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Buck to Doe Ratios

A Deer Management Article

Written by T.R. Michels


During August the bucks may be traveling to food sources together, and getting ready to shed velvet. It's time to begin clearing deer trails, shooting lanes and stand sites for the hunting season. It's also time to start your archery practice.

Social Balance and Carrying Capacity
When we are talk about ideal social conditions in deer management, the buck to doe ratio should be close to one buck to one doe (1:1). However, in areas where this type of management has not been practiced the buck to doe ratio may be as low as one buck to five does (1:5). Keeping the buck to doe ratio in balance helps increase the number of older bucks in the herd. It can also improve the social ranking, health and reproductive rate of the herd. A herd of 100 deer with a makeup of 50 percent bucks and 50 percent does will not increase by 100 percent per year, because some of the does will be too young to breed, and some too old to conceive. Even if each doe produces twins the natural mortality rate would keep the increase below 100 animals.

If you are trying to increase the number of older bucks in the area you must remember that the habitat can only carry only so many deer, it makes no difference if they are bucks or does. The herd must also be kept in balance with the carrying capacity of the habitat, in order to keep both the habitat and the animals healthy.

Let's assume that there are 100 deer with a 50:50 male to female ratio, and the property has a carrying capacity of 150 animals. If every female produces twins, and 3/4 of the young survive the herd is now above carrying capacity of the land with 175 animals. To prevent habitat destruction and starvation up to 25 deer should be removed; either through natural mortality, predation or hunting. If half the young are male and half females, and no natural mortality or predation occurs the male to female ratio must be kept in balance by removing 12 males and 12 females the next year. This will keep the herd at carrying capacity. But, the herd should be kept below carrying capacity. By keeping the herd below capacity you insure that if a severe winter, drought or habitat destruction occurs the animals may still survive.

In many cases hunters only remove the males from the herd, which can be disastrous. If 25 bucks are removed from the herd there will be 37 males and 62 females, leaving 99 deer. Some of the bucks shot will be 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 years old, and they will never have a chance to become dominant breeding bucks. But, the real problem is that there are now 62 does that can conceivably produce 124 young with a 75 percent survival rate, increasing the herd by 93 the next year for a total of 192, with 83 bucks and 109 does. Because the herd is above carrying capacity, habitat destruction is likely to occur. If the hunters again remove only males, by taking 42 bucks, there are still 109 does instead of the original 50. If the practice of taking only bucks continues there will not be enough mature males left to ensure that all the does will be bred during the peak of the rut; some late born fawns will starve or die of exposure, and the population may crash. Even if the population doesn't suffer, the number of older bucks will decline; in order to produce more older-aged bucks some of the does must be taken each year.

If the habitat is at carrying capacity and the herd is balanced (as many hunters want it to be), equal numbers of does and bucks must be still be removed in order to keep the herd in balance with the habitat. If the herd is kept below carrying capacity there may be enough forage even if the harvest quotas are not met; if production is higher than normal; or if forage production is reduced by unforeseen circumstances. The best strategy for responsible deer management is to keep the herd below carrying capacity, and the male to female ratio as balanced as possible.