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Did You See Many Bucks This Fall?

Posted Dec. 1, 2008

Among deer hunters, this is a common question each year. Answers range from subtle facts to outright hyperbole. The commonality is that most deer hunters dream of taking a big buck home or at least seeing several bucks that they can pass and allow to grow larger. Most deer management questions we receive center around goals of producing more or bigger bucks. A significant portion of these questions comes from landowners with small parcels of property relative to effective deer population management. Additionally, there are usually numerous hunters on the property, all of them hoping for the opportunity to shoot a buck.

The solution is simple, but involves sacrifice and cooperation. Sacrifice means that not every hunter will shoot a buck each year - not even "cull" or "management" bucks. Instead, they may be asked to shoot several does. Cooperation means joining forces with neighboring landowners to establish collaborative deer management. A landowner with a small property who chooses to restrict buck harvest to improve buck age structure will only be successful if neighboring landowners are willing to do the same. Although challenging, it has been done.

Two examples are the Mud Creek Wildlife Management Association (MCWMA) and the Walnut Bayou Deer Management Association (WBDMA). The MCWMA in Oklahoma's Stephens and Jefferson counties was formed in January 2008 and encompasses 45,823 acres. It is contiguous and comprised of 11 landowners with properties ranging from 96 acres to 15,000 acres. The WBDMA in Love County, Oklahoma, was formed in 1996 and is 12,680 acres in size. It is also contiguous and comprised of 12 landowners with properties ranging from 40 acres to 3,218 acres. The landowners in each of these two associations have joined together and agreed upon common goals in an effort to better manage their shared deer population.

Specifically, they've agreed to restrict buck harvest and increase doe harvest in order to help them achieve a better buck age structure, improve the buck-to-doe ratio and increase the number of mature bucks available for harvest. Additionally, increased doe harvest helps balance deer numbers with habitat quality - another goal for both associations. Other than placing yearling bucks off limits (except to youth or beginning hunters), neither association implements antler restrictions. They simply focus on not shooting too many bucks each year. This is the inaugural deer season for the MCWMA so harvest data is not available. Figure 1 and Figure 2 depict deer harvest results for the WBDMA.

As shown in Figure 1, buck harvest on the WBDMA averaged 9 percent (16 bucks) of the annually estimated number of bucks. Figure 1 also shows that the estimated number of bucks on the WBDMA has increased each year, improving the buck age structure and estimated buck-to-doe ratio from 2.7 in 1996 to 1.6 in 2008. To put this in perspective, the WBDMA comprises 4 percent of the land area in the county and averages 5 percent of the annual legal buck harvest in Love County.

Doe harvest on the WBDMA averaged 18 percent (55 does) of the annually estimated number of does (Figure 2). Estimated doe numbers have at least remained stable since 1996, not allowing the population to exceed carrying capacity. Again, to put this in perspective, the WBDMA doe harvest averages 24 percent of the annual legal doe harvest on 4 percent of the land area in Love County.

These data demonstrate a commitment to managing harvest in order to achieve the goals of improving buck age structure, buck-to-doe ratio, number of mature bucks and balancing deer numbers with habitat quality. The people that comprise the WBDMA and the MCWMA have demonstrated that deer population management can be successfully achieved among landowners through dedication, cooperation and willingness to sacrifice. This same opportunity may exist between you and your neighbors. You never know until you ask. If so, we would be glad to help.