This is Part 5 of the Ground to Gun series with Craig and Neil Dougherty, as they provide excerpts and insights from their newest book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun – A Guide To Hunting and Growing Mature Whitetails”
You can’t understand deer hunting without understanding land. Deer are inextricably linked to the land they inhabit. Land determines how a deer will spend his time, how he will stay alive, and whether or not he will realize his genetic potential. Land also determines how deer move, where they bed, and what they will eat. Connect the dots between understanding the land mature whitetails use, and the ways to hunt them and you’ve begun to realize the “Ground to Gun” philosophy.
By Neil and Craig Dougherty:
Author’s Note: Measuring fawn recruitment is an important task for a whitetail hunter/habitat manager, and now is the time to do it! Read on for more details on how to measure fawn recruitment, then grab your trail cameras and get started on your own property.
If a fawn lives to become part of the adult herd in late summer, we consider it to have been “recruited” into the adult herd. Recruitment levels can be indexed by counting the number of adult does and comparing this to the number of “recruits.” If you count 1 doe and 1 fawn your recruitment index is 1 (about average). The same would be true if you count 10 does and 10 fawns. Ten does to 5 fawns the index is .5 (low). Ten does to 15 fawns the index is 1.5 (high).
The advent of scouting cameras makes establishing recruitment rates relatively simple. We used to stake out food plots and fields to count does and fawns. Now we set cameras on corn piles (where legal). Counting deer on food plots is also a good way to do a recruitment survey. A note of caution: don’t take the survey too early in the year as does often will not bring fawns to a community food source until they are well grown. Counting 6 does and 0 fawns on a June food plot doesn’t mean that no fawns have survived. Chances are there are a handful of fawns back there somewhere bedded in a hay field or under a bush. Mama will bring them out to meet the rest of the deer using that field in due time.
Average recruitment rates are somewhere around 1. Low rates are a fraction of 1 like .3, .4, or .5. High indices are 1.2 or higher. We like to see an average to above average recruitment rate. This way the herd is continuously being restocked with animals. With an average recruitment rate of one recruit per doe, you can remove roughly 30% of the adult does in the herd without significantly lowering the population of the herd. Remove 50% of the does and the population drops. Remove 5% and it will increase. Remove 30% not knowing that the coyotes and bears have taken another 30% of the fawns for the past 3 years and you might be looking at an unintended population reduction.
What’s wrong with too many deer you say? Too many deer leads to too little habitat, and without habitat deer and other wildlife can’t survive. One day you will turn around and ask yourself, “Where have all the deer gone?” The answer will be simple, “They are two miles over the ridge where they have been timbering for the last 5 years” or “They are over on those damn Dougherty’s where they planted all those food plots and cut all those trees.”
Setting doe harvest guidelines is not an exact science. But, if you are in tune with your property’s habitat and have a feel for the numbers of deer using your property, you can do a reasonably good job of balancing the deer population with the available habitat. One thing for sure, you can do a better better job by doing it this way than mindlessly filling doe tags just because the state has issued you one.
It’s important to keep in mind that state agencies are usually dealing with approximations when estimating populations and setting harvest goals. As stated earlier, deer management is part science, part art. Every hunter has the responsibility of understanding the population dynamics of the property they hunt and making conservation driven harvest decisions; it is not just about private land management, the same applies to public lands.
If you are trying to manage the deer numbers on your property you need the tools to do it. Some states do a great job of working with landowner/hunters in this respect, others aren’t so good. Agency biologists have numerous tools at their disposal to manage populations; the most successful tool being those that involve the hunter in the decision-making process. A great example of this is the Deer Management Assistance Program or DMAP.
DMAP is the brain child of Dr. David Guynn of Clemson University who first introduced the concept in the early 80’s. Since then DMAPs have grown in popularity and have been adopted by at least 20 states as an effective tool for improving deer management and involving landowners in the deer management process. DMAP encourages site specific deer management by bringing landowner/hunters and professional deer managers together to set harvest goals for a given location. Together, they evaluate the areas holding capacity (how many deer the property can hold without negatively impacting habitat), the health of the deer (sex, age, weight, antler development), and some additional criteria (local deer issues) and decide how many does (if any) need to be harvested to achieve the landowners goals and objectives. This is generally done on an annual basis. Doe tags are issued to that effect and the landowner/hunter’s job is to fill the tags with does. The tags differ from traditional doe tags as they are issued on a site specific basis to a property (or person responsible for a property) not an individual license holder. To be clear, DMAP is not a crop depredation program where crop growers are allowed to kill deer to reduce crop dam-age; it is a program designed to assist hunters and landowners with more precise, site-specific, population management, and to get landowners and agency people working together.
Our 500-acre property is enrolled in NY’s DMAP program and frankly, our property management program would be seriously handicapped without it. We have relatively high deer densities (roughly 75 deer per sq. mile) on our property due primarily to over 20 years of habitat work. We generally harvest somewhere between 8-12 (Neil, I and guests) does per season, which keeps our population relatively stable. We couldn’t get to this number without having sufficient DMAP permits to get the job done. The standard licensing and application process normally will yield 4 or 5 antlerless tags to our hunting group. Make no mistake; this is all about balancing not just killing. Should a horrible winter, or predator (bears and coyotes) outbreak, or a severe overharvest by local crop growers with depredation permits, reduce our numbers for us we would gladly keep those doe tags in our pockets. That’s what site-specific management is all about; and that’s why it is difficult for states to manage hundreds of thousands of acres at one time.
DMAP programs have generally received positive reviews by both the public and the agencies who serve them. The public learns more about deer management and agencies learn more about the public. And, they both learn more about the deer they collectively manage. From where we sit, this is a win-win and win (the deer win too) situation. Site-specific deer management works, especially if you have enough property to truly manage deer numbers on. It has made us better deer managers and very happy and involved hunters; it keeps us in touch with our state’s wildlife agency. Our neighbors a half mile away haven’t been as lucky. Overpopulations of deer ate up their habitat years ago during the “real hunters don’t shoot does” days. They were seeing 30 deer a day but those 30 deer and a hundred more were gradually eating themselves out of house and home. Sadly, they were blind to what was happening and did nothing to improve the habitat, or decrease deer numbers. Not only has their habitat been totally destroyed (and will remain that way for decades), but so has their deer hunting. They hunt the opener and a day or two more and call it quits for the season. No deer no desire
If you’re interested in learning more about herd management guidelines and the impacts that deer have on their habitat, pick up a copy of the Dougherty’s new book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun“
Quality Deer Management Association CEO Brian Murphy describes this book by saying it “provides detailed insight into what makes a great hunting property and how to consistently harvest mature bucks. It is a clear roadmap to QDM success.”
Pick up a copy today (click here to buy “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun”)