Keeping Deer Numbers Down On Your Property
One mistake that hunters make when they build high fences is not developing a management plan for the deer inside their fences before the fences are erected. If you are considering fencing a piece of property, meet with a wildlife consultant first. Prior to constructing the fence, get the consultant to tell you what type of deer you can expect to produce based on the habitat where you erect the fence. For instance, if you plan to erect a high fence around a 1,000-acre piece of property, the wildlife consultant should be able to tell you how many deer your 1,000 acres can support without damaging the existing habitat. Then you’ll know whether or not your expectations are reasonable for your land. Once you decide how many deer your 1,000 acres can support, then you can determine whether or not you want to erect a high fence.
For example, the smallest piece of property that I now have under fence is 1,800 acres, and I only want one deer per 8 acres. When you do the math, I only can have 225 adult deer on that 1,800 acres. And of the 225 deer, I only want 60 does. The rest of the deer on the land need to be bucks. To keep those numbers, we harvest 30 does and 20 bucks each year from this 1800 acres. I want my bucks to become at least 6-years-old before they are harvested. Every doe on my property has dropped twin fawns after the second year. So I know from experience that by taking 30-adult does every season, I’ll have enough does to produce the number of bucks that I want on my land. And just because the does are having twin fawns does not mean I am actually getting two deer per doe per year. I must factor in predation, disease and natural mortality. Survival rates among the fawns in October are determined by using motion- sensor cameras in August and September. Plus, I keep extensive records of my deer sightings throughout the year.
Keeping Enough Food For The Deer To Eat
There are many different ways to provide forage for the deer on your property. The first and most-important method is making sure you keep your deer herd below the carrying capacity of your land. I keep my deer herd at 60-percent of the land’s carrying capacity. So, if the property I’m managing can carry 100 deer without damaging the habitat, I’ll only carry 60 deer. Then I know there is plenty of food and high quality habitat for those 60 deer. You will also find your does to be at their highest reproductive rate at this stocking level.
Of the 1,800 acres that I have under high-fence management, I plant 10-percent of that land in both warm-and-cool-weather food plots. Since this ranch is in Texas, I know the most-stressful time for the deer occurs during the months of July and August and into the first half of September. Therefore, during this period of time, I feed the deer supplemental food pellets to keep their nutritional level high. I get the best results from Purina’s Antler Max Supplemental Deer Food. These pellets provide 18-percent crude protein. I also feed these pellets to the deer again in the late winter, from the first of February until the middle of March. The rest of the year the deer feed on native browse and the various food plots.
For our cool-weather food plots that are planted in late September and early October, I use Arrowleaf Crimson clover, Cherokee red clover, Louisiana S-1 clover, Tripoli clover, an alfalfa known as Alfa Graze and Yucci clover. I also plant Elbon rye and rye grass mixed in with the clovers. For our spring and summer planting in late-April and early-May, I plant American joint vetch, iron, clay cowpeas, Alfa Graze, deer weed, Alyce clover.
Never Leave the Table Empty
I establish different food plots to provide food for the deer at various times of the year. I also designate various portions of certain food plots for plants that develop at different times of the year. For instance, some of my clover fields are perennials. So when I do a summer planting, I only disc up half of the clover field for the warm-weather crops. I leave half of the field in clover so the deer can continue to come to that field and eat while the warm-weather crops are growing. I try to keep the crops overlapping. Then there is never a time when my green fields don’t have high nutrition forage in them.
When you discuss increasing the nutritional level of a deer herd, someone always asks, “Shouldn’t you put out minerals?” I’ve experimented with minerals and compared the results on properties where I’ve used them with lands where I haven’t. I’ve drawn the conclusion that I haven’t noticed any significant increase in the size of the buck’s racks, the overall health of the deer or the size of the deer’s body in the areas where I’ve used minerals. When new minerals come onto the market, I try them. But to date, I can’t see that the minerals have played a vital role in the success of my deer herd.
Brittingham’s Harvest Prescription
First and foremost, I try to maximize harvest opportunities for young people. I often bring young people to my ranches and give them opportunities to harvest does if they’ve never taken a deer or have taken very few deer. I usually let the youngsters hunt over food plots and from enclosed blinds. This way I have them in a controlled environment, which is very important when you hunt with young hunters. The buck harvest takes place with family members and a limited amount of commercial hunting. I make the buck-harvest decisions based on the buck’s ability to contribute positively to the gene pool of the herd. If we determine that a buck has a genetic characteristic that we want to promote in our herd, that buck will be protected until he is 6-years-old. In his sixth year, he is hunted. Hopefully, he won’t be hunted until late in his sixth year, so he has an opportunity to breed during his sixth year before we take him. However, this doesn’t always happen.
The genetic potential that allows a buck to survive until his sixth year on my property is varied. Here is what a buck needs to not be removed from the herd until he is 6-years-old. He needs to have at least 8 points to possibly make the cut at 3-years-old, if those 8 points are extremely long and well-formed with good length in his main beams, and he needs to be a 10-point at 3 years of age with long tines, plenty of mass and a wide rack. If a buck is more than 10 points, his points don’t have to be as long and his antlers don’t have to be as massive. If a buck has kicker or split tines, I will keep him in the gene pool of the herd.
The size of the deer’s body has no bearing at all on whether or not we allow him to survive until his sixth year on my lands. I don’t care if a buck only weighs 50 pounds, if 10 of those 50 pounds are antlers. As well, the size of the doe we take has no pertinence in our harvest prescription. I know some hunters who prefer not to shoot their big does. But because of my scientific deer-breeder permit, I have studied deer that are privately held in captivity. I have learned that some of the does that produce some of the best buck fawns that grow to be trophy bucks were small does. So I don’t think there is any merit to the notion that if you protect big does, those does will produce big bucks. The most important aspect of your harvest prescription is that once you’ve determined the number of deer to harvest in order to have a healthy herd each season, you need to make sure you harvest the predetermined number of each sex in your harvest prescription.
Another important factor to consider is why 6 years is set as the optimal age to harvest a buck. I’ve seen about 12-percent of the bucks on my property die from natural mortality every year. Therefore, if I start out with 10 bucks, only four of those 10 bucks will survive to be 6-years-old, even behind a WTM fence. If you wait to harvest these bucks until year seven or eight, you may not have any bucks that have survived for you to hunt in those later years. Bucks die each year from disease, fighting, post-rut injuries or poor general health. Some bucks get so run down from rutting that they can’t survive the winter. Even in a controlled environment with plenty of forage, protection and low hunting pressure, you will still lose a lot of your bucks to natural mortality.
To learn more about deer management, you can purchase Jack Brittingham’s Briarwoods Whitetails which includes information about Jack’s deer-management philosophy and shows what you can do to improve a hunting property. Jack’s video Wildlife Food Plot and Feeder Basics explains where to set up food plots, how to plant that food plot, and why to use game feeders so that all these practices will attract deer.