Active herd monitoring supports successful deer management. We have to know where we’ve been and where we’re at to figure out what we want to do with the herd. Two ways to gather information on a deer herd is by harvest data and observation data.
Hunters collect harvest data when processing deer during the season. Less fun, but still helpful, is collecting harvest data from dead deer found any time. Another way to collect information about the deer herd is by collecting observation data. Now, hunters have an excuse to talk about the one that got away! Typically, hunters collect observation data while out hunting. Anybody can collect data any time he or she is observing deer.
Both types of data help provide input into proper deer herd management. Just like they say in the computer world, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Not enough or inaccurate information can result in poor decision-making with a deer herd. Good records support good deer management decisions.
We need enough data for a good understanding of what a herd looks like. We cannot make a decision about what to do with a local herd with too few observations. Without enough records, we cannot make valid summaries about the deer herd. This can happen on small properties. When this happens, QDM practice is to look at data collected over a multiple year period or combine information from adjoining properties. Combined data can better indicate what the herd condition looks like.
Harvest data is data collected when hunters are processing the deer that they have caught. Valid harvest data is crucial for whitetail deer management. Well collected data helps support deer herd management decisions.
Anybody who’s ever had a science lab remembers how important it was to measure everything the right way. Otherwise, you had to fudge the numbers to get what the teacher wanted. Likewise, if hunters don’t collect complete and consistent data about the deer they harvest, the whole process becomes a dog and pony show. Just don’t fudge the numbers like you did back in science class! Otherwise, decisions based on this information can go right out the window.
Because harvest data collection is so important, many states make it mandatory for deer hunters. Recording harvest data requires work for the hunter. Well-placed check stations or processing sheds can help make this easier. Equipped with tools and a place to write stuff down, check stations help make deer processing more convenient. The hope is, if we make it easier to do, more hunters will be willing to do it and do it the right way.
While everybody has their own way of doing things, experience has shown the best way to process deer for harvest data is with a two-person team. One person harvests the deer. The other person records all pertinent data. For does and bucks, hunters normally record the following information:
- Age determined by jawbone size
- Hunter’s name
- Any comments or notes
For bucks, information also includes:
- Antler spread
- Antler length
- Number of points
- Base circumference
- Boone & Crockett score (optional)
Hunters should also record lactation evidence or fetal information for does. Collecting fetal information helps determine the deer rut season peak. How much a deer rut peaks helps a deer management program look at herd health.
With practice, hunters can estimate the age of a whitetail deer by the jawbone. Hunters should keep the jawbone after the season to learn how to age deer by it. An experienced wildlife biologist can share information on how to use the jawbone to determine the deer’s age. The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) also offers information on deer aging.
Harvest sample data helps show a herd’s current condition. Comparing harvest data year to year determines trends in the deer management program. For example, deer quality management might impose antler restrictions to protect young bucks. Consequential harvest data can show if the program is working.
Observational data is what a hunter collects when he or she isn’t directly processing a deer. Observation data can provide important details about the deer herd. This information includes:
- The herd’s size
- Sex ratio of the herd
- Fawn survival rate of the herd
- Age structure of the herd
This information helps can help show if whitetail deer management is working in the area. Observation data on bucks can help when harvest information isn’t applicable. For example, QDM protects some age classes of bucks from harvest. In this case, harvest data would be incomplete for bucks in those age classes.
Just like with harvest data, it’s important to collect observation data accurately. Data should be collected the same way every time in order to compare it to other data. Observation data can be collected year round, not just during the hunting season. Only compare data collected at the same time of the year.
Two ways to collect observation data is hunter reports and remote-sensing cameras. With hunter reports, hunters make records for every whitetail deer they encounter per outing. If a hunter encounters the same animal more than once during a season, he or she should still record the animal. Because observation data is a sample on the herd, it’s not meant to be a complete, accurate head count of all deer on a property. Rather, observation data helps establish the general deer density on a property.
The ratio of bucks, does, and fawns in the herd comes from observation data. When a hunter cannot identify a deer as a buck, doe, or fawn with certainty, he or she should record the deer’s sex or age as “unknown.” Misidentifying animals will cause more problems than having an incomplete picture.
Remote-sensing cameras are another way to collect observation data. Cameras are placed along deer trails or feeding areas. Remote-sensing cameras help:
- Monitor deer at night.
- Record activity in areas where or when hunters are not there.
- Provide photographic references.
These photographs provide information that helps determine deer population information like:
- Herd size
- Buck abundance
- Sex ratio of the herd
- Age structure of the herd
Hunters at the deer camp may even get excited when looking at THESE photographs. They often show that whitetail deer management works when older bucks are caught on film.