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QDMA Kips Korner September 2009: Buck Fawn Harvest

Discussion in 'Hunting, Fishing & Camping' started by RJ Schuknecht, Oct 4, 2009.

  1. The most important tenet of Quality Deer Management (QDM) is to balance the deer herd with the habitat’s ability to support it. Critics often speak of trophy bucks and antlers as the driving force, but hunters and managers who truly delve into the QDM philosophy quickly learn the correct number of deer for the landscape comes first, followed by balanced sex ratios and complete age structures. Fortunately, you can work on these three objectives simultaneously by harvesting the biologically appropriate number of antlerless deer and passing young bucks.

    Many deer herds are more in balance with the habitat today than they’ve been in the recent past, and this is cause for celebration. However, some areas still have overabundant deer herds resulting from harvesting too few antlerless deer. Harvesting the proper number of antlerless deer can be difficult for a variety of reasons including hunters’ unwillingness to shoot them; a lack of opportunity with regard to access, seasons and/or bag limits; or simply low hunter numbers or their inability to shoot enough antlerless deer. Most states currently have more liberal antlerless seasons and bag limits than they’ve had in the past, but some landowners and clubs still have difficulty acquiring enough antlerless tags or permits.

    Given that hunter numbers have declined, the average hunter is now asked to take more antlerless animals in overabundant deer situations. Unfortunately research shows there is a limit to the number of deer an individual hunter is willing to take annually. This limit is generally less than three deer, and given that one or two may be bucks, the number of antlerless deer is further reduced. One strategy to increase the impact of the antlerless harvest is to maximize harvest of adult does and minimize harvest of fawns. I’ll clarify there is nothing wrong with harvesting fawns, and I routinely prescribe a fawn harvest to collect biological data from this age class. However, if you’re struggling to balance the deer herd with the habitat, and you’re limited in the number of antlerless deer you take during the hunting season, focusing on adult does rather than fawns can help you reach your management objectives more quickly.

    The QDMA recommends buck fawns constitute less than 10 percent of your total antlerless harvest. Educating hunters on distinguishing fawns from adult deer and even separating buck and doe fawns in the field is a relatively simple matter. By observing head and body features and behavior, most hunters can accurately distinguish between fawns and adults and buck and doe fawns most of the time. I stress that last part because mistakes will happen. Specifically, focusing on adult does rather than buck fawns provides more meat for the table, helps balance the herd more quickly, and allows additional buck fawns to survive. More buck fawns means more yearling bucks the following year, which is good for balancing the adult sex ratio and for hunter satisfaction.

    Let’s use a real-world example from where I live in Pennsylvania. Before the Pennsylvania Game Commission implemented the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) in 2003 most Pennsylvania hunters could only get one or two antlerless tags. On my family’s farm it was difficult to harvest enough antlerless deer with this restricted bag limit even with an extremely high hunter density of nearly one hunter per 25 acres. During this time, when someone shot a button buck they had to use their only antlerless tag on it (or one of two), and thus they lost the ability to use it on an adult doe. We cared far less about removing button bucks than about our lost ability to remove adult does. Fortunately the Game Commission provides DMAP to most landowners today, and it has allowed us to achieve the proper antlerless harvest for the past several seasons. Our forester even stated that we are the poster child for oak regeneration in Pennsylvania. That is a far cry from the denuded oak woods I walked as a child.

    Some contend protection of buck fawns is unnecessary, but in situations like the example above I’ll argue that learning to distinguish between antlerless deer in the field and selecting against buck fawns can dramatically help managers meet their deer density goals. Many state agency biologists recognize this and provide information to hunters on how to identify antlerless deer on the hoof. With escalating antlerless harvests in many states, we were interested in how the buck fawn harvest has changed over the past decade. To calculate this, QDMA surveyed all state deer project leaders and asked what percentage of their total antlerless harvest was buck fawns in 1998 and 2008. The data showed the percentage of buck fawns in the antlerless harvest declined from an average of 19 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 2008. This savings may appear small, but given the harvest of approximately 3.4 million antlerless deer in 2008, a 3 percent savings would have equated to 102,000 buck fawns. Nationally, the percentage ranged from 3 percent in Mississippi (data collected on wildlife management areas and DMAP properties) to 25 percent in Ohio and Wisconsin in 2008. The percentage in Ohio and Wisconsin is not surprising as both states have highly productive deer herds (i.e., a lot of fawns entering the populations) and aggressive antlerless harvest programs. However, both states could benefit if some of those buck fawns harvested were adult does instead. Notable declines in buck fawn harvest from 1998 to 2008 occurred in New Jersey (25 to 13 percent), Georgia (26 to 18 percent), North Carolina (17 to 12 percent) and Virginia (22 to 17 percent).

    Many states have progressive deer management programs, and it’s showing in the health and quality of their herds and habitats, and especially in the satisfaction of their hunters. I’ll reiterate that many deer herds are in balance with the habitat today, and reduced doe harvests are needed in these areas. The focus of this article was for areas with too many deer and how targeting adult does rather than fawns could increase hunters’ effectiveness at balancing the herd with the habitat. As fewer hunters are asked to harvest additional deer, more effective and efficient strategies become necessary. Selecting adult does over buck (and doe) fawns meets this criterion, and it provides additional meat for the table. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

    Kip's Korner is written by Kip Adams, a Certified Wildlife Biologist and Northern Director of Education and Outreach for the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). The QDMA is an international nonprofit wildlife conservation organization dedicated to ethical hunting, sound deer management and preservation of the deer-hunting heritage. The QDMA can be reached at 1-800-209-DEER or
  2. very good post and 100% right on. HUnting is more than about finding that biggest spread.

  3. Anyone know of any links to the above information. I tried a quick google search and was flooded with unhelpful information.

    Obviously if I can see the buttons I'll know it's a little buck. But what other features and behavior should I be looking for.

    I archery hunt a suburban property that is way overrun with deer and killing does is our priority. Often will get 2 small deer walking by, it would be nice to have some more information on deciding which of the 2 is most likely a doe.
  4. Will in my experience, fawns have thinner longer necks in relations to their bodies.

    Adults both male and females are much thicker and more so when it's older

    also the coats on younger deers has more brown and the bibs are brighter and more smoother looking

    Also other tell-tale signs are by watching the deers. deers in groups of 2 or more are typically fawns

    Deers that are more courious or not as "spooky" are typically fawns

    Also the only true way to age a deer is by reviewing the teeth, good luck with making that happen on a live deer ;)

  5. I can pretty much tell a doe from a fawn, what I thought the article was referring to was clues to tell a buck fawn from a doe fawn. It's not uncommon for us to see a doe with 2 fawns. In that case we take the big doe, one doe out of the breeding cycle. But the 2 fawns usually come back around and follow their old patterns. Now I have 2 fawns come walking by, is there visual clues or behavior to tell the boys from the girls besides looking between their legs? I'd much rather shoot the female fawns and leave the bucks.

    Once in a while I can see the buttons on top of the head, but not always.
  6. That might be very hard to identify if both fawns where of the same age. You could look for pedicles ( buttons ), but outside of that it's hard to tell. Low light conditions is even less of a chance to ID. If in doubt, pass it up if your concerned, or bring binoculars and study the head. if the bone hasn't broke the skin, look for bumps.

    In FLA we typically have Antler restrictions which gives the young bucks some leeway. Outside of archery ( any thing goes as long as it don't have dots ) , than we have a 5" antler and/or point counts.

    I 've never been to concern with it in, but always try for my limit on anterless deer during the 2 days that the state gives me, inside general gun.

    On public land, I do what I can do at that time. So anything legal is open game ;)
  7. 357glocker


    Oct 28, 2002
  8. CanyonMan

    CanyonMan In The Saddle

    Jul 26, 2002
    It is not the easiest thing in the world to tell the Identical twins apart, (buck from doe Fawns), but it can be done. There are a few things to look for, and even if you see them, slight as they are, it still can leave you (at times), wondering, "Man am I making the right decision here." ?

    These pics below I took out on our place some time ago. Had an overcast day, the wrong ISO for my film in the camera, and the wrong lens attachment. So, if you can copy and paste these to a folder on your PC and roll your mouse button around to "zoom in," you will see things much better than in these little minatures here below. Although they are both shots of (the same) button buck, (i know y'all wanted a non button pic), they still show head and body structure crucial to the distinguishing of the boys from the girls at 6 to 10 months.

    The buck fawn will be more arrogant, more pronounced, more fool hearty in his actions, and more into things. He will usually be more agressive, and more 'poised,' more confident. The "manly stance." He will have just a tad more room across the top of his head between the base of the ears, and it will be some what square, (not a good term), "flat" perhaps is better, than will the doe fawn's. He will act more the leader, although mom will over ride that and make them both mind, he will be more reluctant to. But "between the two fawns", he will act this way, and be more the scamp. Usually the first of the two siblings to try and jump a fence as well. More eager to be daring..... These ar things to watch for, along with body structure. (that is why I gave the button buck pics to at least give the mind and eye the idea.)

    Now, in the two horrible shots (pics), i show you here a button buck (same one in each pic), just to get your eyes used to the idea. This one is obvious as to sex, but you can still look at the body shape and coloration (which varies a tad at times in my experience from one state to another across the country).

    It is like noway said, "hard to identify." But again, if you know what to look for, and have a few tips, you can make the right call. When in doubt. Don't. I am sure you know that. Hope this will help you some.

    Let me add:

    We are not advocates here on the place of shooting the buck fawn, but do advocate taking the "young adult doe instead." I say "young," because the older does will usually produce a consistant of twins, and a good deal of the time triplets, and are better at nurturing and protecting their young, which helps to insure future prospects of more bucks.

    Good Management for us, is not to take out the little buck fawns, we think this a mistake, as they will soon become bigger bucks. ;) The ones (bucks), that need culling out are obviously the ones in bad shape head gear and body wise "after the first one to two years", they get culled out, and put in the freezer.

    Taking the 'younger adult does', seems to be the most logical choice. When fawns are left alone, nature takes care of itself. They either survive, or fall into the hands of predators. If survival has allowed them to make it to maturity, then the cycle can start agian. Cull out the 1-2 year olds that are not productive in their body size and antler growth, and any 'other' thinning out that is done to balance or manage the herd ratio on the place is to take out some of the younger adult does.....

    Distinguish between the boys and girls at just before 6 to 8 months of age, when the buttons may start on the guys, is for the average hunter a hard task to be sure, and most do not make the right jugement call. The (above) description and characteristics may be of some help to you. Again, it can be done with some patients, and practice and attention to details, as i tried to outline above.

    Again, consider the younger adult does, (if you have the choice to do so that is), and in the long term, this will better balance the ratio than taking out buck fawns.... (in our experience and opinion). ;)

    Good hunting !

    Last edited: Oct 7, 2009
  9. CanyonMan

    CanyonMan In The Saddle

    Jul 26, 2002
    Pics were pulled from my post above. If it still might be of interest, the descriptions are still there for ya at least... I needed the pic space, was running out. :supergrin:

    Good hunting boys.