Is the Plan Legit?
Dave, I knew you’d already “gotten it.” Heck, you’d probably figured a great deal of it out before I was out of diapers, whether you realized it or not. You just gave me the excuse to stress that aspect.
I don’t have time to do this thread justice in a short timetable. So, I pick away at it and am counting on people, such as yourself, to bring up subjects that need more in depth discussion. When one of you give me the opening, I use it as an info dump opportunity.
You’re very luck to have natural movement that lends itself to low impact hunting. There’s only ever been a handful of properties I’ve worked on that were like that.
No doubt, you concluded this, but, if you want deer numbers, you’re almost always better off going with many bedding areas over a few bigger ones. That approach also lends itself to increased daylight movements and time wasting for bucks. The key is just splitting their creation between locations that they either don’t hurt or they actually help hunting.
You also bring up a fantastic and critical point. I firmly believe, when trying to manage deer, the first goal simply must be to get numbers to your property’s goal. If your numbers are well below goal, you aren’t going to have many bucks to hunt, regardless of the age class you’re after.
I know this is akin to swearing here, but forget about shooting does and more mature bucks, in that situation. Sure, if Mr. Big walks by, no one is going to blame you for killing him. However, what you really want to shoot to fill the freezer with are nubbin and 1.5 year old bucks, before they disperse. They cost your property nothing in terms of long term deer numbers, as they are going to leave anyway. Leave the does alone, regardless of where they live, are coming from or going.
Now, as you start getting closer to population goals, you can start taking out some does. At that point, one may begin by targeting those that go back and forth between you and the neighbors. That naturally lends itself to low impact hunting of the edges and promotes the removal of the potentially most troublesome does to your goals of saving/growing big bucks. You are concentrating does on your property, while reducing the temptations to cross the line. The bucks still will, but even deciding not to cross 1 time can make the difference between him living another year, you killing him or him being killed by the neighbors.
As the does start getting above goal, you can then begin to remove some interior does, targeting those with nubbin bucks. Doing so increases the odds of them staying on their birth range.
As all of this is going on, you are trying to get more bucks to an older age class, but you aren’t overly concerned about their antler potential. You’re really just trying to get the age structure and a good number of them. Getting that age structure is important, as bucks act much like inner city gangs. They tend to divide up the turf between themselves and generally stick to their areas, as most really don’t want to risk potentially deadly fights more than they have to.
Now, I’m not pretending that they will never leave their areas, but I have become convinced that when there are higher numbers of mature bucks that they actually have a strong tendency to shrink their home ranges and become more the home body types than when the numbers/competition is low.
All through this building process, you certainly can hunt any big boys you have running around. It’s just that it doesn’t matter much what level of potential the buck has, as you have plenty of slots available for bucks to fill.
That changes when you get to higher deer numbers and start achieving a better buck age dynamic. At that point, you do have competition for limited slots that mature bucks can fill.
No matter how you setup a property, you will have a cap on how many truly mature bucks you can hold, particularly how many bucks that strive to be dominant. There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that you can hold more by creating sections that offer all a buck could want, as opposed to either one or two primary cover, watering or feeding areas…Or simply trying to lead them in circles around a property. Both of those approaches increase competition for limited/concentrated coveted resources (food/water/cover/does), as opposed to reduce/spread it out more.
So, once one starts getting closer to having more mature bucks than slots to fill, that’s when you begin trying to manage more for potential than pure age. Let’s say up to this point, your goal was 3.5 yr old bucks. Before you get to the competition stage, any and every 3.5 is fair game.
You’ve succeeded. You’ve got to the point where shooting a 3.5 is almost an expectation and some of them are now getting to 4.5 and even 5.5+ isn’t out of the question.
That’s when you finally start worrying about managing bucks for more than age. You set the top 50% of 3.5s off limits, trying to get them to 4.5. Now, you have the low end 3.5s and all the 4.5+s to hunt, and each of the low enders you take out increases the odds of bucks with the most antler potential filling the available slots in the dominance hierarchy, instead of getting pushed out to the neighbors.
Gauging potential is part art and part science. You will be wrong on occasion. Some 3.5s on the hit list that made it through will surprise you with a growth explosion and some you had high hopes for that got a free pass will underwhelm you.
That said, the 3.5 year old buck I shot pictured below never had good odds of being a slammer. On the flip side, the 3.5 in the cam pic did. In fact, he blew up and exceeded gross Boone at 4.5, as you can see in the pic from the next year. You just keep playing the odds and you win a lot more than you would if you didn’t have an odds stacking strategy.
I need to get to work. So, I’ll tackle managing herds in areas with higher than goal deer numbers at a future date.