May Deer Management by TR Michels
During May both bucks and does may begin to move to summer home ranges. Doe’s will begin looking for fawning locations.
Herd Health and Social Structure
More and more hunters are interested in hunting for trophy animals. But, because State game managers are often interested in providing a large, healthy, balanced herd, and not necessarily trophy animals, these hunters are taking it upon themselves to try to increase their chances of seeing a trophy by some type of deer management (sometimes with the emphasis on growing trophies) and improving the habitat. Hunters who are only interested in helping the animals grow bigger racks by providing food plots, minerals and limiting their hunting to larger racked animals often unwittingly improve the quality of the entire herd. Not only will the bucks use the food and minerals, but so will the doe’s and fawns. If the hunter then passes up smaller animals he gives them a chance to mature, develop fully and contribute to the gene pool.
There is no question that deer herds must be managed. Increasing human populations, urban sprawl and changing land practices have led to less available deer habitat while deer herds have continued to increase, which has led to an overpopulation of deer in many areas. This has compelled wildlife managers to issue abundant doe permits each year in order to keep the deer herds within the carrying capacity of the available habitat.
The deer management practices of many wildlife agencies revolve around the need to balance the deer herds in relation to the habitat while still trying to keep deer populations high enough for hunting, with hunting as the primary method of deer reduction. The current practice of keeping deer populations high enough that they can be hunted, and the past management practice of bucks only hunting, combined with the belief by many hunters that they should only shoot bucks if they want to keep deer numbers high, is precisely the reason why there are too many deer, particularly does.
It is usually too many does (as in Minnesota and Wisconsin), not too many bucks in a deer herd that prompts game managers to issue numerous doe permits in the hopes that enough deer will be removed to keep their numbers at acceptable levels. Eventually this becomes a vicious cycle and both the deer and the habitat suffer. The effects of this cycle generally result in low buck: doe ratios and fewer numbers of dominant breeding bucks, which leads to breeding periods that are later, and longer, than they should be, resulting in poor spring survival rates of fawns.
To add to the problem of too many deer, but not enough bucks, the interest in trophy hunting for white-tailed deer has skyrocketed in the past few years. This interest in high scoring whitetail racks by numerous hunters puts added pressure on the already depleted number of large antlered animals, and further reduces the number of available older dominant breeding bucks. Fewer numbers of bucks, particularly older dominants, result in fewer contacts between the does and the priming pheromones deposited by bucks at rubs and scrapes. These priming pheromones are thought to cause the does to come into estrus and help synchronize the rut activity between the doe’s and the bucks. When these pheromones are absent the does may come into estrus from as early as mid-October to as late as January.
In a deer management study by Larry Marchinton between 1981 and 1986, an increase in the buck to doe ratio from 25:100 in 1981-82, to 54:100 in 1983-84 resulted in the average breeding date changing from November 11 in 1981 to October 15 in 1982, almost a month earlier than normal, and the length of the breeding period was shortened from 96 to 43 days. In another study using quality management techniques, the average breeding date occurred almost two months earlier.
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