QDMA: More Bucks than Does Harvested in 2016
Photo by Wide Open Spaces
If you like to educate yourself on all things whitetail deer, there may be no better place to do so than in the pages of QDMA.com. That would be the website of the Quality Deer Management Association. They probably lead the charge when it comes to stewardship and advocacy for deer hunting.
As I am sure many of you do, I follow the QDMA Facebook page. They constantly provide valuable and intriguing information for whitetail lovers. One such article came across my timeline this week, so I wanted to go ahead and share it with you while providing some discussion on the subject.
The article of interest was penned by Kip Adams, who is definitely one of the best people to read if you love deer and deer hunting. Kip's article discussed a profound and worrisome trend regarding whitetail doe harvests. Adams highlighted a worrying decline in antlerless deer harvests over the last few years. Showing that we actually harvested more antlered deer, or bucks, than antlerless deer during the 2016 season.
If you want to check out the full article for yourself, go ahead and click HERE. It's well worth the quick read. It's an important subject and something that we thought deserved more attention and discussion.
Kip uses some very straightforward numbers to illustrate how the antlerless deer harvest has been trending over the last 20 years or so across the majority of deer hunting states in America. Basically all states east of the Rocky Mountains. He shows that buck harvests have remained about the same, but doe harvests have steadily dropped off over the last 15 years or so.
There are a lot of theories as to why hunters are taking less does and more bucks, and we can dig into that later on. First, we should probably highlight why harvesting more bucks than does is a bad thing when it comes to hunting and healthy deer populations.
One major issue in continuing to harvest more bucks than does is the fact that there is a natural imbalance in the buck-to-doe ratio. There will probably always be more does than bucks in the majority of hunting areas across America. In most places, this ratio is incredibly out of whack in favor of antlerless deer. When you continue to harvest bucks and pass on does, the ratio obviously gets more lopsided.
There are already some states with 10, 15, or even 20 to 1 buck-to-doe ratios. Meaning that there are places where you will have 20 does to every 1 buck.
When you have an unhealthy ratio of does to bucks, things get thrown off. The rut can become what a lot of hunters call a "trickle rut". Meaning that the breeding season in certain areas can just linger on for months at a time with little intensity. Creating more serious issues when it comes to rearing fawns the following year, but also discouraging exciting and rewarding deer hunting.
Another big issue in failing to properly manage does comes down to mouths at the dinner table. If every hunter in your county walks out on opening morning and harvests their trophy buck and hangs up the hunting boots for the rest of the year, you can count on an overpopulation issue. Does will continue to give birth and deer numbers will rise. As those numbers rise, habitat and food become scarce. Leading to stressed and unhealthy deer herds, urban areas being infiltrated by deer, and the always prevalent issue of car-and-deer collisions.
This may be a less significant point, but harvesting away on bucks only could lead to a less appealing whitetail hunting scene in America. If all we shoot for a decade or two is antlered deer, you can count on a buck shortage coming soon. When we experience a shortage of antlered deer and trophy bucks, you can count on people having less desire to hunt whitetail deer. Big bucks and healthy antlered deer populations sell tags and keep people inspired to be in the field.
I know that a lot of people are taken back by people like Kip Adams and the QDMA when they harp on the importance of harvesting does, but they are the experts here. I cannot think of a single wildlife biologist in the deer hunting realm that advocates on behalf of shooting more bucks than does. There is a reason for that, and it's rooted in science.
It has been proven by the QDMA and countless others that harvesting does is incredibly beneficial to quality deer management and hunting. It's not about simply wiping every doe in the country off of the map, so don't get it twisted as so many naive folks do. It's about harvesting the proper amount of does, and we are not getting the job done.
Why? Well, your guess is probably as good as mine. If you read Kip's article in full, you will see that he spitballs some ideas on why more bucks than does are being harvested in this modern era. His ideas all make sense, but it's not a straightforward answer.
Too many predators? Sure. Too many trophy hunters influenced by big buck killers on TV? Maybe. Diseases like EHD and CWD? Most definitely. State game laws and harvest goals? Yes! All of these things have influenced the trends that Kip highlights, and a lot of these things are out of the control of deer hunters. With that being said, we can all do our part.
I am not one to lecture other deer hunters about what they should be doing, but there are some guidelines developed by biologists and organizations like the QDMA. Most of those quality deer management guidelines suggest harvesting adequate doe numbers each season. Unfortunately, we don't see an even effort to manage does across the deer hunting community.
Some hunters are dead set on trophy hunting for that mature buck, and that is something we should all strive for. The problem lies within a lot of big buck hunters refusing to harvest any does whatsoever. They will harvest a single buck and then hang it up for the rest of the season.
I'm not saying that those kind of hunters are the problem, because I don't believe that they are. Personally, I believe that harvesting a single mature buck is far more beneficial to the deer herd than harvesting 4 or 5 young bucks in a given area. Something that I see happening far too often in my hunting area of Eastern Ohio. A group of hunters will harvest a handful of immature bucks and call it a day without shooting a single doe. That kind of hunting certainly isn't helping, and I'd venture to say that it's worse than the old trophy hunter by far.
If you're asking me, it probably comes down to good old motivation and education. Not enough hunters are motivated to engage in doe management because they lack the knowledge of its importance. That is something that organizations like the QDMA are working on daily, and we're lucky to have them educating more and more hunters.
Luckily for us hunters, there are solutions to the issues raised in this conversation. Some of them can be solved directly from the deer stand, but only with proper education and information being put out.
It should go without saying that simply harvesting every doe that comes before you is a bad idea. There's more to it. You have to dig deeper to put a finger on the doe population in your specific hunting area. Don't be afraid to consult your state and local resources in order to get a better idea of how many does you should be harvesting per season.
Most states provide some information directly on their DNR's web page, so we can all access something. A lot of states also provide private lands biologists who will come to your property for free to give you some advice. We can't be afraid to consult the experts on these issues.
In the meantime, we'll do our best here at Affiliated Outdoors to relay whatever information we can to help you navigate the waters of quality deer management. We live it and love it.
I'll leave you by encouraging all deer hunters to make a conscientious effort to harvest more antlerless deer this upcoming season. You don't have to tag out or kill every doe you see. Harvesting one or two could be the key on your hunting property.
Believe me, I am a big buck hunter. I won't even pull the trigger unless a buck is over 4 years old and sporting a solid rack. My deer season is dedicated to tracking down big bucks. I can still set aside the beginning of my bow season to knock down a couple of does.
Not only does it put clean venison in my freezer each fall, but it keeps my deer herd in check. It's also a great way to practice before that big buck walks in later in October or November.