Deer Herd Management for Georgia Hunters
Basic Deer Biology
Scientific studies of white-tailed deer in recent years have provided much knowledge of deer biology and behavior which can be applied to hunting leases, clubs, or farms. For example, deer home range sizes in Georgia vary from 150 acres to more than 1,200 acres with does having smaller ranges than bucks.
Smaller ranges are found in higher deer populations in better deer habitat such as that found in the Georgia Piedmont and Upper Coastal Plain (see map). Differences in deer movements and range sizes can greatly influence hunting leases.
Although most hunters think in terms of bucks and good antler development, it is the doe segment of the herd which determines most of the differences in deer populations. For example, depending on the food supply and the total deer population in a given area, does can produce twins, singles, or not bear any fawns at all. After the fall hunting season, the number of fawns in the harvest divided by the number of yearling (1.5 year old) and adult does in the harvest yields the recruitment rate. In Georgia, recruitment rates can vary from 0.3 to 1.4 fawns per doe. The difference in the rate is extremely important because total deer deaths must match total recruitment each year for the population to remain stable. If recruitment exceeds the total death rate from hunting and other causes in any particular year, then the deer population increases. This increased growth occurs only up to a point. Eventually, the population reaches a size where it exceeds the available food supply ("carrying capacity" of the land) and this results in lower recruitment, poor antler development, lower body weights and eventually a lower population as the remaining food supply is damaged.
What about factors affecting antlers? Buck antler development is controlled by age, nutrition, and genetics. Genetics does not appear to be an important factor limiting antler development in Georgia. This means that stocking to improve the strain of deer is not a viable or feasible solution to correct antler development problems. For most deer herds in Georgia, age is the single most limiting factor for antler development. Under heavy hunting pressure, bucks simply do not live long enough to produce large antlers. In parts of the Lower Coastal Plain and Mountains, bucks live to much older ages but nutrition levels are often poor and limit antler development in these regions. Likewise, poor nutrition also occurs in spots in the Piedmont when deer herds get so large that their food supply is reduced in quality or quantity. Again, antler growth suffers.
The deer herd that you hunt is the result of a complex interaction between food supply, population size, reproduction, mortality factors, movements, weather, and past history. However, there are methods for controlling deer harvest to reach the desired objective for the deer herd. The first step is to establish your objective.
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