May 21 • 08:57 PM
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The many faces of “Quality” Deer Management

Of late there has been a good deal of talk that we have arrived at a new era in deer hunting. Often mentioned along with that also is that us older hunters are notably slower to conform to these new practices, which is being coined by some as "quality deer management." And as for this later observation by these folks, I know I speak for a good percentage of us older folks when I say (about that) they are right on. You see, we've been around long enough to be wary of those who promote "new and wondrous" ideals.

Make no mistake, thanks to the selective hunting which we old folks implemented and adhered to, you have deer today in both great health and great numbers.

First, of course, there were no restrictions whatsoever. Save for those limits set by each individual, buck, doe, fawn - any and all could be utilized to satisfy the need for food and clothing of each individual and family. So too, there were no restrictions as to the numbers of each that could be used. And then, some savvy, foresighted folks suggested that to maintain ample deer numbers the harvesting of does had to be stopped, while at the same time bucks had to sport at least the one antler of three inches or more. In addition, for years we restricted the taking of bucks to but one per year. And now their numbers, especially of the doe, exploded. And then, some savvy, foresighted folks, seeing that the herd had become dangerously large - to reduce the threat of disease and mass starvation, then pushed for the reduction of doe numbers. And still the deer flourished. Even the Southern Michigan woods and brush lots which had become virtually void of deer, now bristled once again with rubs and scrapes. And then, to great surprise and pleasure of most all who hunt all over Michigan, it was determined that the buck ratio had reached that point where we could afford to take two of them per year.

In that some of us preferred to shoot bucks of any legal size, some of us only the larger antlered bucks, and some of us meat hunters content to take whatever legal deer we felt fitting, make no mistake, the deer thrived. And with that a fact, let's now review some of which is being proposed of this "new era, quality deer management program."

For starters, let's say we did adapt across the board the 3 or 4 point on one side restriction. Even over and above interfering with the views of a whole lot of hunters, young and old, you have to see the potential problem with that. For example, an eight point enters into view sporting only that narrow, little, short tined rack. Unable to determine if it is legal (the three or four points on the one side) you must pass on it. And what you have just done quite possibly, is allowed a deer with inferior genetics go on to breed! And now what happens when that widespread, long, thick tined three or four point comes into view? Right. Down it goes and with it its obviously superior genes (at least for passing on larger antlers)

Another factor that I've found misunderstood about antler size is that the size of the rack and age of the buck at the times it does the breeding contributes to the size of the head gear of its offspring. And that's not so. For example, whether the buck may be a 1 ˝ year-old four point, or a four year-old 12 point, its offspring (given that the doe's genes comply) will sprout headgear at virtually the same rate. So just because you may "let them go and let them grow" the bigger headgear, that does nothing in the way of providing us with the increased production of trophy antlered bucks.

What about those deer with those "inferior" racks? Why are they there?

If really inferior how it is that nature allows for so many of them to remain?

Or is it perhaps because we interfered with nature, letting these smaller racked deer go in favor of taking those with the larger headgear?

Or do they perhaps possess genetics which contributes to the pool superior health and survival from predation traits?

Naturally if you supply deer with all the forage they can eat "culling" out those with the smaller headgear on those private parcels of land you're going to wind up with deer with larger antlers. However, in practicing this which you refer to as quality deer management, aren't you perhaps in the long run putting in jeopardy instead the health and welfare of the entire herd in general?

What if instead of targeting deer with the largest racks or bodies we utilize this trophy taking talent towards the smallest of deer by body size? Yeah, this is what I was told by a savvy DNR wildlife biologist is the ultimate program for quality deer management. And as set back by the notion of that I was, in thinking it over it only makes sense, for not only are these late born or otherwise smaller deer more prone to being lost to winter kill anyway, but our increased loss to predation as well. Do I like the idea, of course not, but if necessary, fine.

What about maintaining that better buck to doe ratio we've been hearing a lot about of late? If it is truly something to be concerned about one way to remedy it would be to go about it the same way we do with our bull and cow elk, issuing buck only permits to some hunters while doe only permits to yet others. And do I like this option? Of course not. But if it has to be it would not deter me from joining in.

It is mentioned also that the downside to this "new era" in hunting is that we would lose yet more folks to hunting. And that I am not so convinced of either. Yes, over the past few years our hunter numbers for various reasons have declined somewhat. However, I feel that those of us who remain aren't about to throw the towel in quite so easily. In fact, right now as at no other time there are numerous individuals and clubs alike seeing that our youth as well as anyone else who has been deprived of the opportunity to participate in this grand old tradition can join up.

About the antlers, yes, I agree thee is nothing more stately than a mature whitetail buck. And yes, we have a number of their antlers in our home. However, you'll find yet other ones in our hand tilled, organic section of our garden, where here they provide addition nutrients to the earth and thus, to our table

Certainly it is good to see that there is so much interest generated concerning the future of our hunting. And could this plan for maintaining a healthy population of deer which we've been using for the past few generations be improved on? Perhaps so. But on the other hand right now it's working. In fact, should we reduce the taking of bucks back down to the one, at the time minimizing the harvesting of does, undoubtedly we could in no time be overrun once again with deer. And as far as relying on "scientific" evidence to improve on this system, you know how that goes. How many times when dealing with nature has nature stepped in to set us straight, wising us up as to how marvelously intertwined yet delicate that balance of life here truly is?

Larry Walter
August 31, 2011

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