If you want to see more deer on your property, you need to understand the top reasons why we don’t see deer while hunting. The underlying answers might surprise you.
Who Doesn’t Want to See More Deer?
What do you think about when I say the word stress? You get stressed out right? Hey, people get stressed out, right? Everyday life, jobs, family, commitments: it puts stress on you. Deer are no different. Deer feel stress from everything, and some of the things are pretty common and pretty obvious. They feel stress from weather; winter weather stress them out. Hot summer weather stresses them out. Insects stress them out. Predators: wolves, coyotes, bears stress them out. Something’s trying to kill them.
But what the No. 1 stressor of a white-tailed deer? None of those things. The No. 1 stressor of a white-tailed deer are other white-tailed deer, and that’s called social stress. In the whitetail herd, social stress is a poorly understood topic among even researchers, but what we know through scientific research is that social stress of deer living on the landscape is the thing that causes them the most stress.
How are they going to live on that habitat? To fully understand how you can pack more deer on the landscape, you have to first realize it has to do deal with population dynamics; it has to do with sex ratios of the deer herd; and it has to deal with the female segment of the whitetail society. The female society is what runs the shop, so to speak. How white-tailed does live on the landscape dictates everything throughout the course of the year, and that’s the thing you need to understand. Think outside of the hunting season when you think of social stress among deer, and how does this affect deer across their entire lives.
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Whitetail does live on the landscape in maternally linked groups. That’s why you see three, four, five, six, 10, 12, 15 antlerless deer at one time on a field. They live together in groups, and the oldest does, the mature does, get to pick, through pecking order, how they live on that landscape. They run the show, as I said, so does are going to pick and choose those spots based off of fawning needs, mostly through spring and summer, so that fawning territory are going to be number one, and second is going to be nutritional needs of the herd. That drives everything. That dictates how bucks live on the landscape. Bucks are still going to live on the landscape, does are going to allow them to live on the landscape, but how they intermingle is how it all going to come together when you’re trying to envision a scenario that will allow you to see more deer on your property at any given time.
More Deer Isn’t Always the Answer
So what can you do to see more deer? Well, how we, as hunters, manage the whitetail population will dictate how many deer we see, not just numbers, but how they’re living on that landscape. This is where it gets a little complicated. When you shatter the age structure of a female segment of a whitetail herd, that affects everything. It affects how deer disperse, where they disperse, which deer are most dominant, which deer are living where. And that’s what we’ve done over the last 15 to 20 years through really heavy antlerless harvests throughout the country.
Antlerless harvests are always going to be needed, but in some places, in a lot of places, we have the deer density down enough to where we can now allow some of these does to live to older age groups. What you see a lot across the country is a 2-1/2-year-old whitetail doe is a matriarch on the landscape. Now, think about that for a second. I hate equating it to people, but that’s like letting the teenagers run the business. When you have a 2-1/2-year-old doe and she’s the matriarch, and then her yearling doe from last year is second in line, you can see how that works. There’s this constant jockeying of position among those females for pecking order, and it’s almost chaos in the deer’s world because nothing is set.
See More Deer by Altering Your Harvest Plan
By knowing how does live on the landscape, we as hunters can better align our strategies when deciding how many antlerless deer we will see and harvest during the hunting season. If you have a lot of deer, you will have more leeway. When you only have one or two small doe groups, you will be better informed when making decisions on how many deer to harvest and which age classes to target.
It’s not super complicated, but it does require a definitive strategy.
— Dan Schmidt is editor-in-chief of Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine and host of Saturday Night Deer Camp on Pursuit Channel. For more of his Whitetail Wisdom insights, follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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Saturday Night Deer Camp is a primetime block of shows kicked off each week with the award-winning Deer & Deer Hunting TV. Hosted by Dan Schmidt, Gordy Krahn, Mark Kayser and Steve Bartylla, the show is in its 14th season and covers everything related to deer hunting, from tactics and strategy to gear, biology, great hunts and more.
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