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Quality Deer Management

Quality deer management

Deer herd management

If you want the opportunity to harvest a mature or trophy buck year after year, you need to understand quality deer management practices and how they work. It’s not just about harvesting the largest antlered bucks, hunters want to have plenty of deer with a large number of quality bucks. It’s really about strengthening your deer herd and keeping it that way. Even with deer management, it’s hard or next to impossible to have a large number of deer and lots of mature bucks, however hunters will have more opportunities to harvest larger deer as results of these practices.

There are two basic ways for deer hunters to manage their herds, deer harvest and habitat management. In some areas, deer management is lacking due to the ratio of bucks and does that are harvested each year. This unbalanced harvest can lead to higher deer populations in poor condition, out-of-balance sex ratios with too many does, poor antler development and fewer mature bucks. Quality buck management sometimes fails to allow enough deer harvest to maintain hunter satisfaction. Deer management advice is meant to assist hunters in recognizing harvest strategies, then using these strategies to provide excellent habitat for deer herds and improved hunting. These strategies only work with cooperation of every hunter from your club or lease.

Deer basics

DNR websites have much needed information on the deer habitats and deer basics for the area your looking to manage, and is a good starting point. Deer home range sizes usually vary from 150 acres to more than 1,200 acres, does have smaller ranges than bucks. These ranges usually have food sources, water and thick cover. Smaller ranges are found in higher deer populations in better deer habitat. Implementing a QDM you need plenty of acreage for a successful program, if your area isn’t large enough you need co-operation of your surrounding neighbors.

Many hunters think in terms of bucks and good antler development but, it’s the does of the herd which determines most of the differences in deer populations. Depending on the food supply and the deer population of an area, does can produce twins, singles, or no fawns at all. When the population reaches a size where it exceeds the available food supply, it results in poor antler growth, lower body weights and lower population as the remaining food supply is damaged. Keys to bigger bucks are not shooting small bucks and harvesting more does, but instead keeping a more balanced ratio.

What factors affect antlers growth? Deer bone and antler development is controlled by age, nutrition, and genetics. Genetics does not appear to be the biggest factor, it’s more in nutrition and the age of your deer. For most deer herds, age is the single most limiting factor for antler development. With heavy hunting pressure, bucks simply do not live long enough to produce large antlers. In some areas, bucks live to much older ages but nutrition levels are poor and limit antler size. When deer herds get so large that their food supply is reduced in quality or quantity, antler growth also suffers. You can’t live by the old saying “if it’s brown it’s down” and expect to see trophy deer.

The deer herd that you hunt is the result of a combination between food supply, deer population, reproduction, mortality factors, movements, weather, and past history. There are several methods for controlling deer harvest to reach the desired objective for the deer herd. First you must establish your objective, if you want healthier, stronger and more dominate bucks. These stronger bucks will then do most of the breeding passing along genetics for a stronger herd. Again you must have participation of all hunters from your club or lease.

Habitat management

There are many ways that deer hunters can improve deer habitat to increase deer herd carrying capacity and health of your herd such as: food plots, fertilizing (natural vines, nut or acorn bearing trees, natural fruits and berries), feeders, mineral beds, and timber management.

Timber management for deer includes, thinning trees, prescribed burning of under growth, managing for older timber, wider spacing between planted pines, and saving hardwood bottoms. Burning undergrowth results in better browse, increased forage with younger plants and higher nutrient contents. These tender sprouts are more digestible and will attract more deer. Management for browse, soft mast, and oak acorns are important for your deer herd. Always check before doing any property management to be sure you have the authority, before burning or cutting timber.

Food plots are an excellent way of establishing a high quality food source for deer. Year round nutrition is important for whitetails especially during winter and summer as they require nutrition for body growth and maintenance. To plant food plots you need access to a tractor and harrows, or ATV with attachments. If you don’t have large acreages of agricultural crops around you that deer are already using, chances are good that you can attract, and harvest more deer with food plots. They may be a key to success in your deer management program especially in planted pine forests. It’s suggested to use 3-5% of your property, to have a positive impact on your deer herd.

Before you plant, get a soil test and submit it to your County Extension Agent for lime and fertilizer recommendations. Without a soil test, you can only guess at what your property may require as far as lime and fertilizer are concerned. Remember your more like a farmer than hunter when using food plots. Lime cost can greatly vary on any piece of land depending on how much is needed, seed and fertilizer costs range from $50 to $100 per acre. You will be ahead of the game if you can plant a perennial food plot. With perennial food plots the cost drop to about 20% of the cost the second year. The second choice is reseeding annuals. Anything you can do to reduce costs as this can get expensive. If you can properly lime and fertilize, then clover/grass mixtures are the best low maintenance food plots for deer and turkey. Check with local biologist or farmers for details such as fertilization, lime rates, and crop advise like what and when to plant your area. If you want to have food plots, who would know better than the farmer down the road.

Use of fertilizer is an easy, often overlooked and under-utilized, it’s a great way of providing better quality and quantity of food for wildlife. Fertilization of your whitetails favorite food sources, greatly increases quality and production of this food. The resulting growth from this fertilization will attract deer browsing almost immediately. Fertilizer can also help fruit and nut bearing species such as crabapples, persimmon, grape, plum and even oak trees(soft mast is a deer favorite). Fertilizer should be evenly applied under the drip-line canopy of these trees and most commonly would use a 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Mineral mixes for deer are available which contain high Calcium (13-16%) and Phosphorus (4-8%) in addition to 30-50% Sodium Chloride (salt) and some trace minerals including magnesium. These minerals may be lacking in your deer herd diets. Providing these minerals mixed with a salt, which deer definitely crave, may fulfill known deficiencies in deer diet and may improve antler growth. Apply a 50 lb. bag of high calcium/phosphorus mineral mix per every 300-400 acres applied twice every year may help buck antler and bone development. Apply these minerals by making in a shallow hole on flat ground and mix lightly with the soil and then water in to the soil. Minerals will not substitute for a lack of other habitat and other management is needed.

Supplemental feeding of deer with corn, deer pellets or other feed is controversial among wildlife managers. Feed must be put out for a long enough time and in enough quantity to increase deer carrying capacity during periods of winter or droughts . Studies show that long term supplemental feeding will increase carrying capacity for deer if it is done consistently year after year thru normal stress periods. Food plots are much more cost effective than supplemental feed, as feeding wildlife can get very expensive.


Quality Deer Management (QDM), is the attempt to manage the age structure and sex ratio to improve the deer herd and hunting quality. This is accomplished by protecting young bucks from being harvested, while harvesting enough does to maintain the population below the carrying capacity of the habitat. As time passes these protected bucks advance into older age classes, allowing for a more natural age structure. Also, improving opportunities for hunters to hunt for mature and trophy bucks.
If deer herd restrictions are sufficient to improve habitat conditions, the results are more available food for increased body weights, reproduction, and antler development. As more bucks advance into the mature class, chances of taking a quality animal increase. Managing the deer is much simpler than managing the people hunting, hunters usually want bigger bucks but don’t have the patients needed for these practices. Remember the goal of QDM is stronger, healthier deer, it’s not about antlers or how many deer a group of hunters harvest.

QDM encourages deer hunters participation at the management level. Hunters have increased control over deer herd development and hunter/managers become more involved with land and habitat improvement, which benefits other wildlife species and has economic benefits for the landowner. Without hunter participation QDM won’t work, it helps if the surrounding leases or clubs are also using these programs.

QDM is not a quick fix to bigger and better game. Often it takes 4-5 years for enough bucks to move into the older mature class. Even then, despite the deer being larger, there will be fewer bucks to harvest as compared to traditional management. Also reduced deer population means that fewer total deer will be seen. Some of these negative factors can be overcome by improvements to the habitats which increase deer food supplies such as high quality food plots. These factors will lead to hunter dissatisfaction and decrease hunter participation. It is essential that all hunting club members work together to realize QDM goals.

QDM will not work on all properties, there are many variables, such as surrounding hunting pressure, having enough property, your current deer numbers, and habitat that may prevent appreciable gains in deer quality even after QDM is in place. This may lead to a frustrated hunting experience, with hunters wanting to shoot more often. In a nutshell, it’s up to your hunting club after weighting the pros and cons, if a QDM will work for you.