Thursday, September 24, 2009

Quality Deer Management in Florida

© 2009 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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QDM in Florida
Bigger Bucks, Better Herds

The history of trophy whitetails is pretty short in the Sunshine State. I believe that there are only two in the Boone and Crockett book, the 1941 Clark Durrance buck from Wakulla County, which scored 201 3/8 points in the all-time record book. The second is the Henry Brinson buck from 1959 out of Jackson County, and that deer scored 186 1/8. Now as it turns out, both of these are non-typical racks and as of right now, there are no typical racks in the B&C books that I am aware of.

The Pope and Young books are a little more populated than the B&C books, but still slim none -the-less. 13 bucks have made it into the archery only books from Florida. The Largest Florida buck in the books is Robert Ballard's, taken in Columbia County in 1980. It scored 153 4/8 points.

Image Credit: Kathleen
There have been several more deer that haven't been recorded but are either well known like the Green Swamp buck, or just haven't been registered by their owners. Even taking that into consideration, they do not amount to more than a few dozen, and most of those in the low range of 120 to 130 points.

If you are hunting public land exclusively, historically there are only three counties that you can consider: Alachua County is number one, followed by Brevard and Putnam counties. But if you look at the most recent “Big Bucks,” bucks that score over 120 on the Florida Buck Registry you will find that Hamilton County has 10 bucks in the last three years, Jackson County with nine, Jefferson County has seven, and Alachua County rounds it out with six in the same three years.

Photo Credit: Joe Povenz

All of these counties are in the northern tier, and where the soils are better, the bucks have a better chance of growing bigger. The rest of Florida, with its poor soils and high rainfall produces abundant, but poor-quality vegetation. Better soil means better forage, which means better nutrition, and better growth potential for those deer. The majority of quality bucks come from QDM (Quality Deer Management) managed properties where both soil and plants are managed for maximum nutrition, and the deer are managed to promote healthy populations. In central and southern Florida, the only way to produce a better herd and bigger bucks is by taking a direct role in managing for those results.

Other parts of Florida can ameliorate the lack of nutritional forage by instituting a carefully thought out plan that increases the nutrition available to the deer. A site analysis and inventory should be done in order to understand what the property has available to it, and what it lacks in.

Photo Credit: Blair Nixon

Remember that the quality of forage can vary widely, even within close proximity. Florida soils are also notoriously variable, and in many places there is only a thin veneer of organic matter and vegetation over sand. Proper husbandry of the soil, with the application of appropriate minerals, and the sowing of plants that helps the soil and at the same time provide quality forage, should be an important component of the quality deer management plan. Supplemental feeding of the appropriate feed, and the establishment of food plots that supply year round nutritional forage, can be instrumental in producing exceptional bucks for the area.

Credit: Koubian

But deer don't get big if they die young. Remember that in most of the country, 80 percent of all bucks taken are yearlings less than 1 ½ years old. With uncontrolled taking of these bucks it is unlikely that any potentially exceptional deer will survive.

As a result of this, many properties have instituted strict deer management guidelines that are followed to allow the younger deer to grow. Most bucks will not maximize their potential until they reach 4 to 5 years of age, and their ultimate size won't peak until 6 ½ years!. The age of the buck is the determining factor of the size of the buck's rack. By purposely avoiding shooting any young deer most property managers can see an increase in the number of older, larger bucks on their properties.

PhotoCredit: Jeffrodsj

In addition, it is imperative that the adult sex ratio be kept in line with the management goals. Initially a 2 to 1 doe to buck ratio should be pursued, with the goal of 1 to 1 as the future target. This will require careful observations, trail cameras, observation cards from fellow hunters, and even the use of a wildlife biologist.

Antlerless deer culling is one of the three most important steps that need to be taken. With a deer herd kept in check by best management practices, with a healthy sex ratio, the number of bucks actually increases. This of course requires a change in hunting practices, you will have to take more does, so make sure everyone is on board.

Again, your quality deer management program can be no better than the data collected. Every management program should have a “Check-in Station” where every deer taken must be brought in for the collection of information. It could be as formal as a clubhouse located right on the property, to one of the members garages where everyone stops by and the data is collected accurately and completely. Data from deer killed should include date the deer was taken, deer identification number if available, sex, age (jawbone), weight, lactation and antler measurements. Not commonly known, the dressed weight of fawns and yearlings, is the best indication of overall herd condition rather than the live weight.

Note: Materials needed to stock and equip a check station are available through the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA; 1-800-209-3337) or Forestry Suppliers, Inc. (1-800-647-5368)

A PDF for the Check-In Station for data collection will be available soon for downloading here at TROC.

PhotoCredit: FDLReporter
Fond du Lac County Buck

Instituting a Quality Deer Management programs for not only high quality deer, but a healthy and productive herd, are well within the reach of Florida land owners, lease managers, and hunting aficionados. The keys are limiting the number of young bucks killed to the very minimum, sound nutrition, and a balanced adult sex ratio. Time is a necessary component, with discipline and patience its counterpart. You need time to see the results of your efforts, along with patience to see it through. Discipline, both in data gathering and trigger control are requisite to getting the results you want.

Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert is actually a biologist. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)

Albert A Rasch
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles


Michael Spinelli said...


what are some of the supplement options you mentioned?

Mike S

Anonymous said...

Good Post Albert, very informative.

Phillip said...

Interesting stuff, AR.

While I still can't get behind the idea of QDM as a public lands management policy, I do think it's a great program for land-owners to implement.

Gun Slinger said...

When the opportunity arises, I would like to purchase or lease substantial acreage and pursue a QDM project. Not so much so I can shoot a trophy, but just to know I am making an effort to sustain a healthy herd of strong, quality deer.

Fantastic post, are you going to expand on the topic?

Shoot straight,

Albert A Rasch said...

There are several high protein supplemental feeds, mineral blocks, and some folks even use supplemental feedings of forage materials like hay, range cubes, and alfalfa cubes. It can be a combination of these also.

I am also into the sustainability aspect of the plans. As such I think it is very important to look at it as a conservation/agricultural plan. Planting for multiple aspects, as in cover and browse, or forage for different animals like turkey and deer, or quail and deer, can be incorporated simultaneously.

Yes I will be adding to the topic in the future. I would like to write about starting small and working up into a comprehensive program. That way you can do a little at a time as funds and time permit.

Best regards,
Check out the Bull Moose Hunting Society

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