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white-tailed deer

Many hunters and hunt clubs now practice quality deer management on their properties. Learn what’s involved in data collection on harvested deer.

Many hunters now practice what is known as quality deer management (QDM) on their properties. The level of involvement in QDM varies from hunt club to hunt club. Some hunting clubs may impose antler restrictions of various kinds, while others focus on doe harvest, food plots, camera surveys, habitat management, or a combination of these. All of these activities are an important part of taking an active role in managing local deer populations. But how do you know if it is working?

Surprisingly, many hunters and hunt clubs do not know if their QDM programs are working. Some hunters may think or feel that their deer herd is doing better, but how do they actually know? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to know if your investment in habitat improvement and harvest management is paying off? Many hunting clubs invest thousands of dollars and a substantial amount of time each year managing deer but forget the most essential part of any QDM program—collecting data from harvested deer. Without this data, hunting clubs will be at a significant disadvantage when making decisions regarding the management of their deer populations.

A number of techniques are available for gathering information about local deer herds. These include trail cameras, spotlight surveys, hunter observations, drive counts, pellet counts, and harvest data. These techniques, except for harvest data, only provide general estimates of density or sex ratio (and these estimates are often far from accurate) and are of limited use in judging the health of your herd. Density is difficult to measure accurately and changes constantly throughout the year—and from year to year, presenting a moving target for basing management decisions. Additionally, density is not always a good indicator of herd condition. Many other factors such as soils and habitat quality will play an important role in determining deer health at any given density. Data, therefore, should be collected directly from animals to best assess herd condition, hence the need for recording data from harvested deer.

The simplest and most convenient way to evaluate herd condition is with an examination of harvest data. Clearly, it’s better to manage a deer population based on real data than on gut feelings. Your success in deer management will partly depend on the data you collect and your use of those data to make adjustments to your QDM program. This publication provides practical suggestions for collecting biological data from harvested deer and insight as to what this data might mean about the health of your deer herd.

Learn more in the complete publication, Managing White-tailed Deer Collecting Data from Harvested Deer, ANR-1412.

Hunters may also download the Deer Data Collection Sheet, part of ANR-1412.

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