Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A realistic look at Wilson deer management

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An average, 2.5-year old, 8 point. Had he lived to age 7.5, he would not have antlers exceeding 140-inches. Just not genetically possible.

Each year, as deer season progresses, hunters argue about and discuss the TWRA management plan for Wilson County and surrounding areas. The management of whitetail deer is not complicated or even difficult. In this column, I'll simplify it even more. The first step is always to set a goal. Then, outline a feasible plan. So, let me start with that.

First. A census is taken to get an idea of how many deer are in the area and the herd is "modeled".

Then a goal is set. For TWRA, the job is not, to provide every hunter the opportunity to kill a buck with massive antlers. Their goal is to (1) Insure the management plan is environmentally sound. In other words, make sure the herd does not damage the habitat or outgrow it. (2) Retain the deer herd within a safe and healthy number. (3) Provide a reasonably balanced sex ratio and age strata within the herd. Once those goals are outlined, a plan can be made, seasons and bag limits set. (4) Be sure the goal is financially feasible. (5) Please hunters.

Nowhere in the plan is a trophy deer management agenda. That is for private hunting clubs and perhaps, some selected WMA's.

Usually, a section of deer hunters have their ideas of how the deer should be managed and almost always it is with the false goal of producing bucks with antlers typical of Midwest or Canadian bucks. Meaning, bucks with antlers that routinely measure over 170-inches, gross. I say that is false because it is impossible to achieve in TN. But what can be achieved, is being achieved is a healthy percentage of mature bucks-those 3.5-years and older.

So let me examine the facets of Wilson County's management plan in a simple way.

First, in order to help control the total population, a seemingly large number of does should be killed. The limit here is three per day beginning with the opening day of archery season and ending when rifle season closes.

That amounts to approximately 306 antlerless deer per hunter! Of course, that bag limit is almost meaningless since no hunter is going to kill that many deer. What that limit does, is make hunters aware of the large deer population and encourage them to kill more does. That helps to both balance the sex ratio and hold the entire population in check.

Let me state right here, I use the word kill not harvest because that is what we do. We kill animals, we do not harvest them.

I am not much concerned with all that p.c. business.

Our limit for antlered deer, (bucks), is two per year-reduced this year from three-as a placebo for hunters thinking it will provide more mature bucks therefore, more deer with large antlers. Of course, it won't, it will hardly be noticeable but it has no negative affect on the management plan so, why not.

Now, the plan for Wilson County is in place. We have our seasons and our bag limits. The season if you hunt with archery equipment, muzzleloader and centerfire rifles is long, over 100-days. The bag limit is liberal. The opportunity to kill a mature buck is reasonable. What more could a hunter ask for? I'll tell you. It is the one thing they always ask for-a buck with Midwest antlers everywhere they hunt. Impossible.

Producing large antlered bucks is not just a matter of managing for large numbers of mature deer.

I learned in Wildlife Biology 101, three factors contribute to large antlered male deer. (1) Genetics (2) Nutrition (3) Age.

In Wilson County, we could easily manage for age. Just stop killing bucks. We could, to a small degree, improve the nutrition. Fertilize and plant food plots. But our soil is not Midwest soil. There is absolutely nothing we could do about genetics. Our deer are not that sub-species found in the Midwest or northern states and Canada. If two trailer trucks full of bucks and does from IA or IL were released here and no bucks were allowed to be killed for three years, we would do nothing to change the genetics of the entire deer herd.

Here is the bottom line. If you do not think hunters should kill a 1.5-year old six point or a 2.5-year old eight point, then, don't shoot one. But understand, it is highly unlikely either of those deer will ever sport 170-inch antlers. It is not genetically possible. Taking this reduction from three to two bucks into account, five years from now, you will not see one bit of difference in your hunting in terms of buck antlers.

If there is any area of deer management that needs improving, it is encouraging hunters to kill a few more does. Of course, there are pockets or areas of Wilson County and all counties that have few deer. But in Wilson County overall, the deer herd is burgeoning and could benefit by being reduced a little.

In short, overall, these are the good old days of deer hunting in Wilson County. Forty years ago, just to see a deer in Wilson County was something you talked about. Today, it is only uncommon when you see one walk around the Lebanon town square and even that, is no big deal.

Our deer are being well managed. We have plenty of opportunities to hunt and a more than liberal bag limit. The deer are healthy. They are in good shape and the fawn recruitment is normal. A suitable number of mature bucks are being killed and the occasional "monster" buck is seen or even killed.

To me, all of that means the TWRA is doing a great job.

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John Sloan - Outdoors
John L. Sloan, Outdoors
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