When it comes to deer and deer hunting, many of us like to draw that proverbial line in the sand. It’s that line you just won’t cross, no matter what the potential benefits might be.
For some hunters, it’s a tactic. For some managers, it’s a specific practice. As the years tick by, it seems that most of us whitetail fanatics have reached a tipping point.
Earlier this year, as San Antonians celebrated their independence in the revered Alamo, some 420 deer enthusiasts gathered for the 33rd annual meeting of the Southeast Deer Study Group right across the street in the fabled Menger Hotel. The meeting’s theme: As a whole, has modern deer management progressed to that line in the sand?
Dr. Robert Brown, professional member of the Boone and Crockett Club and present dean of the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, addressed the progression of deer hunting and management. Brown’s “line in the sand” was actually a list of hunting activities, beginning with weaponry and terminating with high fences. Whenever these topics are addressed to his students, weapons, camouflage, scopes, tree stands — even calls — produce little negative feedback. However, he said items placed on the lower portion of “the line” — such as lasers, attractants, bait, dogs and high fences — realize little, if no acceptance.
Brown unquestionably defended fair chase and the North American Game Policy, exercising concerns for the progression toward private ownership of wildlife when only the wealth of society would be privy to what we consider our heritage.
The landowners’ perspective on intensive deer management was delivered by Texas landowner and deer management practitioner Stuart Stedman. As the owner/manager of a 40,000-acre ranch in the golden triangle of South Texas, Stedman is well known in the whitetail research arena. He is not only inquisitive; he backs up his philosophies by supporting a substantial number of deer research projects conducted by inveterate deer researcher Charlie DeYoung of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.
Stedman’s insatiable desire to learn as much as possible about trophy buck production originated in the early 1980s when he harvested an outstanding deer on his low-fenced property. At the time, Stedman’s buck, which gross-scored 236 inches and netted 227, was the largest shot in Texas for more than 25 years. As a result, Stedman established a goal to produce outstanding bucks in abundance.
Initially, he reduced the deer population by removing does and harvesting spike-antlered males. Stedman acknowledge the fact that this aspect was enjoyable. He said he believed he was accomplishing one of his objectives. However, after years of dedicated effort, he failed to see any significant increase in antler size.
Dealing with property located in a semi-arid region characterized by ubiquitous drought, Stedman investigated the impact of drought and found that precipitation occurring in March and April can impact antler growth. However, rainfall is unpredictable and, more importantly, undependable. Over time, he realized that culling was minimally effective and nutrition remained paramount to the development of outstanding antlers.
As a result, in 2001, Stedman high-fenced a 1,000-acre portion of his ranch, removed 95 percent of the existing buck population and intensified the feeding program to one feeder per 100 acres. He also acquired a trap, transport, and transplant (TTT) permit, facilitating his ability to capture the largest bucks and releasing them into the experimental area.
Stedman also acquired a deer management permit (DMP) and built two DMP pens to enhance the breeding potential of phenotypically desirable bucks. As a result, he now realizes larger-racked 3-year-olds and a substantial number of bucks that gross score in excess of 170 inches. But even though he has realized an increase in antler size, he acknowledges the fact that he has failed to develop another monster like the one he harvested years ago.
The fact remains that intensive deer management can augment antler quality, but it remains dependent on a variety of variables which make it a challenging endeavor that when shared with others can assist all deer advocates in learning more about the whitetail, regardless where we live or how small of an area we hunt.
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