Many deer managers have the desire to increase the average size of bucks on their property. In most situations, the surest way to increase average size is to increase average age of bucks on the property. Bucks can only get older if they survive hunting season and other mortality factors. Hunter harvest is one mortality factor that can, and should, be managed.
If you are not satisfied with the size of bucks on your property, and your hunters are harvesting more than one buck per 300 acres of deer habitat annually, you need to impose some method of limiting buck harvest. Most properties managed to increase buck size should harvest less than one buck per 300 acres. Heavily harvested neighboring properties exacerbate the problem. Some alternative buck harvest management methods are described below.
No other approach yields as many benefits as an educated group of hunters. Hunters who understand deer management and the goals for a ranch are invaluable. Time spent educating hunters is a great investment. Create educational opportunities for your hunters show videos, distribute good publications, invite a wildlife professional or other successful deer manager to a meeting or attend an educational meeting with your hunters.
Number Harvested on Unit
Simply setting an annual maximum number of bucks that can be harvested on a tract or ranch is an effective method. This rule cannot be misjudged by hunters and is relatively easy to enforce. It places the burden of distributing buck harvest on the hunters themselves, which may be an advantage.
Bucks per Hunter
Reducing the number of bucks allowed to be harvested by each hunter below what the state regulations allow is another way to limit buck harvest. It generally makes hunters more selective and provides incentive for doe harvest to fill the freezer.
Requiring hunters to harvest one or more does in order to earn the opportunity to harvest a buck is a good way to accomplish doe harvest goals and limit buck harvest with the same rule. This can be done on a seasonal basis or cumulative throughout all seasons.
Requiring hunters to pay for a taxidermy mount of any buck harvested is another way to reduce buck harvest. Hunters become more selective, knowing there is a price associated with the harvest of any buck. Sometimes a hunter is allowed to harvest a buck before harvesting a doe only when the hunter has the buck mounted.
Not Age, Points or Spread
Harvested deer can be accurately categorized into only three age classes (fawns, yearlings and adults) using the tooth wear and replacement aging technique. Therefore, using a minimum age or other age-based rule is unfair because there are no accurate aging criteria.
Numbers of points or antler spread are difficult for many hunters to judge under hunting conditions. Without an experienced guide present, honest mistakes will have to be dealt with. Another problem is that minimum numbers of points or spread rules tend to favor harvest of the best of the younger year classes, leaving the smaller bucks in the herd.
Two or more of these rules certainly can be used together to customize a buck harvest management strategy.