Hunting and game management are not the same.
One requires that you show up and pull the trigger while the other requires some general knowledge of the habitat, the ecology of the game, and the connection between the two.
While hunting is a part of game management, there is more that needs to be understood before you ever step foot in the woods with a gun.
You don’t attract big game to your property, you grow big game on your property through understanding and implementing three components of game management that never change.
I know from my experience it is possible to produce larger than average bucks on free range properties.
One free range property that I was able to manage had average size native deer for the area – typically scoring in the low 100 B&C. But I knew through careful selection of what was harvested, keeping the population according to carrying capacity in check, and providing the essential nutrition needed for the deer that I could start seeing larger bucks in a few years time.
After 3 years of intensive cull and management buck harvest we began seeing a greater number bucks that scored between 140 – 150 B&C.
No matter where you hunt, whether on private land or public, whether it be 40 acres or 4000 acres, there are three components that can be the key to successful game management.
1. Management is a Local Effort
While the state can set restrictions on dates, antler size, and how much game each person is allowed to take, the core of game management is still a local effort.
You are in control of the game management on your hunting ground and decide which animals are taken on your property. Each time you harvest game, you have manipulated your herd, either for better or worse.
Having a clear vision of your management goals, and making harvest decision that are in line with those goals will determine the future of the game quality in your area.
Game management isn’t just about taking out the biggest deer each year, or the smallest. It involves being selective about which deer you take. Do you let him walk so he can grow and produce offspring, or do you take him before the rut?
Knowing whether to pull the trigger on a 3.5 year old 10 point, is a decision that can only be correctly made if you have clear management goals and know the quality of deer in your area. Just because a buck meets the antler restrictions set by the state, doesn’t mean that deer has to be taken. You have the choice.
Set within the restrictions of the state, you are the one who ultimately makes game management decisions for your hunting area.
2. Numbers vs. Habitat
Game management can be just like any other type of business management – it’s a numbers game. We would all love to have a property that is loaded with big mature game, but balancing game numbers with a habitat that can support them is crucial in good management.
Having too much game is just as detrimental as not having any game is frustrating.
If the habitat can’t support the number of game animals that are in the area it can cause major problems such as an unhealthy population due to lack of food, fewer offspring, a decrease in trophy quality, and death during the winter months.
If poor harvest practices have hindered the population’s potential to grow there will be serious set backs on the desired time frame of your management plan.
Keep in mind that when we are talking about game populations that the habitat supports (i.e. carrying capacity), we aren’t just talking about trophy game. That number also includes young offspring, immature males, and females.
For example, in deer management: typically, depending on your location and specific habitat, you will have a population of one deer to every 10 acres, consequently your population of mature bucks will range about one mature buck to every 100 to 200 acres. You may understand now why those big bucks can seem so elusive.
Knowing these numbers can help increase your patience in deciding to allow younger bucks to walk and may encourage you to go ahead and harvest a doe.
3. Provide the Necessities
If you want game to stick around then you have to make sure your property provides them with everything they need to survive and feel safe.
Adequate food sources, readily available drinking water, and bedding/escape cover are the three main necessities for any wildlife.
If you are missing one of these three things, then the game you are managing for will likely seek it somewhere else. If you are managing behind a high fence and one of these three are missing then you will cause stress to the animals and see a decline in their health and numbers.
Deer are selective browsers, which means they will pass up an abundant food source if a more palatable source is available. To put it in human terms, they will pass up the broccoli and spinach and go straight for the dessert table. Planting food plants and supplemental feeding is a great way to supplement their natural selection and to draw them into a specific area.
Food and water are a given, but having the correct cover for them to feel safe is equally crucial. Game that doesn’t have the proper habitat cover, or is constantly disturbed by people or other animals that are not a part of their natural environment can cause them to stress – which can lead to a decline in health and even death.
Taking stock in the personal responsibility you have in the harvest decisions, knowing how to keep your numbers in check, and making sure your habitat provides the necessities of life are crucial in creating and implementing a good wildlife management plan. Understanding these three components of game management will give you sure footing as you create your management strategy.
Question: Now that you know the three constants in game management, what changes do you need to make to your management strategy?