Question: We bought a property for deer hunting in western Oklahoma and would like to ultimately have 300 whitetail deer on the place. The state biologist said the place could hold that many. The surveys we conducted in August estimated that there are just over 200 animals on the property and about 1 buck per doe. The private biologist we hired recommends that we shoot like 18 bucks and just a handful of does as part of our management program. Why should we shoot any deer if the deer population on our property is under the target population size? Shouldn’t we hold off on hunting deer until the numbers get up where we want them?
Response: It’s difficult for me to say exactly why the biologist suggested you remove deer on your property, but there are some general reasons to remove deer even when they are overpopulated. For one, most methods to survey whitetail deer typically underestimate actual deer numbers. Not sure if this is being considered by your hired hand or not, but always something to consider. The property could have 220 or 250 deer. Additional years of survey data as well as harvest data will give you more and better information.
If the biologist suggested the property can hold 300 animals then the herd should currently be in good shape since you have roughly two-thirds of that amount. In order for the deer population to grow the deer harvest will have to be minimized. This makes sense and probably explains why he for management purposes suggested removing only a few does.
Population size is not the only factor to be considered when it comes to the management of deer. Selective buck harvest based on antler characteristics is essential to reach herd improvement goals. Though shooting bucks may decrease the population size in the short term, keep in mind that removing inferior or cull bucks is always a good thing if you are looking to improve deer hunting over the long term. Removing does would reduce the ability of the herd to grow, but if the buck to doe ratio is close to 1:1 then even if you shoot 50 of them, resulting in 1 buck for every 2 does, you will have more than enough bucks to get the job done.
It seems that the biologist’s recommendation is to remove only a few does, which will add fawns to the herd in future years, and probably wants to concentrate on selective buck harvest since there will be more than enough bucks left out there. If bucks with inferior antler characteristics are left to do their thing then it will be even more difficult to manipulate a change in genetics down the road. It’s never to early to cull some bucks for the sake of deer management and herd improvement, even if the whitetail population is under the carrying capacity of the property.