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Cooperatives support wildlife goals

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This article originally appeared in the Jan. 2006 Ag News and Views newsletter.

I know many of you are probably like my family and me; you would like an opportunity to shoot a buck with quality or trophy antlers. Also, like us, the property you deer hunt on is probably less than 1,000 acres in size, and many are probably less than 500 acres. You also probably have many neighbors with properties less than 500 acres who allow family and friends to deer hunt, many of who want to and will shoot any buck if given the chance.

You may or may not have considered the effects on the buck population when an area is chopped up by many different landowners and infiltrated by several deer hunters who want to shoot a buck. Most biologists agree that more than 2,000 acres are needed to successfully manage deer population parameters such as buck:doe ratios, buck age structure and deer density, all of which can influence the quality of bucks present. If a 2,000-acre area is comprised of 250-acre tracts, it includes eight landowners. If each of these eight landowners allows three hunters to hunt and kill three bucks each (archery, muzzleloader and rifle), that equals 24 hunters with the potential to shoot 72 bucks. Considering this example, it's not difficult to figure out why many hunters are not satisfied with the antler quality of the bucks they are seeing. Simply put, over-harvest of the buck population leads to fewer and younger bucks. Bucks need age (in addition to nutrition and genetics) to express their antler potential, a potential never realized if they are shot at a young age.

What's the solution? The best one I know of is to form a deer management association or cooperative. The best association is one where landownership is contiguous, comprising more than 2,000 acres; the landowners and hunters are committed to self-imposed sacrifices to achieve a common goal; and there is at least one person who serves as what I call the "spark plug" of the association (facilitates communication, schedules meetings and activities, etc.).

The Noble Research Institute and several landowners in Love County, Okla., have been actively involved in the Walnut Bayou Deer Management Association (WBDMA) since 1996 and have achieved phenomenal results. It has not been easy and has required time commitments and sacrifices from all, but can't the same be said for consistently successful deer hunters? If you are interested in developing a deer management cooperative or association to help improve the quality of the deer in your area, give us a call at (580) 224-6500 for more details.

Russell Stevens served as the strategic consultant manager and a wildlife and range consultant at Noble Research Institute. He received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in animal science (range and wildlife option) from Angelo State University.