Buck numbers year to year

Fair oak

5 year old buck +
Hey guys. For the guys that run lots of cameras on your deer hunting parcels, how do buck numbers usually compare year over year and has anyone else experienced a significant drop-off since Covid? Not looking for specifics just a general idea. Bear with me as this may get long winded…

I purchased my 120 acres in the western UP in January of 2020. I’m surrounded by other 80-160 acre parcels. I had scouted that particular area the previous couple years even forgoing opening days of hunting season to drive around to see where and how many guys were hunting, how many camps had people and just how hunter pressure was spread out. I walked my property several times before deciding it was the property I envisioned. Surrounding Hunting pressure was extremely light as most camps sat empty, some of them even looking run-down. Things would change with the Covid surge!

That 1st year was great. There was buck sign all over the property and we had 15 different bucks on camera. Nothing huge but a few respectable UP bucks nonetheless. I harvested my 1st buck from the property that 1st year, a heavy, dark racked 7 point that I was thrilled with. After I took care of my buck, I drove around to check out the area and scout some national forest close by. I could not believe how things changed in a years time. All the camps were full. Neighboring properties that hadn’t been hunted in close to 10 years according to the previous owner of my property. I couldn’t believe it. It’s great in the grand scheme of things and good for the local economies but what a change that I wasn’t prepared for!

Last year we ended up getting 8 different bucks on camera with only 2 being mature and my group got the big skunk. We go in way before daylight and don’t get back to camp until well after dark. The 1st 3-4 days are almost 12 hour sits.

Fast forward to this year and it’s looking even worse. 5 different bucks so far on camera and the biggest 2 are smallish 2.5 yo.

My questions mainly being, has anyone else noticed a drastic decline in bucks since Covid?

Are my food plots doing more harm than good? My 4 acres of plots are 2nd year plots but the bucks used them during daylight last year. We don’t hunt plots, just movement between them. We only had 1 failed plot the 1st year and I really didn’t do much work on the property.

I honestly don’t believe it’s anything we’ve done but possibly the mature animals don’t like all the activity during the spring and summer. I firmly believe the buck numbers have just plummeted from increased hunting pressure. It’s possible things will just go in cycles. I’m not trying to come off as jerk that thinks other people shouldn’t hunt their property or that they shouldn’t shoot smaller bucks. People can do whatever they choose as long as it’s legal. I will simply put myself in a better position to succeed in accomplishing my goals of being able to hunt mature bucks consistently. If that means selling and finding something that will help me accomplish my goals, so be it. Thanks!
 

356

5 year old buck +
I have cameras on 140 acres, and the buck numbers are about the same for the past years. I am seeing more deer in total based on camera counts, which I attribute to the habitat improvements documented on this forum. The number and quality of bucks has not really changed in this period. I have a one older deer on camera, a couple of 3 year olds, several 2 year olds and lots of 1 1/2 year old bucks--which is about normal for this area.

We just started a deer/habitat coop for our area. Based on what I heard, I believe we may see some improvements, as several expressed interest in passing on the young bucks and focusing more on antler less and 3 year and older bucks. A coop may be something that would help your situation. PM me if you have questions on how I go this started for our area.

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Lots of small bucks...not too many large ones (yet!). More does than any other time in the past ten years...
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Howboutthemdawgs

5 year old buck +
That’s interesting and maybe regional. In the south/mid-south I don’t think Covid changed peoples behaviors a whole lot. I know people I associate with didn’t behave any differently during Covid so we hunted just the same. Then again we didn’t have the shutdowns that places like Michigan did. As far as your buck numbers, it’s probably Occam’s razor. The most likely excuse is the reason. Nothing you are doing wrong, you just have less bucks due to pressure. Not sure the solution honestly. Best I would know to do is create more bedding habitat to go with your food plot work to try to hold some of those bucks when the orange army comes to town.
 

Turkey Creek

5 year old buck +
In my experience with ground I have hunted in the past both scenarios existed. Our family farm seemed to be pretty consistent year to year. 1 to 2 nice more mature type bucks and then a small number of others bucks. With the occasional real dandy every 3-4 years. Another place I hunted and that I felt like got less hunting pressure than around our farm, really swung from year to year. Some years a 1/2 dozen great bucks and then nothing but dinks for a couple of years. That place always threw me on how inconsistent it was.
 

Hoytvectrix

5 year old buck +
Was your property hunted or receiving much activity prior to you purchasing it? I'm sure there are more people hunting since COVID started, but I wouldn't worry too much about that. People will get back to their routines again soon enough.

I'm sure it's the increased activity you have been putting on the place. We had hunted our property for several years prior to planting any food plots, with us only being on the property for a total of 14 days throughout the whole year. There were fewer deer but several more mature bucks. Since planting food plots and my parents moving there, it was an almost immediate decline in opportunities with mature bucks, at least outside the rut.

Since planting your food plots, have you noticed more does? This was the first year where we have been actively managing for numbers, and we will likely be taking 6-8 more does yet this fall. We have noticed fewer bucks in general all summer but they have sure been showing up since mid-September, with increased activity each week.
 

Fair oak

5 year old buck +
Was your property hunted or receiving much activity prior to you purchasing it? I'm sure there are more people hunting since COVID started, but I wouldn't worry too much about that. People will get back to their routines again soon enough.

I'm sure it's the increased activity you have been putting on the place. We had hunted our property for several years prior to planting any food plots, with us only being on the property for a total of 14 days throughout the whole year. There were fewer deer but several more mature bucks. Since planting food plots and my parents moving there, it was an almost immediate decline in opportunities with mature bucks, at least outside the rut.

Since planting your food plots, have you noticed more does? This was the first year where we have been actively managing for numbers, and we will likely be taking 6-8 more does yet this fall. We have noticed fewer bucks in general all summer but they have sure been showing up since mid-September, with increased activity each week.
Yes, my property was hunted a few days each year during bow season and rifle. The previous owner killed decent bucks about every other year.

The doe numbers this year compared to the previous 2 years seems very similar. From what I can gather based on cameras, scouting, hunting, etc. there’s 12-15 does and fawns associating with my 4 plots throughout fall. I try and keep all my cameras time stamps exactly on so I can better gauge numbers.

The 1st year was without plots but still seemed similar to those numbers based on hunter sightings.
 

Fair oak

5 year old buck +
I have cameras on 140 acres, and the buck numbers are about the same for the past years. I am seeing more deer in total based on camera counts, which I attribute to the habitat improvements documented on this forum. The number and quality of bucks has not really changed in this period. I have a one older deer on camera, a couple of 3 year olds, several 2 year olds and lots of 1 1/2 year old bucks--which is about normal for this area.

We just started a deer/habitat coop for our area. Based on what I heard, I believe we may see some improvements, as several expressed interest in passing on the young bucks and focusing more on antler less and 3 year and older bucks. A coop may be something that would help your situation. PM me if you have questions on how I go this started for our area.

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Lots of small bucks...not too many large ones (yet!). More does than any other time in the past ten years...
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Thanks, I’ll reach out! A coop sounds like a great idea and something I’d already been thinking about. Just afraid the idea will be laughed at but worth a shot.
 

356

5 year old buck +
Thanks, I’ll reach out! A coop sounds like a great idea and something I’d already been thinking about. Just afraid the idea will be laughed at but worth a shot.
I too thought no one would be interested, and I was wrong. Two things stood out: 1) The "neighbors" were interested in knowing one another and having the ability to put a name to a face. Most have access to plot maps that are online, so they know the names of neighboring land owners, but really were interested in knowing them for the purpose of watching out for one another 2) Most (not all) are hunters, and were interested in wildlife habitat and conservation. The need for doe harvest surprised some, and was a great insight for those who had been shooting young bucks while passing on every doe.

I failed to mention in my original response that our county is not in a CWD zone, but our deer herd was tested positive for covid, although the state is saying it has not impacted the deer. Hunting pressure was up considerably in 2020, and seemed to return to normal last season.
 

PatinPA

5 year old buck +
With all that pressure I'd make as much cover as I could if I were you. If you have a good spot for it I'd make a 10 acre or so sanctuary.
 

Bszweda

5 year old buck +
Have you compared historical county harvest numbers? I am assuming MI posts that info? I think your area also has potential winter kill, and wolf problems?
 

S.T.Fanatic

5 year old buck +
Guy from work was up to the UP 2 weeks ago. He was blown away by the number of deer he seen. He said they were absolutely everywhere. He talked to a local and was told people arent shooting as many as they use to because of cwd scare.
 

SwampCat

5 year old buck +
My bucks are up this year. Severe drought has them coming to the feed more - not as much natural vegetation.
 

homerj1

5 year old buck +
Basing ownership of a property on two years hunting experiences seems to be very short sighted to me. In the UP, my first assumption would be a neighbor dumped a couple truckloads of sugar beets the second year.
 

bwoods11

5 year old buck +
It could be more activity, some years more bucks get shot? I really think it is cyclical.

In Iowa we lost bucks to EHD, but overall there are still a lot of bucks, just not the age we had before. Minnesota has been about average for buck numbers.
 

Wind Gypsy

5 year old buck +
Fair Oak, my parents purchased 170 acres in the heart of Northern MN wolf country in 2019 and I can relate to your concerns. it is surrounded by public ground that probably sees less human traffic than the private. It is possible that grouse hunters put more traffic on certain portions of adjacent public though. The progression up there has been the following:

2019 - first year plots and some trails cut - fair # of bucks on cam, no success hunting.
2020 - Better plots established, killed what was the best 2.5 or 3.5 YO on camera consistently on the land. There was a better deer i found on adjacent public i was chasing and we got a couple pics of him coming through property at night
2021 - 1 good buck on cam daylighting. The mature buck i was chasing the prior season only got night pics on public and on our land. No deer shot during season. Passed on a bunch of 1.5 yo bucks
2022 - Atrocious cam data. best buck on cam this year is a likely 2.5 yo 7 point. [10/21 edit - Finally a nice buck that I'd be thrilled to shoot showed up last night]

Property has the best food in the area by far but primary hunting is on the food plots which are adjacent to common human travel trails. I fear we are doing more damage than good by attracting deer to areas humans frequently visit only to repel them with the human scent from stands/travel/trail cam checks.

We had the fortune of a litter of 6 or 7 wolf pups making the property home base late summer/early fall too which cant help. They seem to have been roaming more elsewhere lately but i'm sure they'll be back now that native food is getting frost killed and deer will be hitting the plots.

I'm sure things could be better if managed differently up there but I just don't have confidence that deer will ever get comfortable on small properties up there in the big woods where they seemingly can't get stuck in patterns with the high predator #'s. I love the north woods but don't think i'd want to own hunting land there if I had a choice. I get a lot of joy out of covering a lot of public ground and being more mobile.
 
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Wind Gypsy

5 year old buck +
I too thought no one would be interested, and I was wrong. Two things stood out: 1) The "neighbors" were interested in knowing one another and having the ability to put a name to a face. Most have access to plot maps that are online, so they know the names of neighboring land owners, but really were interested in knowing them for the purpose of watching out for one another 2) Most (not all) are hunters, and were interested in wildlife habitat and conservation. The need for doe harvest surprised some, and was a great insight for those who had been shooting young bucks while passing on every doe.

I failed to mention in my original response that our county is not in a CWD zone, but our deer herd was tested positive for covid, although the state is saying it has not impacted the deer. Hunting pressure was up considerably in 2020, and seemed to return to normal last season.

Encouraging. @gunfun13 posted about how he got the co-op conversation started in another thread recently, I'm curious how the conversation started for you and what the talking points and general agreements were among participants?
 

Fair oak

5 year old buck +
Guy from work was up to the UP 2 weeks ago. He was blown away by the number of deer he seen. He said they were absolutely everywhere. He talked to a local and was told people arent shooting as many as they use to because of cwd scare.
There’s definitely pockets of deer, mostly around towns. I’m currently working an hour southeast of my property in Crystal Falls and we see a lot of deer on the morning and evening commutes. Not many when we get away from the towns and very few bucks overall. Doesn’t mean they aren’t there obviously. Interesting on the cwd scare. I don’t hear any talk of that honestly. Maybe it’s more towards Dickinson county.
 

Fair oak

5 year old buck +
Have you compared historical county harvest numbers? I am assuming MI posts that info? I think your area also has potential winter kill, and wolf problems?
I’ll look into it more. Yes, tough winters and many wolves on camera the 1st couple years. They’ve been less persistent this year but still on camera probably monthly. Deer seem to do ok and they have their ways of surviving. Many does and fawns which is encouraging. Possibly to many?
 

Fair oak

5 year old buck +
Basing ownership of a property on two years hunting experiences seems to be very short sighted to me. In the UP, my first assumption would be a neighbor dumped a couple truckloads of sugar beets the second year.
I agree it is short sighted. I was contemplating even making the post because it almost seems ridiculous. But I figured it doesn’t hurt to get others opinions on things such as increased pressure from Covid, increased activity on properties, etc.
When I first purchased the land I had it in my mind that I would be happy with harvesting whatever the land offered. I think with all the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into building my 4 acres of plots, miles of new trails, hundreds of tree plantings, building ponds, etc. my mindset changed a little. I love the property and all the habitat work and that hasn’t changed.
 

PatinPA

5 year old buck +
I agree it is short sighted. I was contemplating even making the post because it almost seems ridiculous. But I figured it doesn’t hurt to get others opinions on things such as increased pressure from Covid, increased activity on properties, etc.
When I first purchased the land I had it in my mind that I would be happy with harvesting whatever the land offered. I think with all the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into building my 4 acres of plots, miles of new trails, hundreds of tree plantings, building ponds, etc. my mindset changed a little. I love the property and all the habitat work and that hasn’t changed.
Keep at it. If you build it they will come. I'm not taking all the credit for my increased buck sightings last year. But in my 5th year I saw more buck and got more pictures of buck than ever. Waiting for this year to see if it repeats.
 
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