deer harvest set by wildlife biologist, are to ensure the well being of the species and it's habitat while maintaining population levels that are compatible with an area. Hunter's that are looking to harvest a trophy year after year first need to understand deer management practices and how they work.

There are two basic ways which deer hunters can help manage deer herds, harvest and habitat management. Even with management it's hard to have a large number of trophy bucks, however with these practices hunters will have many more opportunities to harvest mature bucks. Deer management is really about strengthening your deer herd and improving the overall health of the deer. Another factor is your doe to buck ratio, if you have too many does, it leads to poor antler development and fewer mature bucks. Your goal is to provide excellent habitat for deer herds and improve hunting possibilities.

Deer Management Basics

Dept. of Natural Resources websites available for most states have much of the information you need on deer basics, habitats, and general info for the areas you're looking to manage. If you contact them, many will help you implement a program to benefit the wildlife and the land around you. With deer home ranges varying is size from 150 acres to more than 1500 acres you may need the co-operation of your surrounding neighbors. Does have much smaller ranges than bucks and tend to be where they can access food sources, thick cover and water.

Deer hunters tend to think of bucks in antler growth or points but it's the does of the herd that determine the differences in deer populations. Food supply and deer population of an area decide if a doe can produce twins, singles or no fawns at all. When deer populations reach a size beyond the carry capacity of the food sources available, it results in lower body weights, poor antler growth. The key to bigger bucks isn't shooting the smaller bucks or harvesting more does, instead it's keeping a balanced ratio between the two.

What factors effect antler growth?

Deer bone and antler development are controlled by age, nutrition, and genetics. Genetics does not appear to be as big a factor as nutrition and the age of your deer. Age is usually the biggest factor in antler development of your deer herd. Heavy hunting pressure doesn't allow most bucks to age to maturity or get large antlers. You can't live by the old saying "If it's brown it's down" and expect to see mature trophy deer. If the deer herd gets to large for the food source the whole herd suffers reduced body sizes, poor antler growth, poor bone development, and some may even starve.

Your deer herd is the results of a combination between food supply, deer populations, sex ratios, reproduction, mortality factors, weather, movements and past history. Only some of this can you as a hunter control but deer harvesting is the best way. You first need to establish or objective, if you want healthier, stronger, more dominate bucks set some goals. The stronger, more mature bucks will do most of the breeding, passing along genetics for a stronger, healthier herd but you need participation of all the hunters from your club or lease. Make a game plan and stick to it, several years from now you'll be able to enjoy the results.

Managing Timber

Before our prescribed burn the woods were thick and the ground covered with a mat of pine needles and vines.
Before our prescribed burn the woods were thick and the ground covered with a mat of pine needles and vines.
The dirt you see is where the Forestry Dept, cut breaks thru the woods to control the burn. After only 2 weeks look at all the fresh growth, wildlife love fresh food.
The dirt you see is where the Forestry Dept, cut breaks thru the woods to control the burn. After only 2 weeks look at all the fresh growth, wildlife love fresh food.

Food Plots for Deer

Food plots are a great way of establishing a high quality food source for your deer herd. Deer need year round nutrition to maintain body growth, especially during winter months when food is hard to come by. When planting food plots you'll need access to a tractor or ATV with a harrow attachment, probably a fertilizer spreader and a sprayer of some type is also helpful. We've found that local farmers and AG extensions are very helpful in soil testing, deciding what and how, to plant food plots. To need to plant 3-5% of your property to have a positive impact on your deer herd. I'd suggest you put some thought into what, how, and when to plant your food plots, keeping your cost and maintenance to a reasonable level.

Deer Habitat Management

Deer hunters have several ways that can improve deer habitat, to help increase the carry capacity and the health of your herd. Timber management, food plots, fertilizing natural vines, berries, acorn bearing trees and fruits along with use of mineral beds and feeders, can all aid in the process. We've been using all of these along with the aid of Forestry Dept and the DNR, we are beginning to see great results.

Timber Management for whitetail deer includes, thinning trees,prescribed burning of under growth, wider spacing between planted pines, saving hardwood bottoms and managing older mature timber. We contacted the Georgia Dept. of Forestry to over see our controlled burn, they were very helpful and had plenty of helpful ideas. Burning undergrowth resulted in better browse an increased forage with younger plants and higher nutrient contents. The tender young sprouts are more digestible also attracting more deer. Management of browse, soft mast, and oak acorns are important for the strength and health of the deer herd. Always check before doing property management to be sure you have the authority, before burning or cutting timber.

Use of Feeders and Mineral Beds

Supplemental feeds and mineral beds are great for monitoring your deer herd and making sure they have access to the needed proteins and minerals. Deer feeders or mineral beds near heavy traffic deer trails and spotting a few trail cams, you can see what's moving on the areas you intend to hunt. Supplemental feeds and minerals will help increase the deer carrying capacity of your hunting land especially if done during normal periods of stress such as droughts or hard winters. Food plots are much more cost effective than supplemental feeding, as feeding wildlife can get very expensive and time consuming.

Game Camera Pics at a typical Deer Feeder

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Trophy Deer Management

Trophy deer management is the attempt to protect young bucks from being harvested while managing the age structure and sex ratio to improve the deer herd and hunting quality. You have to harvest enough does to maintain the deer population below the carry capacity of the habitat. As time passes the protected bucks begin to advance in age, allowing for the opportunity of a more natural age structure. Also this improves chances for hunters to hunt older mature bucks, these trophy's are still quite elusive.

If your deer herd restrictions are sufficient enough to improve habitat conditions, the results are more food available for increased body weights, improved reproduction, and better antler growth. As this happens bucks begin to advance into mature class deer and chances of taking a quality animal are greatly increased. Actually managing the deer is much simpler than managing the people hunting, most hunters usually want to take bigger bucks but don't really have the patients needed for these practices. Remember the real goal is stronger, healthier deer, it's not about the number of deer harvested or the size of the antlers. Hunting mature deer will lead naturally to larger bodies and better antler development.

Trophy deer management is not a quick fix, it often takes 4-5 years for enough bucks to mature into the older trophy class. Managing this way means fewer bucks will be seen or harvested, smaller bucks will move away looking for another breeding ground. Reduced deer populations results is stronger deer but fewer deer to be seen by hunters. Some hunters tend to grow restless, they claim to want to trophy hunt but also want to pull the trigger at whatever moves, you can't have it both ways.

The negative factors of trophy managing can be overcome by improvements to the habitat. Begin by increasing the deer food supplies, add high quality food plots, fertilize natural food sources, add the mineral beds needed for a healthier herd. Really the main reason some trophy managements attempts don't work is the dissatisfaction of hunters, you need all members of your hunting club to practice these methods for them to work. Trophy managing won't work on all properties, some variables such as surrounding hunting pressure, not having enough property, hunters not participating and the habitat can prevent gains made thru deer management. In a nutshell it's up to your hunt club after weighing the pros and cons, if trophy deer management can work for you.


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