Deer Management is a Numbers Game

Deer Management really is a numbers game. The number, and more importantly the sex, of deer harvested is critical to population regulation and improving whitetail hunting. Let’s discuss some basic facts about deer population dynamics that can help your deer management objectives. First, whitetail bucks are polygamous and will mate with many does. Unless they are malnourished, virtually every doe two years old or older will produce offspring each year of their lives. Older does more often have twins and younger does more often have single fawns. Average fawn production for healthy adult does is approximately 1.7 fawns per doe per year.

Whitetail does rarely breed during their first fall, with no more than one in every 4 producing a fawn at one year of age. Male and female fawns are born in equal numbers, and thus, the ratio of bucks to does in the fawn segment of the population begins at 1 to 1. The ratio of adult bucks to adult does tends to remain near 1 to 1 in unhunted populations. In contrast, does predominate in most hunted populations, especially those with heavy buck-only hunting. Ratios commonly range from 1 adult buck to 2 to 4 adult does.

If fawns are taken into consideration, the ratio of antlered to antlerless deer will range from 1 to 2 or 3 in non- or lightly hunted populations to as high as 1 to 8 in populations receiving heavy buck-only hunting pressure. Since it is virtually impossible to harvest enough bucks to prevent nearly all does from being bred, then from a practical standpoint, population growth is dependent primarily on the number of does in the population.

Under normal conditions, whitetail deer populations have the potential to increase at a rate approaching 40 percent per year. Clearly buck-only hunting, which usually removes only about 10 to 15 percent of the population, will not control population growth. Harvest of antlerless deer, therefore, is mandatory to stabilize or reduce populations. To stabilize a deer population at any particular level, the total number of deaths each year from all causes must equal the number of births.

Deer herds generally can be stabilized by harvesting equal numbers of antlered and antlerless deer so long as total annual mortality approaches the number of fawns born. Removal of more antlerless than antlered deer is required to reduce population levels, and can make for some very strategic whitetail hunting!

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