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Are We Harvesting Enough Does To Match Winter Habitat?

1135 Views 14 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Luv2hunteup

Winterizing Your Deer
Deer in Northern habitats fare better in brutal conditions if hunters keep herds in check while providing good cover and self-sustaining foods.
By Patrick Durkin

"If you don’t shoot does and fawns, you’ll soon discover no amount of food-plot and habitat work can keep pace with the herd’s size and appetite."
unters in Northern states who want to help whitetails make it through winter in peak condition should never forget their No. 1 priority is to feed the herd regular servings of well-placed bullets and broadheads each autumn.

That might sound harsh, but wildlife biologists and habitat specialists say doe shooting must be emphasized in Northern deer woods, and it’s nearly impossible to overdo it. When hunters keep whitetail numbers in check, it’s much easier to stay on top of the other vital components of herd management. Those factors include improving thermal cover and natural forage, and maintaining perennial food plots and cold-weather food plots. When those five factors work together, each deer is more likely to attain maximum growth and experience peak health.

Spare the Bullet, Hurt the Herd

“In terms of cost and cost efficiencies, the best thing you can always do for your hunting property is to spend an extra $10 to $15 on bullets,” said Neil Dougherty, a wildlife consultant for North Country Whitetails in upstate New York. Dougherty recommends that once you have enough ammo, find some friends and family members, and shoot all the does you can legally harvest.

For the full article click on the link
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Generally, we don't shoot does in Michigan. Certainly, a lower proportion of does in our harvest mix than any surrounding state.

After adjusting out the button bucks from the antlerless harvest, we Michiganders took something like 180,000 - 190,000 does in the 2003 seasons. Out of 1,750,000 deer, that ain't many.
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Much of Durkin's statements couldn't be further from the truth in true northern environments, such as the U.P. of Michigan. Very few individuals understand the complexity of adequate harvest and overharvest in the northern charecteristics of migration and yarding phenomenon areas. To use a quote from Neil Dougherty shows the ineptness of Durkin's statement. I've personally been to Dougherty's property, and he is in now way in a "northern environment", and is anything but and expert on northern herd population dynamics. In fact, on a 2 hour John Deere gator tour of his property, I saw many, many deer. I wouldn't be surprised if Dougherty had 80+ deer per square mile, in fact he told me they had witnessed around 40 different bucks using his property on a daily basis.

"Dougherty recommends that once you have enough ammo, find some friends and family members, and shoot all the does you can legally harvest."

Wow! I'll make sure that I remove that invitation of a hunt here on my property in the U.P. for Neil. I think sometimes outdoor writers forget that we have several areas of the country that don't apply when it comes to the "shoot every legal doe that moves" mentality, including the entire northern 1/2 of the U.P., northern Vermont, northern Maine, etc.

In actuallity, the further north you go, especially into areas of high average winter mortality, the less does you need to shoot! The simple reason for this is that it doesn't matter what your population number, what amount of food you have, it only matters that in true harsh winter conditions, the stress of winter, and the stress of winter alone, determines fawn recruitment and the promotion of a sustainable herd.

Any articles that doesn't mention various areas of the country that do not need doe harvest, as well as articles that recommend shooting "every legal doe", with no regard to actually population carrying capacity numbers, is highly irresponsible.

1.Figure your properties carrying capacity
2.Complete and accurate census
3.Estimate populaton dynamics
4.Harvest appropriatly

In my experience, in the overzealousness to lower overall state or national population numbers, hunters and property owner's sometimes mistakingly apply the "shoot any doe that moves" mentality with total disregard to any reflection of actual population numbers or carrying capacity of a property. This is NOT QDM. When this happens, and overharvest takes place, lack of enjoyment, resentment, and frustration often can lead to pointing the finger at one cherished(at least to me) organization and biological philosophy....QDM.

I took Durkin's article as a promotion of property management activities, seeds, or services, rather than an article of any biological importance or enlightement.

Guys, please, figure carrying capacity, get a true reflection of your property's populaton dynamics, and then set realistic harvest goals, with hard numbers. That's QDM....nothing is ever going to be exact, but at least make and educated attempt and set educated goals........ "Dougherty recommends that once you have enough ammo, find some friends and family members, and shoot all the does you can legally harvest.".....doesn't sound to educated to me.
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The article probably should have differentiated between "northern" range (everything between Kentucky and St. Ignace), and "far northern" range, where winter kill is a dominant factor. The article was written for a national audience, for which, places like Ohio, Illinois, lower Michigan, etc. would be properly considered as northern habitat.

In many parts of Michigan, does are severely underharvested, and a harvest strategy along the lines suggested by Durkin/Dougherty is quite appropriate.

In the interest of completeness, the article could have better-described what they regarded as "northern habitat", and how strategies may differ in regions where winter kill and other factors contributing to mortality and stress are present.
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You can see I am on the anti-"shoot any legal doe that moves" movement right now, but I agree that there are indeed areas all across the state, including the U.P. that have populations that far exceed carrying capacity. Although, in all the states I have hunted, this is evidenced the most in PA. But, at the same time I strongly feel that the image of QDM, and the QDMA has been tarnished in some circles soley by the impression that the lack of deer in their particular areas is a direct result of QDM proponents. In some cases, I actually believe it has!:eek: But, I really want to get the message out there that QDM is NOT unlimited doe harvest, in every season, on every property, in every state. There comes a time when antlerless harvest approaches a level, on individual properties, that census and targeted population dynamics should rule harvest ojectives in the promotion of a healthy, enjoyable, and sustainable herd, as opposed to....."Dougherty recommends that once you have enough ammo, find some friends and family members, and shoot all the does you can legally harvest." I've read Charles Alshiemer refer to this, as well as now his buddy, Neil Dougherty. QDMA members and proponents should be the leaders in this area of collecting scientific data and setting APPROPRIATE and researched harvest goals, instead of blanket statements such as Neil's.

Believe it or not, in my experience, antler restrictions are not really a source of contention here in the U.P., it's instead the lack of actual deer numbers and the over-issueing of antlerless permits in areas they are not needed. And who is to blame in the eyes of many I talk to....QDM. At the same time, just because a DMU is far above it's carrying capacity, does not mean that a substantial portion of DMU properties are actually over carrying capacity. In fact, there are indeed areas that unlimited doe harvest has taken it's toll and produced a herd that is far below healthy and enjoyable numbers....that is not QDM.

At a gas station I was at near Marquette I was talking to a Commemerative Bucks of MI individual who was pulling a trailer with their logo on it, when a prison guard, in uniform actually drove back through the parking lot to yell at the CBM guy..."Quit shooting our does! Quit shooting our does! Go back downstate where you belong." Unfortunately, I'm sure he wasn't referring to CBM, and their radically new doe harvest objectives, but he was deffinately, but mistakingly referring to QDM. I want to make sure those individuals know that they are mistaken! But articles like this just add fuel to the fire. I just can't tell you how many people I have approached, including DNR officers, and sportsmens groups, and I have heard them say..."QDM, don't they just want to shoot all the does?". As you can tell, it really burns me!
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Let's not forget that it's usually better to over harvest than under harvest does. Deer are very prolific and populations recover quickly, whereas once your habitat is degraded it's usually a long drawn out process to get it back to where it should be.

While I agree with NorthJeff in generall, I'd want to qualify that with if you're going to err, then err on the side of protecting the habitat. And remember that regardless of how far north or south you go, habitat can be significantly impacted from one year to the next depending on weather conditions. Accordingly, be careful when determining your carrying capacity.
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I drove by one of my lease lands this last week and we counted 60 deer in our fields.

Did we now shoot enough does?

Are they just yarded up because of the thick food sources on our land?

Or are we just WHERE the deer want to be?

I know next year the 1st two weeks are going to be Open game for harvesting does.
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I wholeheartedly agree with you and making sure your population never exceeds carrying capacity is extremely important. Where the difference comes in though, in areas of extreme winter severity and an average high winter mortality, is that the deer herds can literally take years to recover. It is quite possible that areas of exteme winter mortality may go many years in between an actual needed antlerless harvest. There are areas still around my house that have been virtually devoid of deer since the 95-96 winters due to extemely high winter kills. Those areas will not recover until other areas become over-populated, a phenomenon that doesn't take place very often in these type of areas. That is why I am so adament that just about any antlerless harvest in these northern environments be handled very carefully. 1 year of overharvest, followed by a severe winter, can lead to shockingly drastic differences in population dynamics in just 1 year, and take a decade to recover. It's definately a different game up here, but you are right, it is always better to err on the side of caution anywhere, it's just that up here we seldom have to worry about it.
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Mich Buckmaster,

Be very careful at estimating deer numbers in the winter. Now is not the time to do it. I used to see 100-150 deer at a time in spring in the thumb, but it was due to winter thermal cover locations and leftover farmfields as opposed to actual population numbers. Not saying at all you don't have too many deer, but now is not generally the time to count. For example, on my property, if I counted deer now....It would be zero....does that mean I shouldn't shoot any does? ;)

Census figures should usually be tabulated late summer, early fall, when fawn recruitment can be evaluated, and then harvest quotas still set. Even in areas of very high populations, harvest objectives should still be set! That's QDM, collecting data, evaluating, and setting realistic and appropriate harvest goals.
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Originally posted by bwiltse
Let's not forget that it's usually better to over harvest than under harvest does. Deer are very prolific and populations recover quickly, whereas once your habitat is degraded it's usually a long drawn out process to get it back to where it should be.

...if you're going to err, then err on the side of protecting the habitat.
Good points, Wiltse. The nationally-respected deer biologists to which I've spoken are of the opinion that herd health, productivity, and sustainability is optimized at approximately 60% of carrying capacity. Once you get north of about 70%, you are asking for trouble, habitat will degrade, herd productivity begins to decline, body weights lessen, and social stress issues begin to arise. Allowing a prudent margin for habitat protection and herd health may dictate going to nearabouts 50% of carrying capacity, depending on site-specific factors (as per Grant Woods' "low hole in the bucket").

Local conditions are of key importance, and NorthJeff could not be more correct about how a wintertime census of free-ranging deer can be misleading.

In the ag areas of the southern lower, the area of which I am most familiar, a lot also depends on the harvest practices of those in your hunting neighborhood. If you're working with superb habitat, with abundant year-round food sources, cover, water, etc., and thereby the ability to support relatively higher densities (constrained by deer socialization and human factors), and the guys that hunt nearby are not harvesting good numbers of does, Dougherty/Durkin's advice applies in spades.

And it's not all about deer density numbers in relation to carrying capacity, either. Even if you've got your density at that slippery 60% of carrying capacity target, if your doe:buck ratio is lousy, an ambitious doe harvest still makes sense. As Wiltse noted, given room and quality habitat, deer numbers bounce back quickly.
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I`m with bwiltse on this one. When in doubt, it is better to harvest too many does than not enough. Deer numbers will rebound faster than the habitat will.
Basically, I stongly feel that Alshiemer, Durkin, Dougherty, etc., would be wrong and misled in their opinion of how to manage a true northern deer herd. For me, I'll stick with John Ozoga on this one.
Again, deer numbers do not rebound quickly on northern ranges, at all, and may not for years to come, and the 60% of carrying capacity is to insure you don't go over 100%, not that 60% is more healthy than 100%, because afterall, carrying capacity is just that....carrying capacity. I know of areas downstate that carry 60 deer per square mile and still have 2.2 fawns per doe, and extremely heavy deer with B&C potential bucks, managed by very well connected QDM advocates.....is the 60 deer 60% of carrying capacity?

Again, just to go out and harvest does with no respect to local population dynamics, in any area, doesn't really have much to do with science and QDM, and when someone asks you what your harvest strategy is, and you just say...shoot all does, it isn't very credible and gives QDM a bad name. Afterall, QDM is based on science and fact, not blanket harvest approaches and a "kill em all" mentality.

If you are just shooting every doe that moves you must know a few things, including:

Carrying capacity
Harvest objectives

If you don't, there isn't much science in it, and you can't really call it "QDM".
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Wow! very good posts and even though there is some varying views the points made by all is valid.

I have heard statements personally made by Alsheimer and his view that we can take 50% of all the does yearly is strange, coming from one so versed in deer management. Perhaps along the Indiana border this might work, but having this harvest concept would devastate some deer herds in more harsher areas.

Neil Dougherty is a recent appointee to the Board of Directors National QDMA and of course I have had the pleasure of meeting and knowing him better. He is an Educator (University- now retired) by profession and my take is that he is quite intelligent. A general statement to shoot any and all does seen is not my sense of sound deer management. I have not heard this statement from him and not sure if that is his true view. We have a board meeting on March 6 2004 in Atlanta and I will talk to Neil about this.

I have written articles pertaining to this subject and hopefully part ! of a two part series will be published in the coming March issue of Woods-N-Water. The article is "What's the ideal buck to doe ratio"? This two part series has been critique by Executive Director, Brian Murphy QDMA with very few changes, so I feel confident that my views run parallel to the views of our official QDMA positions.

Along michigan's southern borders The buck to doe ratio can be one buck to one and 1/2 does and easily sustain a high deer harvest, forever by harvesting about one doe per buck. This harvest ratio should maintain that 1:1.5 buck to doe ratio indefinately. The harvesting of does should be directed toward the older does due to them being the most productive. Remember doe fawns there have a 50% pregnancy rate.

As we move north the picture changes, where in the northern lower we would be changing the preferred buck to doe ratio to close to one buck per one and 3/4 does and harvest one doe per 1.4 bucks to maintain the 1:1.75 buck to doe ratio. Now we need to change the type of doe harvested to any doe seen and not be so concerbed about taking more mature does.

Much deer research tells us that just by harvesting a certain number of does versus bucks will produce a certain buck to doe ratio and within six years. Conditions in certain areas dictate what that buck to doe ratio should be in order to maintain a healthy deer herd and high deer harvest and still have a deer population within 60% of the maximum carrying capacity.

As we move still further north to the northern UP we have conditions that are seen nowhere else and these harsher conditions change our deer management strategies. It might be best to have a buck to doe ratio of one buck per two and 1/2 does to maintain a healthy and produvtive herd. Here we target young does (yearlings and fawns), the most susceptable to winter's killing ways and leave the most productive does (2-1/2 and older) for fawn productivity. In the harhest areas of the UP no fawns get pregnant and somtimes not even yealing does. We may even, following a severe winter or two not even target the young does. As Jeff notes in the UP the recovery of the deer herd following these tough winters is nowheres the same as in the southern lower. In the enclosed 1100 acre George reserve just south of Lansing six deer (2 bucks and 4 does) planted in1928 grew to 220 deer in just five years. This wouldn't happen in the lake superior region.

QDM is sound and scientific deer management and the deer management program needs to be in tune with the environment. Wild guess's are not part of the program.

Keep up the intelligent and informative post guys and where are you gals, we need your input also.

Keep the fun in hunting!

Ed Spin
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The opinions on this thread vary as much as the topography, climate and carrying capacity of the land. The UP contains both the highest and lowest deer per square mile in the state. Making one size fits all policies difficult to impossible at best.

I see valid points in everyones posts. They may be a perfect fit for their own area but do they address the situation a township or two over?

I think Durkin and Dougherty hit the nail on the head with this article (nearly perfect fit for me) but I also know it does not apply just a few miles away.

I know where I'm at, I would not want NJ's northern management policies in effect even though we're both within 20 miles of Lake Superior. I need to get rid of many does and he doesn't. Different situations call for different management policies.

If there are no major changes in herd size, due to winter kill, I'll be looking at killing 40% to 50% of the adult doe population next fall but I won't advocate it for townships around me because I think they should choose what's best for their area.

One thing that I do know that works is "habitat improvement" no matter where it takes place.
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