“It appears based on the number of fawns I’m seeing we’re going to have to take a serious look at the number of does we take this fall. Nearly every doe I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks has twins.” Said the rancher I was visiting with only a few miles from my home in Southwest Texas. “We’ve had ideal rains this year. They came at the right time to produce a lot of good vegetation. Has really helped in two ways, one to provide excellent weed or forb growth for food for the does to produce a lot of milk for their little ones, but it has also hidden very young fawns from predators like coyotes and wild hogs. All that too has really helped antler development in the bucks. They seem to be ahead of last year at this point. Across the board I’m pretty excited about what I’ve been seeing. But with the increased number of fawns going into the population we’re going to have to shoot numerous does and will be able to really do some serious culling on bucks as well.”
We continued talking and visited about the density the area could support in terms of total number of deer, as well as buck to doe ratios. “Based on what I remember from dealing with quite a few different parcels of land in this area in the past, we seemed to do well at a deer from 15 to 18 acres. At that density the deer have sufficient forage and food even when we go through tough dry times, such as we tend to do in our part of Texas. Of course that density is with a good rotational grazing system such as you employ on your property.” I knew the ranch grazed cattle on an 8 pasture rotation system, where grass was grazed down to about half of it’s height before the cattle were rotated into the adjoining pasture. He really didn’t graze a certain number of days in each pasture, how long the cattle stayed in one pasture depended mostly on the vegetation available.
I was truly tickled the rancher used cattle to graze his property. Too often as a wildlife biologist when talking to a new landowner, all too often I had heard, “One thing for sure, there’ll never be another cow on this property!” Cattle when properly grazed on property can be a huge benefit to the habitat and the wildlife that resides there. Stand of mature grasses where there are very few weeds are often nearly biological deserts, because outside of simply grass eaters there is nothing to eat for most wildlife. Most wildlife needs weeds for food (forage from the leaves and stems, and seeds for the game and non-game birds) and cover.
“What was your buck to doe ratio last fall? And what did you shoot? Also what was your density based upon the census work y’all did?” I asked, knowing the property we were addressing was 3,000 acres and was bordered by a couple of larger ranches but also some smaller properties which however were on a good wildlife management program that did not over-harvest.
“Going into the hunting season we had a buck to doe ration of 1 buck to 1.5 does. We had right at a 40% fawn survival rate. Starting in July thru February we kept incidental records of all the deer we saw either hunting or while simply working on the property. We came up there with the same buck to doe ratio and fawn survival rate. Our spotlight census, and we did several came up with a density of one deer per 12 acres or 250 total deer.”
“We figured going into the hunting season we had 250 total on the property, or about 100 bucks including buck fawns and 150 does including. Based too on our observation it appears 40% of our bucks are 4 years old or older or about 40 bucks.
We ended shooting 20 total bucks and 30 does (20% of the does and 20% of the bucks on the property). Of the 20 bucks we shot 8 mature bucks and 12 management bucks. So we figured going into the winter we had 80 bucks and 120 does left. That’s how we went into the spring.”
“With our range native conditions and the food plot, plus supplementation we provide, most all our 6 month old does fawns breed in late winter. Based on what I’ve seen thus far I’m guessing the 120 does produce about 100 or so fawns.”
He continued, based on the great number of fawns we’re having this year I think we’re going to put more pressure on the does and shoot enough to where we can essentially bring our buck to doe ratio down to 1 to 1. Hopefully that will help reduce the number of does we shoot in the future…” Before I could respond he said, “I know…we’ll still have to shoot a bunch of does in the future…” I simply smiled.
“So what are you thinking about doing this fall?” I asked.
“Think we’re going to try to shoot as many older aged does as we can, which hopefully will reduce somewhat the fawn survival rate. But will also leave those younger does which have been sired by bucks with bigger antlers during the past four years of our management program. So I think we’re going to try to shoot at least 70 does and probably about 30 bucks, again 6 or 8 of our better older bucks and then really cull pretty deeply on the other bucks. We’ve got 6 primary members in our group, so each member can shoot at least one good buck. That harvest should put us pretty close to a 1 to 1 ratio and keep us at that deer per 15 acres population.” Sounded like a really good plan.
We had often visited in the past when my friend who owned the property had first bought it. He loved deer hunting, and had brought several friends into his management program. For the first three years they had hardly shot any bucks, just does to reduce the overall population, but also try to narrow the buck to doe ratio which started at about 1 buck to 6 does. He had too, early on met with the adjoining landowners and set up a loose-knit agreement to try to improve the deer population in terms of quality.
Now seven years later they were truly reaping the benefits of their programs which included harvest, but also considerable habitat improvement and providing spring, summer, fall and winter food plots, fertilizing native browse species, and at times using supplemental feeding.
Along the way too, they had kept meticulous records of the animals they had taken, relative to age, intact and field-dressed weights, and antler measurements in buck that amount to those recorded on in gross Boone & Crockett scores. In so doing they could compare age classes from year to year to determine if things were progressing as they hoped they would.
When I asked my friend how they were going to take 70 does, he explained, “I’ve gotten the guys to hunt with me to shoot primarily firearms. Bowhunting is fun, but there is really no way we could shoot 70 does with bows, our group. We don’t want to overload the property with hunters, and I’d have to do that if we used bowhunters. So what we do is several things. We bring in about 20 youngsters the first days of the season to shoot at least 2 does each if we can. We’re fortunate in that here in Texas we work with the Texas Wildlife Association and their youth hunting organization. We set up a 2 day hunt, set up tents to house them and make it a truly fun weekend for all.”
“I love guns, and particularly Ruger 77s bolt actions, Ruger Number 1 single-shots and Ruger single-action revolvers. For the youngster hunts I ended up buying 24 Ruger 77s all chambered in .308 Win. I bought an extra stock for each one, which I cut down to the average 8 to 10 year old can hold and shoot them comfortably. I make certain each shooter wears hearing protection when they shoot. I too learned early on with my own children and their young friends that most often children and adults are more affected by noise rather than recoil. And too, I’ve never told any one that the rifle might recoil, I simply let them shoot it, and then brag on how well they did . This too, I’ve learned works in keeping anyone from becoming recoil conscious. Far too often we teach people to be afraid of recoil by scaring them before they pull the trigger.”
“We hunt does as early as possible and now with Texas’ Manage Land Permit, where with an approved management plan (approved by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department) that involves harvest and habitat we have a much longer hunting season. So we do our youngster doe hunt, then wait about three weeks before we again seriously hunt does.”
“Beyond using youngster to take as many does as we can, I also five years ago set up a special hunt among those I have involved in our management program. We hunt does with Ruger Blackhawk revolvers. Initially I provided .41 Mag, .44 Mag and .45 Colt Ruger revolvers to those I involved in the special hunt, but these day they all have their own. This coming year because we have many does to take I’m going to set up a weekend where the hunters can only hunt with Ruger Number 1s and I’m seriously thinking about doing the same in terms of a big bore doe shoot, where the shooter has to use a Ruger rifle that is at least .375 or bigger. Think that too would be fun!”
“We make these special hunts even more special with a variety of awards which varies from Hornady ammo to Zeiss optics to special logo-ed Walls/10x clothing and this year too, I’ll include a shoulder mount or two from The Wildlife Gallery. The money for these “awards” comes from fees I collect from the seven who hunt my property in addition to me, as part of their lease agreement.”
As I listened to my friend talk, I remembered similar things I did in years past when I truly worked as a consulting biologist, before I got so deeply involved in writing and television shows.
After admiring not only his collection of Ruger firearms, but also some of the extremely fine whitetail bucks he had on his wall I headed back home. As I drove I started thinking about again setting up own whitetail property… Maybe summer wasn’t such a bad season after all….