Conscious Deer Management

David Hawley

Deer Hunting
You can’t prevent deer from crossing creeks such as this one and walking on to your neighbor’s place. All you can do is properly manage your property so they will not want to leave.
When I was a kid growing up in west Alabama, quality deer management was the last thing that I had on my mind when I went out hunting. I just wanted to harvest a buck, regardless of size. We did not shoot does on my family’s farm during that time, so my first deer were the usual first harvests: two and half year old 4 and 5 points with the occasional basket rack 8 point mixed in. It wasn’t how big they were back then; it was just if you killed them or not so you could go take a Polaroid to your homeroom class on Monday morning and show all of your buddies.

You can’t prevent deer from crossing creeks such as this one and walking on to your neighbor’s place. All you can do is properly manage your property so they will not want to leave.
Somewhere between 10 years old and 23, I shifted from a blood-thirsty adolescent to a conscious deer manager. I realize now that I am a vital component for the long-term management of the deer herd on my family’s 1000 acre farm, and that while external factors may try to impede upon quality deer management (QDM) on my farm, it is up to me to do my part to ensure that all the goals we set are fulfilled.

One of the common problems deer managers face on their property, whether it be small or large, is having neighbors who do not share the same QDM goals and philosophies as you do. It is easy to get frustrated and lower the expectations of your property to meet those established by adjoining landowners. However, this is completely the opposite of what needs to be done.

Setting the Bar Higher Than the Competition

If you watch college football like I do, you know that parody is very much a part of the game. The teams in Division One are more evenly spread out now than they were 50 years ago. The reason that there are so many upsets in college football is that too many good teams “play down” to the competition instead of playing like they are capable of. Deer management is the same way. If you do not make the conscious decision to offer your deer herd more in terms of food and habitat than your neighbors 365 days a year, they may be reaping the rewards of your hard work. I remember when I was younger I used to get sick to my stomach every time I heard a gunshot on our neighbors place. I eventually figured out that I can do little to change how they manage their deer. All I can do is make sure that we are managing our property in a way that makes our property more desirable. It’s like my favorite coach says, if you focus on the things that you are supposed to be focused on, the winning will take care of itself!

In looking back at the early days of deer management on our property, the one thing our property lacked was sufficient cover. We are still 50% wildlife habitat and 50% cattle habitat, but compared to years past we simply have more to offer Whitetails. We plant some summer crops and have an aggressive summer supplemental feeding program, and the results are really starting to show. Because I feel that we have done a good job on our property, I no longer worry about what my neighbors are doing. All you can do is take care of your business!

It is important to note that you should take every step possible to work with your neighbors for the better good of the deer herd in your common area. The results of QDM cooperatives speak for themselves, and it’s great to see teamwork in action! If your neighbors are unreceptive, give them time! They will come around when they learn of the success you are having on your property.

To pass or not to pass

When I was younger, one of the common justifications I had for harvesting a young buck was “when the rut comes he’s just going to run over there and get shot.” It really was a sad and selfish attitude, and one that I am glad I shed.

David Hawley
The author with a 2007 management deer taken off his family’s west central Alabama farm.
Last year I was hunting during the rut in a creek bottom I lovingly call “Cottonmouth Bottom” due to the number of evil reptiles that live there in the summer months. Needless to say I do not scout there when it is warm! It was one of those perfect mornings: low 30’s, bluebird skies, and a steady north wind. Bucks were on the move, and one deer in particular really put me into a complex. He was a good three and a half year old eight point that would have been a trophy in most people’s book. I had an easy 20 yard shot at him and thought several times of taking it. The voice in my head said “look where he’s heading. He’s going to cross the river and get shot!” I decided to pass on him because I had set my personal standards higher than that. I was not going to shoot a deer just out of fear that someone else would.

A little later that month, someone did kill that deer, and I was very excited for them. Did remorse for not taking the buck set in? No, because I had decided that I was only going to take four and half year olds or sure-fire management bucks. I couldn’t worry about what other people were going to do; I wanted to make sure I was going to do my part and hopefully lead by example.

The fact is that I will probably get wrapped up in the emotions of the hunt and harvest a deer that I shouldn’t in the future. It is going to happen to everyone! The thing that I suggest to do is to clearly identify your personal harvest goals long before the hunt so that when the deer shows up, you will not be in such a dilemma on figuring out if he is the one or not. I personally go more on body size and age than antlers. My justification for this is that if a deer is four and half or older, he is either a shooter buck or a management deer because he is at the age where most of his potential should be realized. Since doing this, I automatically shift from his antlers to his body as soon as I see him. This way, I do not get wrapped up in antler size and make an emotional decision!

There are plenty to go around

One of the fundamental flaws our deer herd had for a number of years was an extremely skewed buck to doe ratio. Remember our no-doe policy early on? It really came back to bite us! I sat in a field once and saw forty does and no bucks. That just isn’t normal!

Since then, we have implemented an aggressive doe harvest, and have done much of the damage with archery equipment. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the better the buck-doe ratio, the better the overall quality of your deer herd. We now have probably five times the bucks we had ten years ago, and the number of mature bucks is dramatically higher. Now mistakes and slip-ups don’t hurt us as badly.

Conscious Conclusions

Janet Montgomery
Janet Montgomery with her first deer, a 4 year old eight point taken off the authors’ family farm. Moments such as these are the rewards of a successful deer management program.
There are certain things in this world that I cannot change: the weather, taxes, and the fact that I will die one day. What I can change are the decisions that I make while I am here to better myself and the people and the things around me. QDM is not just an acronym or even a tool; it is a mindset. It is truly up to each deer hunter to decide if they choose to go above and beyond in managing their property’s resources.

I feel that the path I took from “shooter” to “manager” is like many deer hunters. There comes a point in a deer hunter’s life in which he or she realizes that it is up to them to manage their deer and that no one else can do it for them. When you truly love the land you hunt and all that goes with it, it makes the results of QDM even sweeter!

About the Author: David Hawley is the Franchise Sales Associate for Mossy Oak Properties, a division of Mossy Oak brand camouflage specializing in recreational land brokerage. An avid whitetail hunter, he lives in Livingston, Alabama.