Tall Tines. Frank the Tank. Lefty. Splits. These were all great bucks I was gunning for last year and I had taken special attention to watch for these deer, document their sightings, and collect their trailcam pictures. I know many of you do the same with your mature, shooter bucks too. But why is it that when it comes to the rest of the herd, we turn a cold shoulder. We disregard trail camera pictures of does and young bucks and when we come in from a night on stand, we tell our buds we saw “just a doe” and then forget about it. Unfortunately, if you’re working to manage your land for quality deer, this attitude is hurting your efforts and keeping your herd from reaching it’s full potential.

It’s incredibly important as a deer hunter and manager to fully understand your deer herd as a whole. Mature bucks, yearling bucks, does and fawns. Having a strong understanding of your population of deer can allow you to better understand trends within your herd, what management strategies are working or not, and in the end help you make the best decisions as a deer hunter and manager. So how do you do this? It’s simple, by performing a deer herd survey. There are several options for doing this, but all of them will help you better understand key pieces of information about your herd. These being age structure, deer density, buck quality, sex ratio, and fawn production. Once you establish this data the first year, you can then compare future data to this baseline and better understand how things are changing and what you then need to change in your strategies as a manager.

So how do you go about conducting a survey of your deer population? Well there are three popular methods that seem to get the most traction from whitetail managers. These being observation data, spotlight counts and trail camera surveys. Lets dive into each briefly. (Spoiler alert: Trail camera surveys are the easiest and most accurate survey option, so make sure you read about and at least consider these!)

Observation Data: This is just like it sounds. By collecting observations and information from deer you actually see, you can determine rough estimates of many population factors. Every time you’re in the woods, collect data such as what stand you’re hunting, the date/time, the number of deer, sex and age of bucks and # of points on each buck. From this data, you can determine things like population, sex ratio and much more. To do this properly, you need to collect a lot of data, enter it into a thorough spread sheet and then perform some analysis.

Spotlight Counts: Spotlight counts are another rough estimator of population data that can be performed using observation data, but these observations are coming at night via spotlighting. These counts are a bit complicated in regards to how you must travel your property to spot deer, how you index the number of deer seen, how you determine the area surveyed and several other variables. But when done properly, this kind of count can provide valuable data. If you’re interested in full details on how to set up a spotlight count, reach out to me and I can send you some more information.

Trail Camera Surveys: Last but certainly not least are trail camera surveys and as I said earlier, this is the most accurate and probably the easiest way to accurately survey your deer herd. A trail camera survey is essentially achieved with a planned, even distribution of cameras across your property that are most often baited to attract high numbers of deer into the area. Cameras are ran for usually about two weeks and then the pictures are tallied and analyzed. Through various analyses and scientific formulas, you can very accurately deduct herd information based on the sample size of deer you capture on camera. So that’s trail camera surveys in a nut shell, but this is a HUGE topic and it needs much more space devoted to it than this. That being said, look for at least one, if not more, posts coming devoted fully to how you can use a trail camera survey to better understand your deer herd going into the 2011 season!

If you remember only one thing after reading this post, let it be that understanding deer herd/population data on your property is vital to your management and hunting success! Work to better understand how your deer herd is doing and the information gained will pay back dividends down the road, as your management decisions improve and consequently the deer do too! Be sure to check back soon for more information about survey techniques, especially observation data, using journals and trailcam surveys.