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How Healthy is your Deer Herd

     Now that we have a basic understanding of some of the disease threats facing whitetail deer across the nation. The real question for land owners and managers across the southeast is how healthy is my deer herd? For many, we assume that since we have not found any dead deer, our deer herd is healthy. But to really understand the health of the herd, we have to get some data to fully understand.

Data collected during last deer season is the beginning of the analysis. This is where good record keeping is critical. As discussed many times before, keeping detailed record of each hunt can really open the eyes of those who manage the land. Information such as, number of deer sighted, number of does, bucks fawns etc. How many were killed is an easy number to grab, but the sightings will tell you much more.

Trends, knowing how deer sightings have changed over time in a specific area or in general. For example, in one region of my property, we have a stand we call “pine lane” two years ago, this stand had an average of seeing 11 deer per sitting. Whether it was morning or afternoon. Last year that number plummeted to 4 deer per sitting. Nothing in the immediate environment changed that was noted, but the number of deer sighted fell dramatically. What led to this decline? Had the deer altered their travel patterns? Did the overall population decline? All of these questions needed to be answered before we can make a good assessment.

Interestingly, on another part of the property, the number of sightings increased by more than double. This information may lead one to conclude that the travel habits of the deer changed or we hunted different stands more often. In order to draw a good conclusion of the status of the herd, we need some clear data.

One of the best methods of gathering good data on your current deer herd is by conducting camera surveys. This is done by dividing your property into a grid. For every thirty to forty acres, establish a large food source or bait pile and hang a camera to monitor this area. After two weeks, go and pull the cards and look at the deer you have and make an assessment. What you will notice at first is that there seem to be a lot of does. But after some studying you begin to recognize specific deer and can begin to count your herd. Getting a good idea of the number of does, bucks and fawns will also help you when you are evaluating your overall herd health.

After a general count is gathered, start making sub groups of your does and bucks. Young does, and mature does. The older does are more successful at breeding and successfully rearing fawns. Gathering information on bucks is also critical. Not only to determine the age and classification of bucks you may want to take during the season, but to see how many bucks and deer in general occupy your property.

In past years I have seen that one three hundred acre parcel held over one hundred deer as full time residents. Currently this same parcel seems to hold about forty deer full time on the property. That is still a pretty high deer density at about 80 deer per square mile. But as long as there is food, cover and water, the deer will stay and will make this their home.

Analyzing data for many is boring and unnecessary, but to get the most from your herd, the more data you have the better the assessment of how well your deer herd is doing.