Hunting female deer a better population management strategy

Sept. 19-20 is the first chance in the 2020 hunting season to harvest does to control crop damage.

A female white-tailed deer
A female white-tailed deer: the ideal target for hunters seeking high-quality venison, crop damage control and a healthy herd. Photo by Karan Rawlins, University of Georgia.

Most farmers enjoy the wildlife that reside on their operations. However, when deer numbers become exceedingly high, as they have again across much of southwest Michigan, crop damage and the associated yield losses from deer are greater than many producers are willing to tolerate. Specialty crops and seed corn production are especially vulnerable to deer damage. With reduced hunter numbers and lower interest in deer hunting, controlling the deer population has increasingly become a pest management issue for farmers.

The key to controlling deer populations down to manageable levels lies in the removal of females. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has increased the opportunities for doe removal through a Sept. 19-20 early antlerless deer hunt. Producers working to lower deer populations in their fields have found that these early hunts are critical in reducing the total number of female deer over the course of the year.

A few other suggestions from crop producers that have had success at reducing deer damage are:

  • Choose successful hunters whose goal is to harvest does, not bucks.
  • Allow a single lead hunter to manage others that will be hunting in the fields to increase success and reduce the landowners stress and time commitment.
  • Control the trespass problem—having a few good hunters is a safer situation than an uncontrolled hunting access program.
  • Tie the right to hunt trophy bucks on the farm to the successful harvest of does. Example: Five does harvested per buck or you will not be asked back next year.
  • Stress the importance of harvesting does, not young bucks. Young bucks are easy victims in the doe hunt. Hunters that cannot differentiate does from button bucks (male fawns six months old or younger) are not meeting your goals.

The MDNR has increased the number of private land antlerless deer licenses that an individual hunter may acquire to 10. Any valid Michigan hunter can apply for a private land antlerless deer license with the permission and phone number of the landowner where they will hunt.

Hunters in southwest Michigan will be able to use a firearm from Nov. 15, 2020, through Jan. 1, 2021, except for Dec. 1-3. The MDNR has also modified the list of firearms that can be used during the muzzleloader season, allowing shotguns and straight wall cartridge rifles to be used along with muzzleloaders. Read the full set of rules and changes in the 2020 Michigan Hunting Digest—particularly page 23 for rules regarding muzzleloading season.

Michigan Deer Management Assistance Permits (DMAP) are available to landowners suffering crop damage. The DMAP program offers antlerless deer permits that can be used during the available deer hunting season. The advantages to the DMAP system are that the landowner controls the permits and the lower cost per permit. These permits can be moved from one hunter to another until filled. Applications for the DMAP program in southwest Michigan can be obtained by contacting the Plainwell MDNR office at 269-685-6851 or email Sarah Carlson (DNR) at CarlsonS4@michigan.gov.

Crop damage continues to increase with increased deer populations, hence the need to harvest does. Removing button bucks has not been shown to reduce future deer populations in the area. If you have unacceptable levels of crop damage, your goal should be to harvest the does and let the young bucks grow.

It may be difficult to differentiate between does and fawn bucks—unless you know exactly what to look for. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation offers the following information to help hunters identify antlerless deer:

Hunting tips

  • Button bucks often travel alone, but adult does rarely do. Wait until several antlerless deer are present before making a harvest decision.
  • It is easier to identify sex and age when animals are standing still or moving slowly.
  • Harvest antlerless deer early in the season when differences between fawns and adult does are most noticeable.

Fawn

  • Body about as long as tall (square)
  • Short neck and compact nose/head
  • Eyes look large for head
  • Doe fawns have a more rounded head shape between their ears
  • Buck fawns’ heads appear flattened and may have visible antler nubs or “buttons”

Adult doe

  • Body longer than tall (rectangle)
  • Long neck and elongated nose

Managing the deer herd at proper levels can help reduce car-deer accidents, making the rural roads safer. It can also help maintain deer herd health by reducing the spread of diseases that often are responsible for large die-offs that have occurred in the not so distant past. Effective management of the deer herd size is a critical component of maintaining the resource for the enjoyment and safety of the public, sportsmen and farmers.

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