Harvesting the Right Number of Deer

March 9, 2012 By: Kip Adams


In other articles, we’ve talked about harvesting the right number of does and bucks in your QDM program. Once you set your harvest goals, it is critical that you monitor the results by collecting harvest and observation data. What you learn will guide you in fine-tuning our harvest goals for your particular situation.

The harvest data you collect will provide an evaluation of your harvest prescriptions. For example, if your goal is to reduce the deer herd, then your herd health indicators (body weights, antler measurements, lactation status, kidney-fat stores, etc.) should improve. If your goal is to shoot 3½-year-old and older bucks, then your harvest records and jawbones will let you know if you’re successful. Also, antler measurements and body characteristics from these bucks will help hunters improve their field judging skills.

The observation data you collect also will substantiate the prescription. For example, if your goal is to increase the deer herd, then your observation data should indicate more deer, including more bucks, does and fawns. With respect to bucks, if your goal is to increase the age structure of the herd, your observation data should confirm this if your management program is using the proper techniques to protect young bucks from harvest. Follow-up trail-camera surveys in subsequent years will be used to verify your observation data.

Fine Tuning Your Prescriptions

After the first year, you can use your harvest data to fine tune your harvest prescriptions. Total the number of adult does (1½ years and older) you harvested, and determine the percentage of this total that was 4½ years and older. In herds where antlerless deer are harvested each year, a good rule of thumb is this percentage should be at least 25 to 30 percent. If hunter effort and the fawn recruitment rate are similar from year to year, you can use this data to estimate whether the deer herd is increasing, stable or decreasing.

Analyze the average weight of bucks and does by age class over time to assess whether the health of the herd is changing. Most properties don’t shoot enough deer to compare weights by age class, but you can combine all does 2½ years and older into a single group and compare their average weight over time. There are numerous other pieces of harvest data you can analyze as well to determine the best way to fine-tune your harvest prescriptions.

Don’t forget about your observation data. You can gain valuable insight into the health and size of a deer herd by analyzing the number of bucks, does and fawns observed per hour of hunting throughout the season and comparing those numbers to previous years. Helpful comparisons are the number of deer observed per hour during archery season, the number observed per hour during firearms season, the number of does observed per buck, and the number of fawns observed per doe.

Finally, don’t forget environmental effects such as boom or bust mast crops, droughts, flooding, severe winter weather or hemorrhagic disease, and the impacts these factors can have on the deer herd.

Fill the Prescription. Repeat.

Be sure to develop your target harvest prescriptions prior to opening day. Use trail-camera survey data to estimate the number of adult bucks and does, and use ballpark harvest estimates if survey data is not available. Assess the size and age structure of the deer herd with respect to management plan goals, and review harvest and observation data, and habitat health data if available. Then, develop a harvest prescription for bucks, does and fawns. Be sure to collect harvest and observation data during hunting season, and repeat the process again next year.

For more on this topic, be sure to see:

How Many Bucks Should I Harvest?

How Many Does Should I Harvest?

About Kip Adams:

Kip Adams of Knoxville, Pennsylvania, is a certified wildlife biologist and NDA's Chief Conservation Officer. He has a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University and a master's in wildlife from the University of New Hampshire. He's also a certified taxidermist. Before joining NDA, Kip was the deer and bear biologist for the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. Kip and his wife Amy have a daughter, Katie, and a son, Bo.