Small Acreage Deer Management: Part 2

As mentioned in the first part of this two part series on small acreage deer management, selective deer harvest on properties less than 500 acres in size is difficult to control because most deer in the area will have home ranges that encompass neighboring ranches. The best remedy for combating the small acreage dilemma is to find cooperative, adjacent ranches that can increase the quantity, and ideally quality, of land under a common white-tailed deer management program. Increasing the reach of a management program should be the first priority of any small ranch owner, or even large ranch owner, but I also want to touch on some of the other important deer herd issues that were asked about in the first part of this series — estrus cycles, spikes, and buck to doe ratio.

First, with regard to the estrus cycles of deer, whitetail does cycle every 28 days. Late-born fawns are the products of does that cycle later than normal or does that were bred on their second or third estrus cycle into the breeding season. Although born later than usual, late-born whitetail fawns are not genetically inferior to fawns born earlier in the fawning season. Furthermore, research has shown that fawning date is not a factor in the antler production of yearling (1 1/2 year old) white-tailed bucks. Although genes are genes and can not be changed, antler production can be influenced by environmental conditions.

Small Acreage Deer Management

This takes us to the long-debated discussion about spike bucks. Despite the fact that some hunters believe spike bucks should not be harvested, you will not be doing your deer management program any favors by leaving spike-antlered yearling bucks on the landscape. Above, I mentioned that environmental conditions can influence antler quality. This is true for all buck age classes, but recent research has shown that even on poor diets, which simulated poor habitat conditions, some of the yearling bucks in the study were still 5, 6, 7, and 8-point deer — and fawning date was not a factor. Although 95% of spike bucks are yearlings (1 1/2 years old), any spike buck, regardless of age, should be removed.

If you still need convincing, I will use an example from the commercial deer breeding world. There is not a single whitetail breeder out there lining up to buy spike-antlered yearling bucks when 8, 9, and 10-point yearlings are available. Why? Because they, like you, know that antler characteristics are highly heritable. By the way, 8, 9, and 10-point yearlings occur in the wild, too, although not as common as yearling bucks with fewer points. The standard operating procedure outside of a deer management program is to shoot the bucks with the most points. Under this scenario, these good bucks get harvested early and are not allowed to pass on their much-desired genetics. Under a managed scenario, high-quality young bucks should be protected and deer with lower quality antlers, such as spikes and 3-point bucks, should be harvested.

I have written about the importance of buck to doe ratio in the past, so make sure to review the previous article for more in-depth information. Buck to doe ratio is very important in determining fawning dates and small acreage managers should shoot for about a 1:2  buck to doe ratio. Larger ranches or game-fenced properties can shoot for a more equal buck to doe ratio (1:1), but smaller ranches should carry a few more does than bucks. In the case of a 1:10 buck to do ratio, it’s probably time to trim down the female segment of the deer herd. Not only will harvesting excess does improve fawning dates by having remaining does bred earlier, but it will increase fawn survival by providing more summer food for nursing does. And better fawn survival means more bucks in the future!


5 Replies to “Small Acreage Deer Management: Part 2”

  1. So after reading this article it brings me to my observations this past few days. I was hunting in the middle of texas on a high fence place (kimble county) I saw many bucks still chasing many young does. Knowing high fence ranches seem to have defferent behaviors than some I noticed several deer still fighting for does. I was even able to call a few up. Now this ranch is FULL of 8-12 points between the age of 2 1/2 to 4 130-155 b&c The observations were awesome. Learning about axis deerand the year round shedding I also saw many gold medal winners comming about 36-38in. I agree with this article and have learned the details seem to follow closely.

  2. I currently manage a 14,000 acre hunting lease in southeast Oklahoma. The owner plans to put a high fence around the total acreage this spring. The property is approximately 25% timber, and rocky pastures. They plan to run 3,500 head of cattle. In addition, in some areas and a lot of traffic going and coming to gas wells. I am sure the owner will not do any food plots or introduce any new whitetail deer for breeding. I currently lease to 36 people with a harvest limit of 2 bucks and 1 doe. In Oklahoma, the game department attempts to run out as many deer as possible with helicopers before the last mile of fence is completed. In your opinion will this lease survive under thest conditions? Please give me some deer management recommendations. Thanks.

  3. The helicopters won’t get them all, but if they run your deer herd down to 200-250 deer or less, then you herd is going take some serious pain if 100 animals are removed annually. Your best bet will be to temporarily reduce the annual buck harvest to 1 mature per hunter and 0 does. On the bright side, any does trapped in the fence will immediately add to the herd when they fawn in the next few months. You may also have to cut the number of hunters.

    Your best bet is to estimate the deer numbers on your property will be to do some spotlight surveys in mid-August. This data will help you estimate deer density, the total number of deer, fawn crops, and the buck to doe ratio. At this point you can make harvest recommendations to achieve your short and long-term goals.

  4. I ENJOY YOUR WEB SITE. HAVING HUNTED LOUISIANA SWAMPS FOR 30 YEARS, THEN MOVING TO THE OZARK MOUNTAINS 15 YRS AGO AND HUNTING AND MANAGING 500 ACRES HERE, I AM CONSTANTLY REMINDED HOW WHITETAILS ARE THE SAME EVERYWHERE IN SOME WAYS AND DIFFERENT IN OTHERS. MOST LOCALS HERE SHOOT THE FIRST DEER THEY SEE. ABOUT 25% DRIVE THE ROADS LOOKING FOR MONSTER BUCKS TO COLLECT THE HORNS AND BACKSTRAP ONLY, SO DEER MANAGEMENT IS DIFFICULT.

    I’M LUCKY TO HAVE NEIGHBORS WHO OWN LARGE TRACKS AROUND ME WHO ALLOW NO HUNTING OR STRICT MANAGEMENT. WE HAVE FOUND HERE THE 1 1/2 -2 1/2 YR BUCKS WITH THE LARGER RACKS USUALLY DO NOT HAVE AS BIG OF BONE STRUCTURE AND SELDOM ARE OVER 150-175 POUNDS WHEN MATURE (LARGE FOR HERE BUT NOT MONSTR). THEY SEEM TO HAVE SPENT TOO MUCH ON RACK AND NOT ENOUGH ON BONE DEVELOPMENT.

    AS A RESULT WHEN MATURE THEY ONLY HAVE MEDIOCRE RACKS. THE ONES WHO START AS SPIKES, BUT HAVE LARGE BODIES PUT ON BODY MASS FOR 3-4 YEARS THEN THEY WORK ON LARGE RACKS. SOMETIMES THEY BECOME THE 200 POUND TROPHIES. WE GO BY BODY SIZE FOR AGE MORE THAN SPIKE OR 8 POINT, ETC. THE RACK THEY HAVE AT 4 1/2 UP IS WHAT’S IMPORTANT. BIG BODIES MAKE BIG RACKS IN OUR SUBSPECIES OF DEER. I WONDER IF THIS MAY HOLD TRUE WITH THE SMALLER BODY DEER.

  5. Elvis, it does not make sense to me that your best bucks, when young, would turn out to be the worst bucks a couple of years later when mature. I’m concerned that maybe the deer are not age you think they are. You are correct in that body conformation, shape, size, etc. is what should be used for determining age and not simply antler size for determining what is harvested and what is not when it comes to deer management. Bigger bodied bucks generally have larger antlers than small bodied bucks. This is GENERALLY true.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *