Managing Quality Deer Through Harvest Management

In Article by Richard B. "Rick" Taylor

By Rick Taylor, Wildlife Biologist/Associate Broker

While reading a Texas hunting magazine recently, I couldn’t help but notice how many Ranches and Outfitters advertised deer management programs while peddling their trophy white-tailed deer hunts.  Unfortunately, some of the “trophy management” applications that many hunting operations, as well as individual well-meaning hunters, are applying, are very questionable.  They may include harvesting only eight points or better, 18 inches or better spread, antlers outside the ears, and/or old, long-horned spikes.  As a wildlife biologist, I have heard these management schemes from hunters and ranchers for the last thirty-plus years.  Through these types of harvest, they are managing backwards, thus producing LOW-quality bucks, instead of their touted trophies.

“Selective buck harvest is important in quality deer management, but it is extremely important to know what types of bucks to harvest.”

How To Produce Quality Bucks

            To produce quality white-tailed bucks requires three basic ingredients including adequate nutrition, good genetics, and age.  Nutritional requirements are generally met through good range and habitat management, possible supplementation, and if mother nature smiles, adequate rainfall.  Letting the deer grow up to reach maturity and their genetic potential is hard for many hunters, but can be done.   Common sense and a basic knowledge of genetics is the final criteria.  This is where proper buck harvest comes into the program.  Selective buck harvest is important in quality deer management, but it is extremely important to know what types of bucks to harvest.  Historically, in Texas, the constant and generational harvest of the best bucks, regardless of their age and lack of doe harvest has caused the overall buck quality to decline.   But over the last couple decades, this trend has changed, and good quality bucks can be found in all Eco areas of the state.

Age Deer on The Hoof

  To begin harvesting the correct animals, hunters must be able to age deer on the hoof and estimate Boone and Crockett antler scores.  Both require a lot of practice and experience.  Unfortunately, many hunters do not spend enough time in the field, or take the time in their deer stand to adequately learn or hone these skills.  Hence, the landowners or land managers have a reluctance to allow them to make the call.  However, over the last couple decades, more and more hunters are becoming quite adept at judging animals and becoming a valuable tool for landowners whose trust is finally beginning to materialize. 

” In my opinion, when aging bucks on the hoof; IF YOU AREN’T SURE, DON’T SHOOT!

Study. Practice. Debate.

So, this hunting season, spend time studying deer, practice aging on the hoof, estimating, B&C scores, discuss and debate with your compadres, and consider how good that buck will be in a couple more years.  And who knows, in a couple of years you’ll be especially proud of your trophy white-tailed buck.

A General Harvest Strategy

  • MANDATORY DOE HARVEST BASED ON SURVEY AND HERD DATA.  DOES SHOULD BE HARVESTED EARLY IN THE SEASON BEFORE THE RUT BEGINS.  SINCE MOST DOES START BREEDING AT 1.5 YEARS OF AGE, SELECTIVE AGE HARVEST IS NOT A MAJOR CONCERN FOR THE NOVICE.
  • HARVEST ALL SPIKES:  99% OF SPIKES ARE 1.5 YEARS OLD AND MAY NOT GROW UP TO BE AS DESIRABLE AS THEIR COHORTS.  NOTE:  HARVESTING SPIKES IS NOT THE SILVER BULLET TO MANAGEMENT.
  • BUCK HARVEST SHOULD INCLUDE:
    • ALL MATURE 4.5 YR OLD BUCKS WITH 9 POINTS OR LESS.
    • ALL 3.5 YR OLDS WITH LESS THAN 8 POINTS AND/OR NO BROW TINES.
    • 2.5 YR OLDS ARE PROTECTED UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES UNLESS THEY ARE A SPIKE.   THIS IS A PROTECTIVE AGE FOR TO PREVENT AN ACCIDENTAL SUPERIOR 1.5 YEAR OLD FROM BEING HARVESTED.
    • TROPHY BUCKS ARE CLASSIFIED AS 5.5 YRS OLD WITH 10 OR MORE POINTS AND SCORING 145 GROSS BOONE & CROCKETT POINTS