Specifically, how are you determining the carrying capacity of deer for your land?

SwampCat

5 year old buck +
What is your goal or ideal fawn recruitment number, percentage?

I read 70%in some publications

bill
Mature does in my area carry an average of 1.7 fetuses per doe. My last year’s fawn recruitment numbers were .3 fawns per doe. According to our G&F - the majority of those 1.7 fetuses are actually birthed. That means - the majority of the fawns at my place perish between middle of May and end of September when I do my camera surveys. I attribute the mortality primarily to bobcat and coyote predation.

That said, the highest fawn recruitment numbers I have ever seen on a camera survey have been right at .7 fawns per doe. That is a bumper crop for us. On the low end, it is not uncommon to see .3 fawns per doe, like last fall. I feel OK about fawn recruitment numbers above .5 - and feel really good above .6.

But this is largely area specific. I have 15 adjacent landowners. On one 1200 acre neighbor - one buck and no does were killed. On one 15 acre neighbor, four does and one buck were killed. We killed no does on my 300 acres so the neighbors could kill some. There are so many factors that play into this that are specific to your area that makes it hard to decide what to do. Fifteen years ago, we decided to reduce our doe population down to a 1:1 buck doe ration. It took three years to do it. We were not left with enough does to produce enough fawns to overcome total mortality. It took ten years of killing no does to get our deer back.
 

H20fwler

5 year old buck +
I'm in a very high ag area...neighbors pound any deer they see. I am extremely conservative with deer harvest at my places. no antlerless no small bucks...they have a hard enough time with the road hunters that are constantly prowling during gun season.

I feed them all they want and provide a lot of cover for them to hide/rest and try not to bump them off the place.
 

SWIFFY

5 year old buck +
I never know what to think of the ratios.... In Central MN my deer are at about a 1:1 in September and then about 20:1 by mid November. The next year, all those fawns turn into 1.5 yr old bucks and the cycle repeats itself. The orange army keeps them in check. Our age structure pyramid looks like one from the Holocaust... one in hundreds making it to old age. Its sad.
 

yoderjac

5 year old buck +
We have a Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) here. We collect weights and measurements from every deer harvested and pull jawbones. These are turned into the game department. They collate and analyze that data and issue us free doe tags that are good during any deer season. The number of tags they issue is related to their analysis. On top of that, we have a wireless game camera system that runs 24/7/365. We use this for trending populations from year to year as well as establishing buck-to-doe ratios and doe-fawn-ratios. We extract 2 surveys from this data, One is a spring survey, Jan-Apr. We use this to estimate survival rates. The second survey we extract is the month of September. At this point, it is easy to tell bucks from does and does from fawns. We use this to determine recruitment and establish the ratios.

We are not trying to take populations to the edge of BCC. We are trying to balance two things. One is to have few enough deer that the number can easily be supported by the habitat. Keep in mind that BCC is not static. It changes as habitat changes and it is not only food related. We are looking for stable or slightly increasing body weights among the same age/sex class. We also look at antler measurement for the same age class bucks. These are measures of herd health but prime deer health is related to sufficient BCC. The second thing we are balancing is recreational hunting opportunities. By protecting young buck 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 YO (in our case). it leaves mature bucks and does and yearlings as harvest opportunities. We do allow new hunter to harvest any deer.

We started out with and over population with respect to the habitat at the time. We started with a policy that asked hunters to shot every doe they saw, even if it might be a button buck. The combination of that policy and improving habitat were bringing the population down nicely until we hit the perfect storm. Back in 2014, we had a mast crop failure. Our food plots were the only game in town and deer were forced to use them in spite of the hunting pressure. We doubled our average female harvest that fall. Then we got heavier than usual snowfall that winter along with several ice storms. While we had coyotes in the general area, we had no confirmed pictures at the farm up until that winter. That year, we got many pictures of coyotes for the first time. Our recruitment the following spring was very poor. For the next season we put limits on doe harvests. The following year we adopted a new policy that is basically if you want to shoot a doe, do so, but we are not asking you to take every opportunity to shoot a doe for management purposes. Over time, with smart timber harvest strategies, we improved our habitat and deer populations slowly rebounded to a good balance. We still get pictures of coyotes, but not at the same frequency.

Thanks,

Jack
 

archer8030

A good 3 year old buck
I'm seeing a lot comments regarding buck to doe ratio but if I read the OP correctly, he is asking about carrying capacity (deer density) of his land. Buck to doe ratio and deer density are two different conversations.

If we are talking deer density (carrying capacity), there really isn't a one size fits all number. The quality of the habitat, sanctuary space, food, water, bedding, fawning grounds.... Obviously there is a balance to be obtained. You want a high enough deer density that allows for regular sightings/interactions with deer while hunting (higher success rate) but on the other hand, a higher deer density puts more a strain on the habitat and make the longer term outlook not very good. the flip side is a lower deer density. No, you won't have as many interactions (lower hunter success rate) but the habitat will flourish and provide better for the herd. Steve Bartylla says keeping your deer herd around 50% of the carrying capacity of the available habitat is the optimum number to shoot for. Obviously that will fluctuate slightly from year to year.

Personally, if it were me and my property, I would contact your local DNR and ask to speak with someone about doing a census count on your property to help assess your deer density. Knowing that will help you manage your property more effectively and efficiently.
 

PatinPA

5 year old buck +
I am in PA currently, and on the 3 mile loop around our farm it is not uncommon to see 100-150 deer. There have been times when we only see 3-4 bucks, but usually the ratio is around 10 or 15 to 1...still way too high and we shoot several does a year and last year only killed 1 buck on 200 acres. It hurts that the neighboring 500+ acres do not shoot doe. Their fields can have 40-50 deer in them, with some doe pushing 5-6 years old. I understand that we don't have enough land for quality management and we have a deer control area right next to us, so we get to see both sides of the coin.
Same around me. People would rather shoot a small 6 pt than a doe. It's the PA mentality. Shoot the first buck you see, don't shoot any doe. I have to talk my dad out of shooting the first little buck he sees every year. I need to shoot some doe. By rifle season it's not uncommon for me to see 20+ doe on a sit and that's only in my 12 acres plus about 10 or so more of my neighbors. There are a couple of nice big older does I have my eye on this year.
 

Derek Reese 29

5 year old buck +
Same around me. People would rather shoot a small 6 pt than a doe. It's the PA mentality. Shoot the first buck you see, don't shoot any doe. I have to talk my dad out of shooting the first little buck he sees every year. I need to shoot some doe. By rifle season it's not uncommon for me to see 20+ doe on a sit and that's only in my 12 acres plus about 10 or so more of my neighbors. There are a couple of nice big older does I have my eye on this year.
we all need to shoot doe..and several of them...it is the same way on our place with convincing that waiting isn't a bad thing..thankfully my Dad now lives there and is able to hunt everyday so he just keeps track of the bucks he sees...a few years ago he shot the 45th buck that he had seen...and it was only 3 weeks into the season! During the rut on one hunt over 2 days I saw 24 different bucks....I just think they were ping-ponging around looking for a hot doe...very cool but I definitely think the rut has spread out alot more..which doesn't bode well for fawn's survival in the spring.
 

SwampCat

5 year old buck +
You guys with the too many does must be in a place of easy living. In my state - Arkansas - the game wardens were picking up road killed deer to test for cwd. They would get a call from someone who had hit a deer and by the time they could get there, someone else would have picked it up to eat. GW said the people in this state are hungry. Not many places in our state over run with does
 

PatinPA

5 year old buck +
You guys with the too many does must be in a place of easy living. In my state - Arkansas - the game wardens were picking up road killed deer to test for cwd. They would get a call from someone who had hit a deer and by the time they could get there, someone else would have picked it up to eat. GW said the people in this state are hungry. Not many places in our state over run with does
Use to be every farm allowed buck hunting but no doe hunting. Now all those farms are posted and are hunted by a handful of people that either don't make a dent in the population or are just waiting for a big buck. I'm surrounded by a 150 acre farm that allows no hunting what so ever which is why the population is so high.
 

Wind Gypsy

5 year old buck +
I never know what to think of the ratios.... In Central MN my deer are at about a 1:1 in September and then about 20:1 by mid November. The next year, all those fawns turn into 1.5 yr old bucks and the cycle repeats itself. The orange army keeps them in check. Our age structure pyramid looks like one from the Holocaust... one in hundreds making it to old age. Its sad.

Age class struggles aside, did the doe hammering ever get to where you felt the overall deer population is too low around you?

I know the populations in many of the areas that have few row crops got hammered down to being too low for a while with liberal issuance of doe tags. My area is going from hunter choice to 2 deer limit this year. I can only hope it encourages trigger restraint on young bucks because of the ability to shoot a doe first but I doubt it works out like that.
 

SWIFFY

5 year old buck +
Ive been in a doe permit area for 15 years. We have a 1 deer limit. Its really never been more than that. And yet it never seems like there are any more does either. Ive shot probably 3 does in 20 years off 1000 acres. No one else has hunted on that land for deer, and yet theres never any more does. Never any less either.

I do believe the hunters choice tag would take some pressure off bucks... the problem in MN is still the PARTY HUNTING. So you shoot a doe with your tag and buck comes along... theres always someone with a tag. Party hunting is the devil.
 

Wind Gypsy

5 year old buck +
Ive been in a doe permit area for 15 years. We have a 1 deer limit. Its really never been more than that. And yet it never seems like there are any more does either. Ive shot probably 3 does in 20 years off 1000 acres. No one else has hunted on that land for deer, and yet theres never any more does. Never any less either.

I do believe the hunters choice tag would take some pressure off bucks... the problem in MN is still the PARTY HUNTING. So you shoot a doe with your tag and buck comes along... theres always someone with a tag. Party hunting is the devil.

Gotcha. I figured numbers would be higher around you but you must be far enough south out of the timber/prairie transition line where people can stack up the does.

I hadn't considered the party hunting aspect on how bucks might not really get saved by hunters choice or 2+ deer limits. The people who just want 1 for the freezer and might not shoot a buck unless it's a good one are likely highly outnumbered by the "shoot nearly everything because our party has 13 tags to fill" people.
 

Hoytvectrix

5 year old buck +
I'm seeing a lot comments regarding buck to doe ratio but if I read the OP correctly, he is asking about carrying capacity (deer density) of his land. Buck to doe ratio and deer density are two different conversations.

If we are talking deer density (carrying capacity), there really isn't a one size fits all number. The quality of the habitat, sanctuary space, food, water, bedding, fawning grounds.... Obviously there is a balance to be obtained. You want a high enough deer density that allows for regular sightings/interactions with deer while hunting (higher success rate) but on the other hand, a higher deer density puts more a strain on the habitat and make the longer term outlook not very good. the flip side is a lower deer density. No, you won't have as many interactions (lower hunter success rate) but the habitat will flourish and provide better for the herd. Steve Bartylla says keeping your deer herd around 50% of the carrying capacity of the available habitat is the optimum number to shoot for. Obviously that will fluctuate slightly from year to year.

Personally, if it were me and my property, I would contact your local DNR and ask to speak with someone about doing a census count on your property to help assess your deer density. Knowing that will help you manage your property more effectively and efficiently.
I think the discussion shifted to buck to doe ratio because it's a little easier to estimate or quantify and it's one of the first places to start when managing the number of deer on a property. I hear Grant Woods, the MSU Deer Lab, Bartylla, et al talk about carrying capacity and the need for knowing what your property has. There doesn't seem to be a very consistent or reliable way of knowing what that is without having years or decades of experience (which is ultimately what caused me to post this thread). It seems like it's looking at mast crops, row crops, and browse pressure on herbaceous and woody forbs that are going to be needed to determine carrying capacity. I was hoping that there would be some observations from those on the forum for helping to determine if and when they need to thin their deer numbers.

What initially prompted this idea was the knowledge that we have taken almost exclusively bucks for the last several years and our doe, fawn and yearling buck numbers seem to have never been higher. This is going to be the first year that we begin trying to determine our own carrying capacity. It's going to include year-round exclusion cages on all of our plots. I'll talk with a local wildlife biologist to see what local plants should be surveyed that might indicate limited food available. I think we will also begin weighing and documenting body weight and fat observations for the whitetails we do harvest. If anyone has any other suggestions, I am all ears.
 

yoderjac

5 year old buck +
By definition, the BCC is the number of deer the land can support without damage to the native habitat. In some places damage to the habitat is very obvious like browse lines and the such. Before things get that far, you can see rare plants nearly eliminated and other more subtle things that take more of a professional eye to point out. The place where sex ratios and fawn to doe ratios come in is when we try to estimate numbers. MSU has a good protocol for a baited camera survey that has been validated. Personally, the advantage of having more accurate absolute numbers is outweighed by negative aspects of bait. Year over year trending numbers have been sufficient for me. Doe to fawn ratios give you an idea of recruitment. When you get a higher percentage of does with twins, you know you are well within the BCC. When fewer does are having twins and the you see a negative change in Doe:Fawn ratios, you have an early sign that something is askew. With the MSU cam survey approach, you identify individual bucks based on antler configuration. You then use the buck:doe ratio to estimate the population.

Of course, knowing the population by itself doesn't help much. The same deer density may be way over BCC in one habitat and way under in another. I guess that is what you are getting at. Typical metrics for QDM include age (jawbone), Sex, Milk (another measure of productivity), antler measurements. The key is trending them year on year and comparing them within age and sex class. When you get into some more severe situations, you can have a biologist do a necropsy study. That is probably not necessary except in more extreme situations.

Thanks,

Jack
 

SWIFFY

5 year old buck +
Gotcha. I figured numbers would be higher around you but you must be far enough south out of the timber/prairie transition line where people can stack up the does.

I hadn't considered the party hunting aspect on how bucks might not really get saved by hunters choice or 2+ deer limits. The people who just want 1 for the freezer and might not shoot a buck unless it's a good one are likely highly outnumbered by the "shoot nearly everything because our party has 13 tags to fill" people.
Yeah I think its simply lack of habitat here. Farmland... food everywhere but not enough places for deer to be deer. Increase the natural habitat and you can increase the CC of that spot or herd.

Of the 1000 acres ive hunted on, maybe 300 is "habitat" the rest is ag. Soon some of it will going back into CRP and more trees are being planted. I would guess we will be holding more deer year round if its not all over hunted and pressured too much... time will tell.
 

jsasker007

5 year old buck +
My land can carry a lot more deer than what I have so for me it's a non issue.
 

Wild Thing

5 year old buck +
Like a couple of others have mentioned, browse pressure and fawn recruitment are the best indicators of deer numbers and carrying capacity....

"Carrying capacity is a measure of the number of deer an area can support, both biologically and culturally, and its value changes annually, seasonally and across properties."

Here in Upper Michigan our winters determine the carrying capacity of the deer herd. Harsh winter weather and lack of forage can take a toll if deer numbers are too high.

Steve Bartylla recommends surveying your browse levels at the end of winter. If a certain percentage of browse remains the herd is probably within its carrying capacity. If lower percentage remains, or if they are clearly browsing on "starvation food", there are too many deer. Can't remember the number but I will try to look it up and edit here, but it is very obvious to me when we have crossed the threshold of our carrying capacity by what and how heavily the deer are browsing native habitat.

The best thing I ever did here to help my native habitat was to stop winter supplemental feeding. The deer would hang around the feeders and eat the daily allotment that we provided, and then spend the rest of the day eating everything in sight. I finally stopped winter feeding and it is amazing at how well my native browse, preferred browse trees, etc, have responded. There are many neighbors who are still winter feeding so the deer go to their properties and eat up all of their native habitat while mine now flourishes.

Fawn Recruitment - "Fawn recruitment" is a term often used to describe the number of fawns per 100 does that survive to at least six months of age. A recruitment rate of 50 percent means that, on average, for each 100 does, 50 fawns survived to at least six months of age.Jun 14, 2016.

We have an abundance of black bears, bobcats, coyotes, wolves and more recently, even mountain lions are showing up occasionally in our area. A U.P. fawn has a lot of obstacles before it can ever be included in the fawn recruitment numbers (6 months of age). We have plenty of trail cameras out but I think our best indicator of fawn recruitment is the number of fawns vs the number of does we see during our firearms deer season (Nov 15-30).

When our hunters come in after the hunt we record the numbers of bucks, does, fawns and unknowns, seen by each hunter every day. We have been doing this for over 20 years now so we have a pretty good data base. Like someone else already mentioned a doe to fawn ratio of about 1:0.5 - 1 fawn for every 2 does in November is just about average and has been for many years. 1:0.7 would be a really, really good year for fawn recruitment here.

Between the browse pressure observed and the doe:fawn ratio we decide about how many does we need to harvest...or whether we need to harvest any does at all....and yes, it changes from year to year.
 
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