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Deer Management

Deer management is effort by various agencies — some state governments, private organizations, landowner cooperatives, individual landowners in some cases, and hunters — to control the numbers and quality of deer herds in any given area. The effort involved means providing quality foraging and feed for the deer to supplement what is naturally available if necessary, as well as culling the herds during hunting season to remove weaker members. Ideally, that means targeting does to keep the male/female ratio smaller and eliminating older bucks and some of the weaker yearling bucks, while leaving the younger bucks with larger antlers (indicating genetic strength). In addition, the agencies work together in order to ensure that the deer population does not grow to the point where herds cause ecological imbalance or encroach on cultivated land intended for sustaining humans, especially food crops. This article is simply an overview of what deer management is and how it is accomplished.

Supplemental Feeding

Whatever you choose to do in regards to supplemental feeding, it is always best to do thorough research and find out the policies of your state. For example, the Pennsylvania Game Commission discourages private deer-feeding practices. In some states, there are no deer hunting seasons, so feeding deer can lead to overpopulation, poor social behavior, and an overall decline in the herd health rather than improvement; however, in other areas of the country and done in the right way, it can be beneficial.

By providing supplemental food to the deer, you increase the nutrients they receive throughout the growing season which improves their overall physical health. The summer and winter seasons when natural food is not as easily available are the best times to provide food for them. Summer feeding during the hotter months helps late-nursing does and fawns, as well as helping bucks finish up their antler growth (in preparation for rutting season). Winter feeding enables a better survival rate during the cold months. There are different methods of providing for them, which include cultivating food plots, buying mineral blocks, or buying feed pellets.

Your choice of method depends on where you live and how much effort you are willing to expend. In some parts of the country, the natural ecology will not support food plots. In other parts of the country, the growing season isn't long enough. Mineral blocks can be placed at various locations all over the property. Feed pellets should be spread on the ground in consistent locations at regular time intervals, so the deer will know where to come, but never in excessive quantities.

Maintaining the Herd

Remember that the idea behind deer management is to improve herd health by maintaining a balanced herd size with a balanced median age. In order to do this right, you should try to find out what the deer population is on your property by surveying them. Visit any deer stands on the property and observe quietly so you can get an idea of what the buck to doe ratio is, how many fawns have been birthed, and how many older versus yearling bucks there are. Supplemental feeding can help with the surveying portion of deer management, because you can watch to see what deer show up to feed on the food plots or pellet spreads.

It is a bad idea to maintain a population of deer that is too high for the habitat area because the individuals won't get enough to eat causing them to be underweight in addition to having poor coat health and smaller antler sizes. In addition to the physical condition of the deer, another observation that can mean the numbers have gotten too high is whether the plants in the area are in good health where the deer have been foraging. A large number of plants where the green has been completely stripped is an indication you have too many deer.

Culling the Herd

During hunting season, deer surveys provide a better idea of how many does need to be harvested and which of the bucks (and how many) to take down. Cooperation between various agencies often afford an even better overview of the deer population in your state. This helps governmental agencies determine how many licenses will be issued and what the bag limit is going be each year in the states that do offer a deer hunting season. Different agencies have different ideas of what the ideal numbers should be, but any governmental agencies in your state can offer guidelines for what their best practices are. Just be aware that not everyone agrees on exact ratios and numbers. Again, it is extremely important that you find out the policies in place for the area you live in.

Good deer management practices are beneficial to the deer themselves and hunters, but they also are helpful to farmers and gardeners. As long as the deer population isn't too high and there are plenty of natural and/or supplemental feeding options, deer have less inclination to trespass where they are not wanted and have not been invited.