Prepare Now to Collect Deer Harvest Data


Scouting is on every serious deer hunter’s agenda as the hot, dry summer gives way to our long-awaited fall hunting season. One of the four cornerstones of QDM is herd monitoring. Many hunters/managers are conducting trail-camera surveys to get a better idea of the herd’s adult sex ratio, deer density, fawn recruitment, and of course, the number of “unique” bucks on their hunting property. Once hunting season begins, it’s time to collect observation data about the deer you see, and harvest data from the deer you kill. To make harvest data collection easier during hunting season, prepare your data collection tools before the season starts.

Check Your Scales

Now is the perfect time to inventory your data-collection materials, and an important step each year is to fine-tune your scales. As you improve habitat and population conditions under QDM, you can expect to see average body weights increase over the seasons. When looking at the range and average weights for each age class of bucks and does it is imperative to attain accurate weights. This involves making sure your scales are well-maintained (oiled) and checking for accuracy. Use known weights to verify your scales’ accuracy and make adjustments if necessary. It’s a good practice to check the scales throughout the season as well. I have witnessed rusty scales with a 5-pound difference, and this can be critical when comparing results from previous hunting seasons. The results of inaccurate weights are compounded when you’re dealing with relatively small sample sizes.

Jawbone Tools

In addition to weight, another critical piece of information to gather is the estimated jawbone age of each deer harvested. Even if you don’t know how to estimate age from tooth wear and replacement, collect the jawbones and they can be aged later by your local wildlife biologist, or you can learn this technique through a three-part video series produced from QDMA.

You’ll need two pieces of equipment to remove jawbones. First, a set of large jawbone shears is needed to disconnect the lower jawbone from the skull. Second, a jawbone extractor makes it very easy to remove the lower jawbone. Both of these tools are available from QDMA. Also, our jawbone aging poster includes detailed information on how to remove a jawbone.

You should also prepare a place to store the lower jawbones once you remove them (see the photo in the Gallery below). Storing them outdoors allows them to dry in the open air, but they should be placed in a wire-mesh cage, wire fish basket, or other container that allows air to circulate but prevents scavengers from stealing the jawbones. Each jawbone should be labeled in a way that allows you to match the estimated age with the other data collected from that particular deer (sex, weight, date of harvest, etc.). QDMA sells harvest data tags with wire attachments that also work well for labeling jawbones.

Other Materials

To complete your harvest data collection, you’ll need a notebook or log book for recording complete data for each deer, and this should be stored in a safe, dry container of some kind that is located close to the place where hunters dress and skin deer. The more convenient it is for hunters to record data, the more likely you are to get complete and accurate information for the entire season. Also, make sure plenty of pens and permanent markers are stored with the record books.

Monitoring your deer herd is like running a successful business. You’ve got to keep good records. Obtaining accurate data on all deer harvested is of paramount importance in determining trends in your harvest data. Take care of this very important item on your checklist and get back to scouting.

About Joe Hamilton

Joe Hamilton is a wildlife biologist and the founder of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). During his nearly 20 years with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Joe helped implement QDM practices on more than 2 million acres. In 2000, he was awarded the Deer Management Career Achievement Award from The Wildlife Society. In 2011, he was named Conservationist of the Year by Budweiser Outdoors. He currently serves as Senior Advisor for QDMA.