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Hunter Data Can Help Manage Deer Populations

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Last month we discussed how to use hunters to help collect survey data. This article will discuss how we can use harvest data from hunters. Most harvest reports focus on number of animals harvested, weights and estimated ages. While these numbers are important, this article will focus on other interesting aspects that we can learn from the harvest data.

Doe and fawn in a tall grass field

Harvest is a major focus of good deer management. For most properties, the best population management strategies involve shooting more does and less bucks. Sounds easy, right? But how much time does it take to harvest does and bucks in an unfed, free-range deer herd? Do your hunters view doe harvest as work or as a great opportunity to put tasty venison on the table? When is the best time of the season to hunt? Let’s take a look at results from hunters on Noble Research Institute properties.

Noble Hunters: Hours to Harvest

We found that it takes, on average, 71 hours to harvest a doe and 350 hours to harvest a buck across all methods. Noble hunters are allowed to harvest one buck per year. These bucks should be a minimum 130 inch gross Boone and Crockett score, which adds to selectivity of buck hunting, increasing time needed to harvest a buck.

Figure 1: Man Hours Per Harvested Deer By Method. (Bar Chart showing 118.96 for Archery, 44.14 for Gun, and 60.04 for Primitive)

Hours per harvested deer differs by method. As expected, it takes less time to harvest a deer with a gun than it does with a bow (Figure 1). Also, we learned some hunters put more effort into deer harvest than others (Figure 2). This could be because some hunters are actively targeting does, while some are only buck hunting and have no interest in killing a doe.

Figure 2: Man Hours Per Harvested Deer By Hunter (Bar Chart showing varied effort of hunters put into deer harvest)

Figure 3: Number of Deer Harvested Per Week Of Deer Season. (Bar Chart showing monthly breakdown of harvest segmented between Bucks and Does)

There is an incentive to harvest does. A hunter can gain preference points for the next season’s draw if they harvest does. We noticed there is a peak in buck and doe harvest (Figure 3) during rifle season (late November through early December) but the effort (harvest per hour) does not change very much during that time (Figure 4). This is a product of more people spending more time hunting. However, there was another spike in doe harvest in mid-December and a corresponding increase in hunter efficiency. This could be because does were moving more compared to earlier, during rifle season. However, it could also be because hunters were focused on doe harvest during December, when bucks were not legal with a gun, and were more apt to harvest a doe when presented with an opportunity. Maybe mid-December is a good time to focus on doe harvest.

Figure 4: Deer Harvest Per Effort Over Oklahoma Deer Season (Line Graph)

Find Hunters to Match Your Management

So how does all this impact deer population management on your property? Bottom line is it takes time to harvest deer. It takes more time to harvest deer with a bow than a rifle. Some hunters will harvest more does than others. If doe harvest is a focus of your management, find hunters who want to harvest does and don’t pass up opportunities when they are available.

Doe standing in an open tall grass field

Will Moseley has worked as a wildlife and fisheries consultant at Noble Research Institute since 2008. He received his bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries management from Texas Tech University and his master’s degree in range and wildlife management from Texas A&M University – Kingsville. His primary interests are centered on using prescribed fire and grazing to improve ecosystem health on rangelands to benefit biodiversity.

Josh Gaskamp serves as the technical consultation manager and a wildlife and range consultant at Noble Research Institute. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University. He joined Noble Research Institute in 2007 after working as a hunting guide and gun-dog trainer on the King Ranch. Gaskamp's research on drop-nets as a potential tool for feral hog control led him to develop the BoarBuster™ suspended corral trap. His areas of interest include habitat management for wildlife, prescribed fire, and feral hog impacts.