Many deer hunters say that they have too many does on their property, but do they really know?  And if they do have too many, do they have an idea of what the excess is?  Most likely not.

Most hunters rely on what they see in the field as an indicator of the population density and buck to doe ratios.  While this is better than nothing, it isn’t much better (than nothing).

With the advent of the trail camera as a scouting tool, it is easier than ever to count your deer.  Trail cameras can be there when you are not, which includes getting glimpses of that gnarly, monster buck you never even knew was on your property, as well as all the other bucks that are more active when the moon is out and the sun is sleeping.

This article will show you how to use HuntersClub.com’s W.I.S.E. to quickly import the data that your trail camera has captured and analyze it.  You will be able to determine deer density (acres per deer), acres per buck, acres per doe, buck to doe ratio, and fawn to doe ratio on your property.  It will even tell you how many does you need to harvest to meet a set buck to doe ratio. 

NOTE: All calculations by W.I.S.E. are based on the latest research done by leading white-tailed deer experts.

 

Why should I care how many deer I have?

If you care about the quality of the deer on your property, you must have a pretty good grasp on the quantity.  Deer density is a key variable in many of the decisions you make as a quality deer manager.  

For example, if you have too many deer for the carrying capacity, you may need to increase your harvest, increase the natural resources, or a combination, depending on the situation. 

 

What is the best deer density for my property?

There are a lot of variables that determine the optimal deer density for a property, but 20-30 acres per deer is a relatively safe goal to start out with.   That number will fluctuate, depending on your location's resources and many other variables, and will actually fluctuate across all four seasons.  

Kip Adams, a Director of Education and Outreach for QDMA, and certified wildlife biologist, wrote a fantastic article in QDMA’s Quality Whitetails magazine for August/September 2010.  The title is “What’s the Best Deer Density?” and it goes in depth about this subject.   I highly encourage you to read it.

 

What do I need to do?

With the end of summer approaching, this is the best time to implement a 2-week trail camera survey for all the data that you need to successfully begin your quality deer management practice.  The reason that this is the best time of the year, is that fawns are finally starting to tag along with mama everywhere she goes, instead of hiding for most of the day.

Fawn numbers are another crucial variable when determining deer density and the number of does and bucks on your property.   If you do the survey too early, you will miss many of these fawns, and your numbers will not be as accurate. 

Requirements for the 2-week trail camera survey

1.    You need one game camera per 100 acres. 

2.    Choose a site for each camera that will give you the best results.

a.    Do not face the cameras east or west due to possible sun interference

b.    Face the cameras towards a darker background to maximize ability to see antler points

c.    Remove obstructions, moving limbs, and other things that may get in the way

d.    For more tips, check out this video by Dr. Grant Woods http://www.growingdeer.tv/#ep/36

3.    After choosing a site, pre-bait your site (if legal in your state) for two weeks prior to the survey. 

a.    The bait you should use depends on what your deer love

NOTE: We are not recommending hunting over a baited site.  Please check your state and local game laws before baiting for this survey.

4.    Make sure you can identify each site once you retrieve the images

a.    Put a post with a sign and a number in the back ground to identify it if needed

5.    Keep the sites baited (if legal in your state)

6.    After two weeks of baiting, set the cameras up and then let them run for two weeks

7.    After two weeks, pull out the memory cards, replace them with your secondary cards, and move the “Survey Images” to your computer.  You are now ready to use W.I.S.E.

Using the Herd Monitoring section of W.I.S.E.

If you haven’t already, download W.I.S.E. and install it on your computer.  It is a powerful tool that will make this whole process very easy.  

The following assumes you have completed Step 1 in W.I.S.E.  Full video tutorials are available on that same page under the tab, “Video Tutorials”.  Watch them in 720p (high definition) and double click until it takes up the entire screen.

1.    Click Step 2, import the images from your computer into W.I.S.E.

a.    Tag the images with the name of your survey.  I.e. Fall 2010 Survey

b.    Identify the does, bucks and fawns in the W.I.S.E. Image Gallery

2.    Click Step 5 – Herd Monitoring, create a new report and filter the Tags column down to the name of your survey.

3.    You have already identified the buck images in the W.I.S.E. Image Gallery, so now click on “Determine Unique Bucks”

4.    This view gives you all the bucks you identified.  Go through each image and identify all the bucks that you believe are unique. 

a.    If two bucks look the same, but you aren’t sure, count them as one unique buck.  It is best to error on the side of caution

5.    Count the antler points for each unique buck and use your best judgment for aging the deer, entering both into W.I.S.E.

6.    Close the Unique Bucks form

7.    Enter the number of acres that your property consists of.

After entering the property acreage, W.I.S.E. will calculate the following data available for you to analyze.

You can use these numbers to determine if your property’s natural resources are optimal for the amount of deer that you have.   You can increase natural resources with food plots, cutting and burning forests to promote forage growth, etc.    You can also increase or decrease the harvest of deer for the season.

It looks like I have too many does.  How many should I take? 

Most hunters I know grew up with the following adage.  

“If you are killing does, you’re killing three deer.”

While that may be true, it isn’t always a bad thing.  Harvesting does can have a dramatic effect on your property’s deer herd – in a good way. 

If you take a doe with two fetuses, that is three less mouths your property must provide for starting next June.  This will give others more to eat, possibly increasing their size, both in body weight and antler size.

When a young buck becomes a yearling, the doe that gave birth to him will actually disperse him, and he might end up leaving your property forever.  Taking her out of the picture will actually increase the chance that young buck sticks around on your property, and you can let him grow as big as you want him to. 

Ok I get it, now how many should I take?

Using W.I.S.E., set the buck to doe ratio you want and W.I.S.E. will tell you how many does you must take to reach this goal.  It is that simple.


If you want to know which specific does to take, check out this great article by QDMA CEO Brian Murphy.  http://www.qdma.com/what-we-do/articles/certification-program-readings/aggressive-doe-harvest/

How do I know if it worked?

Now that you have a benchmark, you simply have to do this survey every year around the same time.  If the deer density and ratio of bucks to does on your property gets closer to your goals, then you know you are doing the right thing. 

Also, every deer you harvest should be entered into the Harvest Management section of W.I.S.E.  Doing this will allow you to check the health of the deer.   If the size of their bodies and antlers increase every year, you are well on your way to a quality managed herd.  If not, you might need to make tweaks here and there to get to where you want to be.

Questions, comments or concerns?

W.I.S.E. technical questions can be sent to wise_support@huntersclub.com.

For everything else, use the comment section below, or email me at chad@huntersclub.com.

Be sure to share this article to your friends using the social media links below.

Resources used in this article

If you didn’t notice, I link to QDMA’s site quite often.  A lot of W.I.S.E.’s calculations were learned in their Deer Stewards I course in June 2010.  I encourage everyone to attend if possible, as it will definitely increase your knowledge of white-tailed deer.  

Here is a link to their article archive, an enormous amount of information.  http://www.qdma.com/what-we-do/articles/

You can become a member of QDMA at this link. 

http://www.qdma.com/membership/join-now/membership-levels-united-states/