In the Oklahoma deer hunting community there are several misconceptions about managing your whitetail deer herd. One common practice is to prepare for the season by filling your deer feeders the few weeks leading up to deer season with corn, dump out a few bags of attractant or mineral and the deer will flood in to your honey hole. While in some cases this can be effective, does it really benefit your wildlife population as a whole? As Oklahoma hunters, we have a responsibility to do what is best for our wildlife populations, not just what will increase our odds of a successful harvest. Wildlife management in Oklahoma is a year round effort with no shortcuts. While there are many how-to articles and hunting talk forums with tips and tactics on how to maximize the potential of your whitetail deer hunting property, there is no one size fits all answer! The best way to create the deer hunting mecca all Oklahoma deer hunters long to hunt on, is to study your property, study your herd and consult with a local biologist or research organization. The Oklahoma Wildlife Management Association has resources available to assist our members in understanding what deer management questions and help connect them with the right organization to assist in creating their whitetail management plan.
According to the research of Oklahoma Wildlife Management Association president and Noble Research Institute Senior Wildlife and Fisheries Consultant, Mike Porter, there are three main concepts whitetail deer managers should focus on.
Excellent Deer Habitat
Adequate Doe Harvest
Conservative Buck Harvest
These topics might take some Oklahoma deer hunters by surprise. Managing all of our Oklahoma hunting property for deer isn’t as sexy as solely focusing on the areas we hunt. Running cameras on our corn piles and planting food plots that would make a farmer in western Oklahoma proud are two things that can benefit the herd health, but if those are our only two management practices, we are not going to see the health benefits we are shooting for.
The second and third topics fall hand in hand with why they are important, overlooked and misunderstood. Because nobody makes the cover of a magazine or into the record books with the whitetail doe they shot on opening morning of the Oklahoma whitetail deer bow season, doe harvest takes a backseat to the harvest of a buck in most cases. Glory aside, humans are drawn to antlers and horns by nature. Don’t believe me? Take a toddler into a room full of deer sheds or deer mounts and that child is going to try its darndest to play with them. When your son or daughter goes out for their first hunt, if they can choose between a buck or a doe, odds are they will choose the buck regardless of it being a Boone and Crockett record book deer or a spike buck that knocked half his antler off during the summer! We do not want this to be taken as a negative look at harvesting a buck, we want to point out there should be a balance.
“Adequate doe harvest is important to maintain relatively close adult sex ratio, deer abundance within carrying capacity (optimum number that a habitat supports), optimum deer nutrition and good fawn crops. Males have higher mortality rates than females, so doe harvest is necessary to keep adult sex ratio relatively close. A habitat can provide optimum nutrition for only a certain number of deer. When deer numbers increase beyond carrying capacity without adequate doe harvest, deer nutrition declines, which decreases deer health, deer weight, antler size and fawn survival. Although seemingly counterintuitive, more fawns can be recruited into a healthy population with fewer does than a population with overabundant does that exceeds carrying capacity. When a habitat has too many does, inadequate space for additional bucks exists.” (Porter 2016)
Not only is harvesting does pertinent to the overall health of our Oklahoma whitetail deer herds, when we focus on harvesting does in our management plans, it opens up opportunities to share the experience with new hunters without compromising our conservative buck harvest.
“Conservative buck harvest is important for goals emphasizing abundant bucks or large antlers. Age of bucks harvested is less important than total number of bucks harvested. When bucks with large antlers is an important goal, generally less than 15 percent of the buck standing crop should be harvested annually. Depending upon deer density, adult sex ratio and fawn crop, buck harvest rates for this goal are commonly only one buck per 400 to 1,000 acres. Buck harvest rates outside this range may be appropriate in atypical situations such as very productive habitats, distorted sex ratios, etc. Free-ranging bucks tend to grow larger each year they live, and it takes many years for a buck to grow his largest set of antlers.” (Porter, 2016)
Wildlife managers who put the focus on maintaining a healthy herd and take it off harvesting the largest deer on the property, will provide a level of success that is repeatable year after year. Managing your Oklahoma whitetail deer hunting property is not a simple or small task, the three concepts we presented today are just the tip of the iceberg. What I challenge you to do is continue to learn, share your knowledge and work to better all of Oklahoma’s hunting opportunities.
Porter, Mike. “White-Tailed Deer Managers Should Focus on Three Concepts.” Noble Research Institute, 1 Sept. 2016, www.noble.org/news/publications/ag-news-and-views/2016/september/white-tailed-deer-managers-should-focus-on-three-concepts/.