A Hunter’s Education

Posted on September 4, 2018


“The pendulum of deer abundance did not swing sharply to the ‘plus’ side until the Great Depression of the 1930s when much of the rural human population in the south, Midwest, and East began to abandon small farms and move to the cities.” – R.L. Downing



The restoration of the white-tailed deer in North America during the last century has been nothing short of monumental. Many factors have contributed to the ever-increasing population levels such as, elimination of market hunting, habitat protection and improvement, hunting seasons with bag limits established, and reduction in predators. It wasn’t until white-tailed deer had reached their lowest population level in 1900, disappearing entirely in some locations, that the science of game management was born. Over the years dedicated biologists, managers, naturalists and hunters have worked in unison to rebuild our native species of deer. As new and innovative ideas blossomed and were supported by sound biological and scientific research, they were implemented. Management of deer is certainly not an exacting process due in part to constantly changing variables, the effect of natural disturbances (fire, floods, tornados, winter severity, insects) and human activities (timber cutting, real-estate development, highways and agriculture).

And now, a century later we have a whole new set of circumstances facing managers that will demand cooperation once again from all the afore-mentioned groups that helped in the restoration process. Because of the whitetails unimpeded rise in population throughout many parts of the country wildlife managers have had to refine their management plans and harvest objectives to reduce herd numbers. Several objectives are considered prior to implementing a herd density reduction that will have an impact on hunter satisfaction, landowners, habitat and ultimately the deer themselves.



Each state and region are unique in how they address deer management objectives understandably because each localized plan must result from a distinct set of specialized circumstances. Quality Deer Management (QDM- the use of restraint in harvesting young bucks combined with an adequate harvest of female deer to maintain a healthy herd in balance with existing habitat conditions) has now become adopted in several states. To achieve QDM objectives and manage according to its principles, antler restrictions have been imposed. How does this modern-day form of management along with imposed restrictions affect the hunter, the deer and the habitat?


The Hunter

Enter now the otherwise happy and complacent hunter. For years he has traditionally sought to fulfill his primeval urge to procure venison while simultaneously enjoying the recreational benefits the sport engenders. No further thought was necessary beyond making the decision to take or pass on the first available whitetail buck he encountered. He has grown accustom to being successful in bagging his quarry on an annual basis and the accolades imbued upon him by family and friends for his deer hunting accomplishments becomes self gratifying.



Not to deflate or impugn our above-mentioned hunter in any way, but 70 percent of the total annual buck harvest figures (prior to them mandating some form of antler restrictions) is comprised of 1 ½-year-old males. This age class of bucks is the least woods-wise animal within a deer herd and is also the most visible whitetail during any given season.

Our hunter who was blissfully ignorant of any management plans being formulated is faced with a deer hunting scenario that is both foreign and threatening to him. The seemingly easy success he has enjoyed up till now appears to be in jeopardy. His entire way of deer hunting has been altered and depending on how understanding he becomes will certainly have an impact on any future hunts.


The Hunter’s Investment



Far to often in our quest to succeed we get caught up in “what I want” rather than what is best for the whole. Only selfishness dignifies the attitude of always taking but never giving something back in return. Game managers do not sit around thinking of ways that they can really upset deer hunters, nor would they propose changes to a system that is working unless it’s not. And believe me, they certainly are not caving in to some special interest group. These trained professionals have chosen this career because of their love for the animal and feel they can indeed make a difference. QDM, along with antler restrictions where needed, is the latest advancement in effectively managing deer herds for everyone involved, including the deer. Remember this, it takes 90 percent longer to grow suitable habitat for a whitetail than it does to grow a mature deer. Likewise, by allowing a juvenile buck the opportunity to age while removing a sufficient number of does from the herd, can only enhance a hunter’s future, the habitat and the deer herd.

Although change becomes inevitable, it’s seldom easy to accommodate until a basic understanding of the end results is accepted. Attitude plays a key role in this process. To willingly pass up an opportunity, possibly the only chance you may get at a legal buck, requires discipline. When you refrain from squeezing the trigger, even when nobody is looking you’ve chosen responsibility over instant personal gratification. This act of restraint resembles the situation of fisherman practicing catch and release. Management that imposes restrictions also calls for patience, realizing that a program needs time to maturate to bring prosperity.



When hunters embrace QDM as a viable management tool they become part of the process rather than just a recipient of the benefits. No longer are you a necessary predator used to help meet harvest quotas, but instead, you’re transformed into a manager as well. How far that involvement goes is up to everyone. For those enterprising, motivated, proactive stewards that have useable land at their disposal, food plots and timber harvesting are two practical options.



Understand that food plots are not merely places where the ground is tilled, and some seed is thrown down. These investments of time, money and energy should be well thought out ventures that yield the highest possible nutritional quality to the wildlife coming to feed. Because most hunters are not farmers or agronomists by trade, it would only make sense that to insure your food plot is prepared, located, planted, (with the appropriate seed mixture) and cared for properly, a professional should be consulted. An organization such as the Whitetail Institute, whose business deals directly and completely with deer nutrition, is an option for consultation. The same advice should be adhered to when it comes to selectively cultivating your forest. A professional arborist should be conferred with as to which trees are dispensable and how many should be removed to allow for regeneration. The hunter with the initiative to begin planting and tree harvesting not only aids the whitetails within his core area, but also speeds up the regeneration of wild plant species adjacent to his surroundings, also gaining a sense of gratification in the process. In a nutshell, he becomes involved!


The Hunter’s Schooling

“The sportsman studies and observes all the characteristics of deer, not alone because they interest him and furnish him with food for thought while on the hunt and for discussion by the campfire, but because he is aware that he must know all the resources of the game in order to hunt it successfully.” – John Dean Canton


More than ever due to antler restrictions, the hunter a-field in states mandating harvest limitations on bucks based on number of points or spread, must refine his whitetail knowledge. He is now forced to pursue the two wisest animals within the herd, the adult doe and mature buck. Both possess equal ability to elude us yet impart very different maneuvers when it comes to evasion. Instead of just looking for antlers atop a deer’s head the sportsman is obliged to scrutinize the size and point total of each buck encountered. By the very nature of this action the hunter studies his quarry with sharper detail and observes the animal for much longer durations. Subtly, the hunter is learning through prolonged observations how the animal acts and even reacts under a variety of circumstances. For those animals that either don’t meet legal requirements or are simply passed up by the hunter, the opportunity to gather further beneficial knowledge about the subject becomes the reward. And may I add that there is no greater satisfaction when sighting down the barrel, knowing at that precise moment the beast’s life hinges on your decision whether to squeeze the trigger, than to decide to let him walk. With that act alone, you’ve matured as both a hunter and a wildlife manager.


The Hunter’s Benefit



Although the fruits of our labor will not be seen immediately, proper management should never be approached with a band-aid, quick-fix mentality. Given enough time to develop and the support of the hunting community working in concert with game managers, the dividends of the program will eventually pay off. With the reduction in doe numbers, the herd will steadily be brought to the balance of what the habitat can reasonably support. With less deer vying for the same amount of provisions, the animals will be healthier, stronger, and experience less stress. By protecting adolescent bucks, the age structure of the male population is improved, which will lead to an intensified breeding cycle. Hunters will undoubtedly experience increased opportunities to harvest larger and more mature bucks as the QDM plan takes shape. Food sources become more prevalent as habitats starts to improve. Introduction of additional food plots, which provide highly nutritious feed, will allow bucks to begin realizing their full potential in antler growth. Quickly it will become apparent that other wildlife such as turkeys, rabbits and grouse will flourish in this refurbished ecosystem.





Education is our evolving ability to learn and understand from unlimited sources. Teachers who have dedicated themselves to a specific field share their specialized knowledge. Books written by authors, ultimately seek to relay someone’s experience to benefit the reader. And then there is our own trial and error method that at times seems to be a painful, arduous process of learning, but appears to reap the largest amount of retained information. As our culture changes, so must our management of the white-tailed deer. What was once considered sound biological reasoning has now become archaic, replaced with practices that meet today’s whitetail challenges. And when it is all said and done, we must be satisfied with what we’ve passed on to our future generation of hunters, who will be the ultimate benefactors from the sweat of our brow.


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer