Outdoor Articles

May Deer Management

by Pursue The Outdoors on June 25th, 2005 in Management

Here is what the deer are doing in May. Plus, an overview of the goals of deer management by the states and individuals.

During May buck and doe whitetails may begin to move to their summer home ranges. The does may begin to look for fawning areas. Turkey hunting may still be going on in some areas. While you are scouting and hunting turkeys you can also be deer scouting, figuring out where the deer are at so you can watch them in the fall, when you can determine if there are any big bucks around.

Herd Health and Social Structure

More and more hunters are interested in hunting for trophy animals. But, because game managers are often interested in providing a large, healthy deer herd, not necessarily a balanced herd with trophy animals, these hunters are taking it upon themselves to try to increase their chances of seeing a trophy by practicing some type of deer management (sometimes with the emphasis on growing trophies) and improving the habitat. Hunters who are only interested in helping the animals grow bigger racks by providing food plots, minerals and limiting their hunting to larger racked animals often unwittingly improve the quality of the entire herd. Not only will the bucks use the food and minerals, so will the does and fawns. If the hunter then passes up smaller animals he gives them a chance to mature, develop fully and contribute to the gene pool.

Management Practices

There is no question that deer herds must be managed. Increasing human populations, urban sprawl and changing land practices have led to less available deer habitat, while deer herds have continued to increase, which has led to an overpopulation of deer in many areas. This has compelled wildlife managers to issue abundant doe permits each year in order to keep the deer herds within the carrying capacity of the available habitat.


The deer management practices of many wildlife agencies revolve around the need to balance the deer herds in relation to the habitat while still trying to keep deer populations high enough for hunting, with hunting as the primary method of deer reduction. The current practice of keeping deer populations high enough that they can be hunted, and the past management practice of bucks only hunting, combined with the belief by many hunters that they should only shoot bucks if they want to keep deer numbers high, is one reason why there are too many deer in some areas, particularly does.

It is usually too many does (as in Minnesota and Wisconsin), not too many bucks in a deer herd, that prompts game managers to issue numerous doe permits in the hopes that enough deer will be removed to keep their numbers at acceptable levels. Eventually this becomes a vicious cycle and both the deer and the habitat suffer. The effects of this cycle generally result in low buck:doe ratios and fewer numbers of dominant breeding bucks, which leads to breeding periods that are later and longer than they should be, resulting in poor spring survival rates of fawns.

To add to the problem of too many deer, but not enough bucks, the interest in trophy hunting for white-tailed deer has skyrocketed in the past few years. This interest in high scoring whitetail racks by numerous hunters puts added pressure on the already depleted number of large antlered bucks, and further reduces the number of available older breeding bucks. Fewer numbers of bucks, particularly older dominants, result in fewer contacts between the does and the priming pheromones deposited by bucks at rubs and scrapes. These priming pheromones are thought to cause the does to come into estrus and help synchronize the rut behavior between the does and the bucks. When these pheromones are absent the does may come into estrous from as early as mid-October to as late as January. Studies have shown that whitetail sperm production extends from mid-August through March. Sperm counts increased through October, peaked in November, and dropped almost in half by mid-December. Lower sperm counts in December could result in lower conception rates of the does at that time.

Chronic Wasting Disease

We can no longer talk about deer management without thinking about how Chromic Wasting Disease (CWD) may impact our deer herds and deer hunting. The threat of infectious diseases spreading through deer and elk herds is one reason why some hunters and game managers have been asking for changes in wildlife management policies in some states, or areas of some states, in recent years. While some state game agencies have been managing their deer and elk herds for increased and/or maximum numbers of animals, some hunters and game managers in those states would like to see deer herds managed for more evenly balanced sex ratios, and for herds that are more in line with the carrying capacity of the habitat. The threat of the spread of CWD may now cause game managers in several states to reassess how they manage the deer and elk herds in their areas.

This article contains excerpts from the Deer Manager’s Calendar ($24.95 plus $5.00 S&H), and the Whitetail Addict’s Manual ($19.95 plus $5.00 S&H) by T.R. Michels.

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