“We plant food plots, but still don’t have big bucks on our property,” is a statement wildlife biologists hear often. Far too many property owners, and hunting clubs who lease land, think that just planting food plots is all there is to having big bucks. This is far from the truth! There are many steps that must be taken to have big bucks and one of the first is to start a record keeping system on the deer harvested.
The wildlife professional who guides you down the road to having big bucks needs an annual record of the deer taken, the more years the better, before making long-term management recommendations for your property.
Well kept records allow the wildlife professional to evaluate such characteristics as body condition, age structure, antler quality, and reproductive performance of the deer population on your property. This information, together with a habitat analysis, allows the land manager and the landowner to make informed decisions about harvest quotas and habitat management.
Collecting records of harvested deer can be easy on property being hunted by a hunting club due to the small numbers of people involved. However, getting all members of the hunting club to record the information can be a challenge. It’s a good idea to include a provision in the club rules that requires members to keep accurate harvest records, with a stiff penalty for those who don’t.
You’ll need a few items to gather deer harvest data, beginning with a scale for accurate weights. Most managers prefer live weights. If it is not practical to bring deer in for weighing before field dressing, then field-dressed weight is indicated on the forms.
Also, make sure you have lopping shears and a jawbone extractor for pulling the deer’s lower jawbone to examine premolar and molar teeth-this is how deer are aged. A flexible steel or cloth tape is needed for measuring the antlers of the bucks taken. Score sheets from the Boone & Crockett Club are great for scoring and recording antlers.
You should also have a storage facility to keep jawbones safe from dogs, cats, coyotes, opossums, etc. A freezer is best, but a well, ventilated wooden box with a secure lid is a good alternative. Many hunting clubs keep deer jaws in a fish basket hung so that animals cannot get to it. In the basket, the jawbones dry quickly and do not stink as bad if they are hung outside.
Designate a deer cleaning area where your equipment can be kept out of the weather and where a hoist is available for weighing deer.
Here is the data to record on each deer:
-Deer number. Assign consecutive numbers to harvested deer. Write the number of extracted jawbones with an indelible pen.
-State tag number. If the state requires a deer tag, record it.
-Date of harvest.
-Sex of harvest.
-Antler measurements. Take inside-spread width, number of points, right and left beam lengths, and right and left beam circumference. If the deer taken is a large buck many clubs want the rack scored using the Boone & Crockett scoring system.
-Weight of the deer. Use live or field-dressed weight.
-Age. When you fill out the tag, leave the age column blank until someone trained can examine the deer jawbone.
-Doe lactation. If a doe is harvested, cut into the udder to see if milk is present.
-Name of hunter.
-Type and caliber of firearm or bow.
Regardless of the size of the property or the number of deer taken, the information is valuable to the wildlife professional responsible for the property and the hunters wanting larger bucks.
Knowing the age of harvested deer allows wildlife professionals to classify and evaluate them by age. Body weights tell about the condition of the deer and the habitat. Antler measurements tell about the overall condition of male animals.
Doe lactation data is quite valuable. If a doe is lactating when harvested, she has successfully reared a fawn. However, if, for example, several 3 1/2-year-old does are not lactating, the herd has a problem.
Within a herd that is in good condition, around 30 percent of yearling does will be lactating. This means a high percentage of fawns are breeding earlier than normal, indicating a well-nourished herd.
A few minutes spent gathering and recording deer data when you get the deer back in camp is a valuable investment towards setting up a program to have big bucks on your property. That coupled with food plots, selective harvesting, and time go hand-in-hand towards to growing big bucks.
These tools are among those necessary for keeping deer harvest records.
A deer aging chart or board is necessary for aging older age class deer.
Habitat managed in accordance with accurate deer harvest records results in good bucks to hunt.