Lights, camera, action! We’re back with the newest episode of Leopold Live!: Chapter 2 at the Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. During this installment we chatted with ranch manager, Steven Fulton, and retired Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist, Mike Krueger, about deer harvest record keeping methods. We also discussed how you can use these techniques for the benefit of your deer herd and how you can use to qualify for the wildlife tax valuation program here in Texas.
Steve and Mike started the episode by discussing some of the reasons why we collect harvest data. When managing a deer herd, you as a manager want to collect different kinds of data, such as census and habitat condition, to get a snapshot of your herd and habitat health. Harvest record data lets you know if your management practices are making an impact on the quality of your deer and how to adjust your management plan accordingly to reach your goals. This data is essential to any deer management program and will let you know if you are under-, over- or properly stocked on your property.
After harvesting a deer, which piece of information should you record first? Mike recommended collecting the field dressed weight of the deer as this needs to be collected before it is skinned and processed. Field dressed weights are better than live weights for comparison purposes as this eliminates variable weight (full vs. empty stomachs) in the deer which can skew your results. An individual deer’s weight can vary throughout the year depending on the quality of their diet, their age, and the stage of their life cycle (ex. pre rut, in rut and post rut for bucks). Steve stressed that all weights should be taken with a digital scale to ensure your measurements are accurate.
Steve and Mike agree age is one of the most important pieces of data you can collect from deer. Age can be estimated pre-harvest based on body characteristics and photos or post-harvest based on tooth replacement and wear. Aging deer “on the hoof” takes some practice but is an important skill for deer hunters and managers. On the Bamberger Ranch they use game cameras from August 1st-February 1st each year to attempt to age, identify, and track the growth of each buck. This photo history can be used in conjunction with tooth wear aging and allow you to adjust your estimate accordingly.
Next, we delved into aging deer based on tooth replacement and wear. This method is an inexact science, but for a field technique there is nothing better for aging deer quickly and easily. Mike and Steve walked us through how to age different deer age classes based on tooth wear pattern using example lower jaws collected from each. They also provided us with a few tips to ensure you age them as accurately as possible.
- Look at both sides of the lower jaw because they do not always match. This can be due to broken teeth or missing teeth, abscesses, etc.
- Take your local soils into account. For example, Mike mentioned you will see quicker tooth wear in areas with more sandy soils where deer eat closer to the ground because they ingest more grit.
- Take their diet into account. For example, supplemental feed is softer than a typical diet and so their teeth wear down more slowly.
- Do not take antler size or body condition into account when aging their teeth as this can skew your judgement
- If you are having trouble deciding between two ages, Steve recommended erring on the conservative side and rounding down to the younger age class.
We then demonstrated how to take antler measurements on bucks using a flexible nylon tape. Steve takes some basic measurements for each buck (inside spread, beam length, basal circumference, and number of points), but for trophy deer he will take a Boone and Crockett score. For official scoring purposes such as this, you must use either a stiff ruler or a metal measuring tape to get the most accurate results.
The last pieces of data Steve and Mike recommended collecting are lactation presence in does and body condition of all animals. Lactation presence at harvest means the doe has raised a fawn that year. You can compare this to your fawn crop data collected during census to see any potential correlation between them. Body condition can be assessed by looking at how much fat they have present on their organs and under the skin and is generally recorded as good, fair, or poor.
For those in the Managed Lands Deer Program, the basic data mentioned previously are required to be submitted to TPWD annually. Records should also include hunter name, date of kill, tag number, and sample number. Data collection needs to be consistent across years so you can see potential trends between your management practices and the health of your herd. Mike recommended limiting the number of people collecting data on your property to ensure consistency across animals and years.
So, you have collected all this data, what do you do with it? Steve and Mike recommended putting it in an Excel file so you can analyze it and look for potential correlations. Comparisons should be made only within an age class, not between age classes. They also advised not making management decisions or changes based on any one year of data. Decisions should be made based on trends observed on your ranch.
We rounded the episode out with a short Q&A session with Steve and Mike.
What are some telltale signs you are overharvesting or underharvesting your deer herd?
Steve said for overharvesting you will see a low number of deer on your census counts and a large percentage of your harvest can be composed of year and a half old bucks. For underharvesting you can see a browse line on your property, harvest more older aged individuals and the majority are in poor body condition and have low weights.
Do I need to submit all my harvest records to the county tax appraiser for the wildlife valuation program?
While it is not required to submit all harvest record data, Steve said in his opinion more is better when submitting data to the county tax appraiser.
Is there any additional data I should collect for my own records?
Mike said photographs are nice and a detailed photo history of a buck can be very useful when it comes to aging them. This includes post-harvest photos.
Our crew can’t wait to share the next episode of Leopold Live! with you! Be sure to keep an eye on Facebook for all upcoming episodes.