On the surface, growing bigger bucks seems like a simple process: Pass up little bucks and shoot a few extra does. The result will be more trophy-class bucks, a better buck-to-doe ratio and healthier habitat. Or will it? The truth is, managing hunting land for quality deer isn’t that simple. In fact, it’s a downright complicated process that takes time, commitment, an increased knowledge of deer biology and plenty of land.
“I call it the four corners of QDM,” said Brian Murphy, a certified wildlife biologist and executive director of the Quality Deer Management Association. “You need herd management, habitat management, hunter management and herd monitoring. Without one of those, your QDM goals really can’t be achieved.”
For many hunters, land is the single limiting factor for instituting a successful quality deer management program. The problem, said Murphy, is that deer don’t respect property boundaries and will freely travel off the land you hunt for a variety of reasons. In some regions, bucks have a home range of 400 to 600 acres. In others, it can be as large as 2,000 acres. “Very few bucks stay within their home ranges their entire lives,” said Murphy. “Most will travel a pretty good ways during the rut, which makes them vulnerable to other hunters who might not be interested in a management program.”
In other words, passing up young bucks on a 200-acre farm with the idea of letting them mature will do nothing but feed neighboring hunters a steady diet of small-antlered deer. And those same hunters may refuse to harvest does. That can ultimately boost antlerless deer numbers on your land. The solution, of course, is to talk to the hunters on neighboring properties to see if they would be willing to join you in a QDM program. Some might, but plenty of hunters are content with the first legal buck that walks past their stand.
Murphy said you can see results on as little as 1,000 acres, but the more land you can manage, the better. By providing high-quality forage in the form of food plots and healthy native vegetation, you automatically increase the amount of deer that can survive on your property. However, the purpose of QDM isn’t to boost the whitetail population. The idea is to control numbers at a level that allows for maximum growth potential for both bucks and does.
Food plots can certainly help. They are, however, time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive. Not only will you need some high-dollar equipment, you’ll have to feed that equipment with gas, and feed the seeds you sow with fertilizer and lime.
Then you have to know how many deer you have and how many you want in order to maintain that perfect balance of deer and habitat. Murphy said it’s vital to keep detailed harvest records of all the deer taken off the property.
“You need to record their weight, sex, age, the date of harvest, the deer’s general condition and the harvest location,” he said. “It’s also a good idea to record the circumference at the antler base, the number of points and even the Boone & Crockett score. This harvest data helps determine not only the overall health of your herd, but future management decisions.”
And then there’s the time factor. Murphy said even the best management plan won’t offer any tangible results for at least a couple of years. After that, it’s an ongoing process that takes constant vigilance. In other words, there’s a lot more to producing big deer than letting the little ones walk.