Qualifier—if you are blessed to manage over 1,000 acres for quality deer management, this column is probably not for you. However, if you are attempting to manage a property of around 200-acres for better bucks, you may want to read on.
Trail camera photo of the buck I killed (Photo #2). I hunted this buck for two years before finally catching up with him.
In 1991 a handful of landowners, here in western New York, set out on a journey to see if we could raise better whitetails. One of our goals was to bring the deer population in line with the range’s carrying capability. Another was to have older class bucks to hunt. Prior to 1991, more than 85% of our antlered buck harvests were 1 ½ year old yearlings. In short, we wanted to improve our deer herd and wildlife habitat.
Because all landowners in our area are not interested in practicing quality deer management, only a few of the properties attempting QDM actually touched each other. Some are very close to each other, but in some cases QDM properties are more than a mile apart. Consequently, if a map showing the participating QDM properties was darkened, it would look a little like a checker board. This checker board-style-QDM approach is pretty much the norm wherever you find free ranging whitetails inhabiting relatively small parcels of land (50-250 acres).
As might be expected, a question often asked of our QDM group is “How many 2 ½, 3 ½ and 4 ½ year old bucks can be produced for every 200-acres when all landowners do not wish to participate in QDM?”
No one answer fits all, but I believe that our area’s 23 year experience can offer some insight into what can be expected. Before providing an answer I’ll share some guidelines that must be in place for a QDM program to have any hope of succeeding.
Me with the buck in trail camera photo #1.
The location of a property as well as the habitat it contains are major ingredients in determining how many 2 ½+ year old bucks it can produce. If a property is situated next to a heavily hunted public land the chances of producing older class bucks will be difficult without mandatory antler restrictions.
A property must also have the potential of feeding the deer that call it home. A major part of the better deer equation is in place if there is enough quality food available.
Another key ingredient is how much of the property has been set aside for a sanctuary or multiple sanctuaries. Thick bedding cover that is not entered during the hunting season is a critical component needed for holding deer. So, the more food and undisturbed cover you have, the better your chances of having bigger bucks on the property.
An aerial view western New York state’s farm country….rolling hills, deep valleys and lots of farms.
Antler restrictions of some form are required to have any hope of hunting older bucks. In the majority of cases serious QDM practitioners strive to have 3 ½ year old bucks to hunt. This is no easy feat, but it can be done under a checker board concept. In order to have older age class bucks, yearling bucks should be put off limits for the majority of hunters on the property. The lone exception on our property is that young or first time hunters are not restricted by what they can kill. For all the other hunters on our farm, a buck must have an inside spread of 16” and a minimum of 8 points before it can be harvested. This helps get us to our goal of having 3 ½ year old bucks to hunt.
Me and my son Aaron with a buck he killed here on our farm, we had many trail camera photos of this buck and Aaron killed him in mid-November.
Our farm is located in Steuben County, New York. The county has roughly a 50/50 mixture of wooded habitat and farmland. Though variable by year, its pre-hunting season deer population is approximately 50-70 deer per square mile, which is considerably higher than the 35-45 deer per square mile many feel it should be. Steuben also has one of the highest deer harvests in the state and a quick perusal of the latest New York State Big Buck Club Record Book (17th Edition) reveals that the county is one of the top trophy producers in the state.
Based on the county’s whitetail history, those in our group thought we’d have a significant number of mature bucks to hunt three years after implementing QDM. This reasoning was predicated on the fact that nearly all of the participating landowners were seeing a high number of yearling bucks on their property each year. By way of example, known yearling buck sightings on our farm have averaged between 6-8 every year since 1992.
Though we did have more nice bucks to hunt three years after implementing QDM, the numbers were not as high as anticipated. So, our question was, “Where did all the yearling bucks go?” After 20+ years of studying the situation it is obvious two things happened. 1) Some of the bucks QDM practitioners pass up are being harvested by their non-QDM neighbors. 2) Due to herd competition, some bucks dispersed as they aged.
After careful study using some advanced scouting techniques (i.e., trail cameras, etc.), I’ve concluded that in our area, every 200-acres under QDM can produce approximately four 2 ½ year old bucks, two 3 ½ year old bucks and every now and then a 4 ½ or 5 ½ year old buck.
Me with a 140″ bow buck and doe I killed the same morning in mid-November. I passed up this buck five times the year before when he was a 2 1/2 year old 8 pointer that scored 111 B&C (we found his sheds in our food plots in late winter). I shot the doe while tracking the buck.
Only ten times since 1991 have I been aware of bucks roaming our farm or the neighbor’s that exceeded 4 ½ years of age. Since 1991 I’ve harvested two 5 ½ year old bucks, three 4 ½ year olds and four 3 ½ year old bucks. The gross Boone & Crockett scores of the animals ranged from 127 to 151. This may not be quite what was hoped for when QDM started around here in 1991, but it is a drastic improvement from what used to be available under the old “if it’s brown it’s down” philosophy.
The bottom line is that you can produce 125-140 class B&C bucks on small QDM properties, but probably not the number you think you can. However, don’t be dismayed. Even with a checker board QDM program you will be able to hunt more mature deer, have a more intense rut and more exciting hunting opportunities.