Our whitetail deer management techniques have changed a lot over the past thirty years in relation with the changing deer herd. Whitetail deer numbers in the entire state of West Virginia have grown considerably and our land has been no exception.
I can recall in the 1970's how excited we were when we would come back in from a hunt and report that we thought that we had heard a deer. When my uncle finally shot a deer in the mid-seventies it amazed us all. We didn't know what to do with it. My dad, uncle and grandfather had skinned plenty of animals before, but never a deer. It had a small 6-point rack but weighed in at the check-in station at over 170 pounds. There wasn't anyone talking about whitetail deer management in those days.
Into the early eighty's the deer population continued to climb and whitetail deer management still wasn't being talked about much. The next deer harvested was a spike that I shot in 1981. In the last 24 years many other deer have been harvested by friends and family and the deer population has soared. In the last 30 years the tables have now turned to where there are now too many deer and whitetail deer management has stepped to the forefront.
My hunting experiences have changed considerably over these years. In the beginning, as a young hunter, I learned from my dad and grandfather. The many hours that they had spent squirrel hunting transferred over to deer hunting and they taught me well. Later I had friends hunt with me and shared many memorable experiences with them. Now after family needs have taken most of the friends in other directions, I now am back to hunting with my family, most notably my son and daughter and a friend turned brother-in-law.
Along this journey my attitudes toward hunting and whitetail deer management have also changed. I have advanced from the excitement of just hearing a deer, to shooting the first buck available, and now watching many bucks before I shoot one, if I do at all. After the early ninety's where we would see many deer, most all of which were does, I decided that it was time to do something about it. Since then most of the deer that I shoot are does, but each hunt comes with its own exciting memories. Doe hunting has now become a new challenge for me. They seldom are alone; thus you always have more than one set of eyes watching you. It’s also great practice with a compound bow. Your skills will be much sharper when that big buck shows up if you’ve harvested a few does.
Our whitetail deer management practices changed when we started shooting does in 1997 after the pictures from our scouting camera revealed that we were overloaded with does. Since then we have shot 27 does and only 10 bucks. Four of these bucks, two 8-points and one 10-point and one 9-point are the four largest antlered bucks that we have taken in the last thirty years. One other fairly large racked 10-point was shot in 1983 by a friend but we don’t have any measurements from this deer. We had noticed that there were larger antlered bucks when the deer population had just started to climb in the eighties and then antler sizes began to decrease as the deer numbers grew too high and we were shooting the young bucks each year.
All of this made us realize that we needed to lower the deer population by shooting does and letting the young bucks grow up. Shooting does is one of the cornerstones of a good whitetail deer management practice.
We are currently doing several different things in an attempt to have a well balanced, healthier deer herd on our farm. Our whitetail deer management practices include:
Letting young bucks grow up.
Planting food plots to help boost the nutrition.
Keep records on the deer harvested and a log of the bucks seen during hunting season.
Leave an area of sanctuary during the hunting season so that the deer are not pressured.
Provide a limited amount of shelled corn with automated wildlife feeders.
On some occasions we also cut down trees to provide browse in the winter and fertilize plants growing along the edges, especially the honeysuckle.
Since changing our whitetail deer management practices we have noticed some changes for the better. We have seen bucks fighting, which we had seldom seen in past years and bucks have started reacting to calling, particularly grunting. We are finding shed antlers now; sheds are hard to find when they’re just spikes. Also the numbers of bucks as compared to does caught on our scouting camera pictures has increased. This tells us that our buck to doe ratio is improving.
On the other hand, we still feel that our total deer numbers are too high. The body weights of the deer we are shooting are still low. The body weights of the three does that we shot in 1997 ranged from 65 to 85 pounds while the weights of the four does in 2004 varied from 60 to 85 pounds. Although we are not deer aging experts we do look at tooth wear to determine the approximate age of the deer. We have been experimenting with the tooth wear aging technique this year. A couple of the does that we’ve shot have had these lower front teeth worn all the way to the gumline. Record Keeping
I believe that the records that we keep have given us a lot of good information and are very important in evaluating our whitetail deer management program. We record every buck that we see during hunting season. We include the date, time, number of points, location, person who saw buck, time, and rack width and characteristics. During the season of 2005 we recorded 60 buck sightings, of course many of these bucks showed up several times. It is neat to look back and see the bucks grow up that we have recorded. The rack characteristics are similar from year to year and allow us to identify many of the deer that we see. Most years I am able to look at this list and figure out an approximate number of different bucks that we have seen.
We have also kept deer harvest data since 1997 and I wish that I had started doing this earlier. This data includes the time, date, number of points, location, hunter, dressed weight, inside antler spread and approximate age. I think that we can tell a lot from the weight data and wish that we had kept track of the weights from the bucks that we had shot several years ago when we first got our scales. The weights of the bucks that we have shot since 1997 have ranged from 72 to 130 pounds. The 72 pound deer was a spike that my 9 year old son shot in 2002. The 130 pound buck was an 8-point that I killed in 2000. I knew that this buck was at least three and one-half years old and most likely a year or two older. I had watched this buck for the two previous years when he was a nice wide 6-point and had found one of his shed antlers in 1998. We also had a few pictures of him from our scouting cameras. It was exciting to harvest him with a bow when he came in to chase a 4-point buck away from some does that were mingling around one of the automatic feeders. One suggestion that I would have for every deer camp would be to buy a set of scales. They provide a lot of information for the little bit they cost.
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