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Making a Harvest Plan


Daily and season limits for whitetail deer is a hot topic in many parts of the country. In my home state of South Carolina, debate rages annually over the extremely liberal season and bag limits. For example, among the coastal counties, the gun season for whitetails opens August 15 and continues unabated until January 1 of each year. To compound this issue, there is no limit on the number of bucks you can kill. That is not a misprint. There are no daily limits, and no season limits for antlered deer.

These liberal limits make it very hard for land owners and especially land managers to control the harvest. How can I implement quality deer management (QDM) when over on my neighbor’s property they are killing everything that walks? Why put forth the effort of growing mature deer, when next door they are killing spikes and small fork horns? While there are no easy answers to these questions, there are things we can do to ensure we are doing our part. As one wise man once told me, “You are not responsible for things you are not responsible for.” Meaning, while we cannot control the actions of others on their properties, we can do the best we can with ours to ensure quality deer herds.

One method to achieve this is to set reasonable harvest plans. This is best described by explaining a method we adopted over seven years ago and seems to be working well. Here is how our system works. It starts with good camera surveys to determine the number of deer we have on our property. This was covered in another story a few weeks ago. Basically we place a large amount of corn in an area and place a camera over that corn pile. This is done every fifty acres across the property. By doing this we catalog every deer we see, does, bucks and fawns. Once we have a good idea of how many deer we have, we set up a harvest plan.

At any one time, we try and make sure we leave at the end of the year, at least 80% of the does on the property. For our area, that is a carrying capacity of about sixty five deer per square mile. (This is based on food, shelter and water supplies). After we get a number of deer we establish the total number of doe we will allow to be killed annually. Bucks are identified and while we do not establish a list of bucks to kill, we set an overall limit of bucks that can be killed on the property. So for example; in 2013 we established based on our camera surveys that we could kill eleven doe, and six bucks and still maintain a healthy herd. We actually only killed four does and three bucks. What this translated to was that the 2014 season was much better than anticipated.

When this strategy was established, we lost some members of the club who stated unequivocally, “the law says I can kill five bucks, I am going to kill five bucks.” But in practically, with a small club of four members, if we all killed our limit, we would have potentially killed twenty bucks on a property that had barely that many living on it. We would have decimated the overall population. While we realize that other bucks will move in and fawns will mature, we did not want to live on the edge like that.

Since implementing the plan, we have seen a sharp increase in deer sightings, and the quality of the deer killed has gone up as well. The real issue is that everyone has to buy in to the program. We describe it like this, for 2015 we are allowing four bucks to be killed, and nine doe. It is first come, first serve. If I happen to be the first one to kill two bucks, then the rest of the group can only kill two. After the four have been killed, no more bucks can be taken regardless. With one exception, after the limit has been reached, if the ‘buck of a lifetime’ presents an opportunity you can kill it. But it better be a buck of a lifetime!

In addition to the deer quota we establish, we also state clearly that all coyotes are to be shot on sight. Marrying the predator control along with the harvest quota we are well on our way of preserving excellent hunting for years to come.