Deer season is upon us. Surveys are being conducted. Deer cameras are being set. Managers are making harvest recommendations from these data. But let's be honest, hunters across the country are more eager to hit the woods in search of that trophy buck than to spend time on reviewing harvest recommendations. As part of most management programs, doe harvest is an important component that needs just as much attention as trophy bucks. Hunters see doe harvest as an inconvenience. Therefore, most hunters put off doe harvest until late in the season after they have had sufficient time to fill their buck tag. This, however, could cause hunters to fall short of their overall harvest goals.
Researchers from the Noble Research Institute and Mississippi State University designed a study to address many aspects of deer behavior as it relates to hunting pressure. During the 2008 and 2009 deer rifle season, landowners and volunteer hunters from the community were invited to participate in a two-year study to determine how hunting pressure affects observability and harvest susceptibility of white-tailed deer. No archery or primitive rifle hunting was allowed prior to the study. Thirty-seven adult bucks (2.5 years of age) were equipped with GPS collars across the Noble Research Institute Oswalt Road Ranch. Hunters were assigned to compartments at a high hunter density (one hunter per 75 acres) or a low hunter density (one hunter per 250 acres). From this study design, researchers determined how hunter density and duration of the hunting season influenced observation rates of white-tailed deer.
Hunter observation rates of collared bucks were highest during the first weekend of the deer-gun season in both the low and high hunter density areas, but as the hunting season progressed, observation rates declined. The number of observations of collared bucks in both the low and high hunter density areas declined by greater than 60 percent across the 16-day deer-gun season. But what about does? Hunters also collected observation data on does throughout the season and found similar trends. Observation rates were greatest the first weekend of hunting and declined across the low and high hunter density areas as the hunting season progressed.
Overall, deer modified their behavior to avoid hunters by moving less and using security cover, which made observation by hunters more difficult. Early in the season, hunters had greater success observing deer at higher elevations on the ranch where vegetation was relatively short and woody cover was sparse. Late in the season, deer chose areas that were more densely vegetated - areas with greater woody cover or along riparian corridors.
On properties with similar hunter densities, these results might explain decreased observation rates to hunters, and illustrate why it is important to adjust timing and intensity of harvest to help achieve population management goals. If you are like most hunters and feel that meeting population management goals is an inconvenience, consider harvesting does earlier during the season. And the more time you spend in the field, the greater your overall chances of meeting population management goals.