Buck Harvest to Improve Whitetail Deer Herd

Question: “We are interested in deer herd improvement. We are interested in selective harvest so that we can make the whitetail deer hunting better. We just got a pic of a whitetail buck that looks like a 6 point, but may be a 5 point. The buck’s antler spread is outside the ears and his horns are very tall. The camera angle makes it look like his right side is just a main beam with a very small brow tine and the left side is a fork with a small brow tine.

The photo of the buck looks like a very young deer and I am wondering if he will put on some more points with age and good nutrition? If he is just a large 5 point buck, will he fill out into an 8 point deer? Or is a good candidate to be culled? Again, this buck looks very young.”

Whitetail Hunting for Deer Herd Improvement

Response: First, let me say that it is possible for deer herd improvement with selective buck harvest, but it will not work on every property. A very small property will have little impact on the whitetail deer herd at large, while a larger property can have more effect on a free range deer herd. One thing is for sure, even on a larger property herd improvement will not happen over night. It will take years of proper harvest, and even then there may be no noticeable changes if neighboring properties are not also involved in a similar deer management program.

But not all agree that culling bucks will improve the antler characteristics of a deer herd. That is, because yearling bucks disperse during early fall. Studies have shown that as many as 70 percent of yearling whitetail bucks will move five or more miles, and over 10 miles in more open country. This means that bucks are coming onto your property from the neighbors’ and vice versa. If you’ve been culling small bucks and letting those with more potential walk, yet the neighbors are shooting anything with antlers, they are the ones getting the most benefit from your whitetail management program.

Lastly, the buck that you refer to as a young is not in fact that young. Based on the photo, I would estimate this buck to be at least three years old. A three year old buck with five or six total antler points is a cull in just about everyone’s book. In fact, I’d recommend harvesting any two year old buck with seven or fewer antler points if you want deer herd improvement. A buck’s antlers must be judge based on his age. Estimating the age of deer is necessary for managing whitetail deer, but the skill of properly aging deer on the hoof is not learned over night.

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