Importance of Buck to Doe Ratio: What’s Best?

The buck to doe ratio over much of the United States is probably somewhere around 1 whitetail buck per 3 to 5 adult whitetail does. This ratio is considered satisfactory for good (annual) production and recruitment of white-tailed deer if one is interested in a quick turnover in the herd.

Essentially, a sex ratio in favor of does can increase the size of a whitetail herd quite quickly each year. As a result, many young bucks and does are often available for harvest each year. A ratio highly skewed towards females is good for maximum deer production, but it’s not necessarily beneficial for optimal quality production. A population skewed towards doe deer is hard on bucks.

What's the Best Buck to Doe Ratio?

Buck to Doe Ratio in Perspective

Thoughts on the ideal buck to doe ratio are quite varied and somewhat controversial in some cases. Depending upon the part of the country you are located, the experiences of the person you are talking with, and a person’s general management philosophies, you will most likely get different answers from every single person you discuss the topic with.

They may all be correct under certain circumstance. The fact is there is no single correct answer for every property out there. However, there are some rules of thumb that may help with the management of the local deer herd.

Deer Sex Ratio: An Example

If a manager wants to harvest a high number of white-tailed deer each year then maintaining many more does than bucks will definitely get you there. For example, let’s say your hunting property is 500 acres. Assuming the proper carrying capacity for this land is roughly 50 deer (1 deer/10 acres) then a buck to doe ratio of 1:4 would mean your deer herd is comprised of 10 bucks and 40 does.

If the annual fawn production, fawn crop is 50 percent then that equates to 20 fawns survive through the summer and into the fall. With this number in mind, the manager must now remove an excess of 20 deer on the property come fall hunting season to keep the overall deer population size in check with the carry capacity and available habitat.

In this example, hunters will have to harvest 10 bucks and 10 does each year to maintain a sex ratio of 1:4 and in order keep the deer population and the proper density. This sounds pretty good since a lot of bucks and does will need to be shot each year (opportunity!), but it will definitely limit the number of mature bucks in the population.

Buck to doe ratio is very important!

Tightening Up the Ratio

Now, let’s change the scenario. If a manager wants to maintain better quality bucks and have an improved buck age structure, then consider lowering the buck to doe ratio on the property to around to 1:2. This would maintain the herd on our hypothetical 500 acres at 17 bucks and 33 does.

Under these conditions, a fawn crop of 50 percent puts annual fawn production at only 16 animals. With continued herd management in mind, a 1:2 sex ratio can be maintained by harvesting roughly 8 bucks and 8 does each year. It also allows the manager to leave some bucks to grow on the property while also maintaining a proper deer density for the example area, 1 deer for every 10 acres.

1:1 Ratio?

The above examples illustrate how the number of both males and females plays into a whitetail management program. Under a managed situation with a deer herd at carrying capacity the hunter’s annual harvest equals the number of fawns produced by the herd that year.

So, can we take it a bit further? In this example let’s say we want to promoteĀ an evenĀ better age structure in the buck segment of the herd. Let’s consider shooting for a 1:1 sex ratio, so just 1 buck for every 1 doe.

Okay, back to the hypothetical ranch. The 50 deer on the ranch would now consist of 25 bucks and 25 does. A 50 percent fawn crop means only about 12 fawns. This number looks low compared to the numbers of fawns produced in the prior example, but keep this in mind.

To keep the deer population in check under a 1:1 ratio hunters only need to remove 12 deer, 6 bucks and 6 does. This makes the deer management program a bit easier with respect to total deer harvest because you don’t need to remove as many deer, but the real reward is the number of older age class bucks found within the herd.

Remember, with a ratio of 1:4 ratio we had to shoot all of the adult buck herd annually to maintain the proper number of deer on a ranch. This equates to shooting nothing but 1 1/2 year old (yearling) bucks every year.

A sex ratio closer to 1:1 means hunters need to harvest 6 of the 25 available bucks on the property to maintain the deer herd. So instead of shooting 10 yearling bucks under a 1:4 ratio, hunters are now able to shoot more mature bucks that are likely much better in quality.

Best Buck to Doe Ratio

The deer herd examples above are intended to illustrate how the number of bucks, does and fawns interact on an annual basis. A 50 percent annual fawn crop was chosen because that’s about what it averages in my part of the world. Some years are a better, some worse.

Fawn survival is something that should be considered when thinking about a deer management program. Maintaining the total deer population within the carrying capacity of the habitat will go a long ways towards keeping the whitetail using your property in good condition and will increase fawn survival.

What’s the best buck to doe ratio for your property? The answer depends on the goals of property owner and/or hunters and must take into account many other variables. First, does the size of the property lend itself to some level of deer population management? Other factors that should be considered on a property include:

  • Deer density (carrying capacity)
  • Average annual fawn production
  • Desired total annual deer harvest
  • Desired annual buck harvest
  • Desired annual buck quality
  • Deer harvest on adjacent lands

The buck to doe ratio is a key parameter for the management of a white-tailed deer herd. Decide on a place to start using the above considerations and then manage the herd to get there. That may mean shooting deer or not shooting deer. Once there, evaluate the results of your management actions and adjust according. That’s what management is all about, adapting to the current situation to get to a desired situation.

Do not fall victim to believing that a 1:1 buck to doe ratio is best for your property. Maybe, maybe not. With the proper number of deer on a property and a sex ratio that is closer together the quality of bucks on a property will improve because of adequate food resources, lower energy expenditure during the breeding season, and improved age structure. Maintaining deer numbers will become achievable. The buck to doe ratio does make a difference.

14 Replies to “Importance of Buck to Doe Ratio: What’s Best?”

  1. I totally agree with the buck to doe ratios of the deer in our area. We need to harvest more and more doe to get the buck to doe ratio back to where it needs to be.

  2. In theory this all seems to work well, here is where the flaw comes into play. If you get rid of the girls, you no longer have the boys coming around. We started this management practice a few years ago and the more does we have taken out, the fewer deer we see period. Our buck population does not seem to be increasing, but rather decreasing. What attracts the bucks during the rutting season, yea, that’s right, the does do. We will still harvest a few does for meat, but we’re done with the “big doe kill” every winter.

  3. It’s true “Not Agreeing,” you can’t go with a heavy doe harvest if it’s not warranted. The most important factor is keeping the proper deer density for the habitat then getting the buck to doe ratio to the desired level to meet your management objectives. Do you conduct deer surveys to estimate density and population size? Many hunters see more bucks when the buck to doe ratio is low (as in closer to 1:1). However, it sounds like you you have a high number of does compared to bucks? You may be harvesting too many bucks each year. My suggestion would be to reduce buck harvest and perhaps both buck and doe harvests if the deer density is low.

  4. We work with a state wildlife biologist. His suggestion is to get the buck to doe ratio to 1:2. I have a concern. Our fawn recruitment this past year was .30. With that kind of recruitment, given drought or disease along with predator and other natural causes of death, shouldn’t we desire a higher ratio? Thanks!

  5. DFWR–The biologist may very well be correct, but although the buck to doe ratio is important, the deer density is even more important in whitetail deer management. If the number of deer on your property is held constant, then more does per bucks means fewer total bucks. Keep in mind that to maintain healthy age structure in your buck herd you can harvest no more than 20% of the bucks annually.

    Another factor to keep in mind is that habitat is integral part of whitetail reproduction. Fawn production will vary by year because “wet” years typically produce better fawn crops than dry years, but good habitat will usually produce more fawns that poor habitat, regardless of precipitation. My recommendation would be to stay the course.

  6. Thanks! We’ll keep on keepin’ on. I’m just worried that by reducing our doe population with a low fawn recruitment, we’ll wake up some day with no deer. However, we’ll stick with his advice.

  7. DFWR- As long as you keep surveying the whitetail herd, keep the total deer number at the proper level for the property, and maintain the buck to doe ratio at 1:2, you should not have to worry about not having deer.

    In addition, fewer does usually tightens the fawning dates, increases the amount of food per animal, and leads to better fawn crops. This year was particulary dry, so even the best properties and even those that provide free-choice supplemental feed saw much lower fawn crops. Tracking the herd through surveys on an annual basis is the only way to identify these factors and adjust yearly harvest.

  8. I have personally observed and hunted public and private properties in Oklahoma where the wildlife department has blanket laws that now allow doe harvest throughout all seasons on all private property. Most properties have no management and no deer surveys and yet the so-called game biologists insist on promoting doe killing.

    On many properties the deer herd becomes extinct in just a few years at the prompting of the wildlife department while on public land very limited doe harvest is allowed.

    1. Blanket application of “kill all does” philosophy will extinct your local deer herd if you do not have excess deer to harvest. This actually happened on some of my land and it has taken 3 years of no doe harvest to start seeing deer again. Trail cams indicate about a 1:1 buck doe ratio, although many are still small bucks.

    2. DO NOT be deceived, if your hunting land is not managed, DO NOT kill every deer you see. Doe hunts ONLY IMPROVE THE HERD WHEN THERE ARE EXCESS DEER NUMBERS or EXCESS DOE TO BUCK RATIO.

    Oklahoma has a decent deer herd but in areas where even moderate hunting pressure exists and does are indiscriminately harvested, the deer population will drop to ZERO!

    I also raise cattle and it would be stupid to go out and shoot all my heifers and cows and expect to maintain a herd of animals. With cattle the ratios are different, but forage management and preservation of reproductive volumes must be managed.

    Those who promote across the board doe harvests without other deer management practices are not experts they have other motives for reducing deer herds to zero. Insurance lobbies are probably at the bottom of most doe harvest laws instead of deer management in Oklahoma.

  9. Andy, I could not agree with you more. Deer management is about managing a deer herd, not shooting bucks and does simply because they are legal game. It sounds like you may have thought the game laws were in your best interest when you shot all your does off.

    In reality, hunting regulations in most states manage deer populations based on regional averages. If your property/area had a lower deer density or offered less than average deer habitat, then it would not be in your best interest to harvest any deer.

  10. I can only speak for myself but it was more of a case of “not thinking at all” than thinking the doe killing was best for my land. The general idea for doe harvest in Oklahoma seemed to be “there are too many deer everywhere, kill all you see.” While this seems ok in some parts of the state and in urbanized fringe areas where hunting is nil or very limited, deer numbers in many areas were reduced to the point that it was difficult even to fill a doe tag.

    Private landowners are gradually becoming “land managers” (this is not to say that some good land managers and good management on public lands such as refuges was not already an is going on) although most had to experience the same startling realization that I did, that “kill all does” is not an accross the board good practice for managing a deer herd. The doe harvest must be based on habitat and deer density as well as buck to doe ratios.

    On both of my hunting areas (within the past 3 years), without any prompting, neighbors have begun to manage the deer herd based on their habitat management and harvesting based on informal deer surveys. As for the first couple of years, there was not much to survey. Deer numbers were very low and the only way to return to a minimal deer herd was to stop harvesing every doe that walked on the place.

    This has involved at least 10 different landowners in my area and management goals vary depending on the landowner. Some only harvest large bucks and some are harvesting bucks only until the deer quantities get back where they should be. Either way, the quality of hunting in both areas has improved dramatically.

    The one fly in the ointment is that a newer landowner that has a fairly large deer camp is totally convinced that there should be no does and all bucks in order to have a “good” deer herd. I expect that this will take care of any doe management problems for all the neighbors without the need to start killing does again.

    The most obvious thing I noticed when we started leaving the does alone was that during the rut, they became an attractant for bucks from adjacent areas that had fewer does.

    As far as public promotion of deer management in Oklahoma, it is still in the form of “kill all does” as opposed to landowner education and deer herd management based of local or regional needs. Most actual management on private lands here comes from lease hunters or landowner/hunters that either realized the need for site specific herd/habitat management based on experiences like mine, or picked up some essentials from sites like yours, or learning from other hunters.

    Otherwise the general management rule for Oklahoma hunters is “if it is a deer shoot it, especially if it is a doe.” While this may be sustainable in some areas without any formal management (usually areas with mimimal hunting pressure) the areas that are overpopulated with deer are usually the areas where no hunting is allowed.

    In areas with lots of hunting pressure, the deer population is wiped out every year and only gets replenished by deer filtering in from areas that don’t allow deer hunting. It’s not much fun spending a week in a tree with nothing to watch, except for an occasional squirrel or bird. Many Oklahoma hunters have been there. I didn’t like it.

    If you are a person that hunts public land in Oklahoma, there are parts of the state where you have a chance to kill a deer on opening day, and after that, the odds get pretty slim. I am thankful that I no longer have to rely on only on public land and have the chance to learn some real deer management techniques from folks like those here.

    Sadly the only deer management taught by Oklahoma game biologists seems to be “kill all does,” no exceptions. Didn’t work for me.

  11. How do I get an accurate count on our deer (buck to doe ratio)? We lease an 1,800 acre property and are on the d-maps program, but don’t want to harvest too many does. We are not seeing the quality bucks that we should be seeing, especially with the genetics that are in this area. We just got this lease and we are trying to get more quality bucks. The hunters before us were taking bucks that they should have let walk. This area is in south central Oklahoma, if that helps.

  12. Daniel, the best way to estimate the buck to doe ratio, as well as fawn productions, on a property is to perform daylight deer surveys annually in late summer. Additionally, if you want to maintain mature bucks on your property, harvest no more than 20% of the buck herd annually. This includes culls as well as “good” bucks.

  13. We lease a 322 ac track of land in East Middle, Georgia. We have several game cameras located throughout the property and we were quite surprised to see that seemingly our buck to doe ratio seems to be 2 to 3 bucks for every doe. We also noticed a lot of spikes and some with weird shaped and angled antlers, and some where rather large. Any suggestions as to how to turn our ratio around to 1:3 or 4?

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