Deer Population Management

The Management of Deer Populations

There are many reasons for interest in white-tailed deer population management. To sustain healthy plant communities, whitetail deer, in addition to domestic livestock populations in the area, must be maintained at or below carrying capacity of the habitat. Carrying capacity is defined as the maximum number of individuals a population can support within local habitat conditions, which include food, water, cover and a space component.

Although the plants that comprise the local habitat benefit directly from reduced deer numbers, it’s not always the primary reason for an interest in whitetail management. For one, it often depends on whom is interested in controlling deer numbers? Landowners, hunters and home or property owners associations may all have different reasons for wanting to remove or harvest white-tailed deer.

Deer Management & Hunting for Habitat Enhancement

The biological carrying capacity of deer is a concept within wildlife management. it is defined as the maximum number of individuals that a given area can support without detrimental effects. Biological carrying capacity for deer is a moving target in that it changes yearly and seasonally. For example, spring time typically provides more vegetation than winter, thereby potentially supporting a larger number of animals.

Biological carrying capacities for an area should be based on the time when resources are lowest, such as during winter. Deer populations may exceed the biological carrying capacity of an area, but with detriment of the plant communities that comprise the habitat found there. The health of the habitat found in such areas can be enhanced through appropriate deer management programs, which could include hunting.

Whitetail Deer Management for Trophy Bucks

The management of deer was once considered just hunting to reduce deer numbers, but more recently deer management has included growing bigger bucks. The desire for larger antlers by hunters has spurred property owners to become more interested in population management from the standpoint of producing large-bodied deer with increased antler size.

Trophy or quality deer management is about not only keeping deer populations at the appropriate level for the habitat, but may also involve supplemental feeding in the form of food plots and pellets with a high protein content. In addition, herd composition factors such as the number of bucks per doe (buck to doe ratio), the number of fawns produced annually and the age structure of the buck herd become very important piece of information in management programs structured towards the management of quality bucks.

Hunting for Deer Population Control

Sometimes population control has little to do with habitat enrichment or growing big bucks. Sometimes controlling deer is really just about controlling the number of deer found in an area. This is often the case in suburban areas where the overpopulation of white-tailed deer causes a number of issues, including automobile-deer accidents, aggressive deer towards people and pets and damage property such as bird feeders, homes and ornamental plants.

Good resources on management of suburban deer:

Although there are many options for the control of urban deer, most are quite expensive. The effective use of the legal hunting season is the most economical way to control suburban deer populations. Harvesting deer during the regular archery and firearm deer hunting seasons may not solve problems completely, but it will be an important step toward long-term damage control.

A very important goal of a deer hunting program on private land should be to harvest the maximum number of adult female deer (does). Killing male deer (bucks) accomplishes little to control the deer population growth. In addition to the reduction in deer densities, hunting combined with pressure can cause the dispersal of large, local concentrations of whitetail deer.

Managing for wildlife and habitat