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Co-ops Help Hunters Better Manage Deer
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Because property lines mean nothing to deer, management of deer populations must cross those lines as well if the herd is to have quality bucks available for harvest.
Mississippi has an estimated 2 million deer, giving it the highest concentration of deer of any other state in the country. This figure is generated from hunter harvest reports.
Don Bales, Wilkinson County agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said these high numbers make Mississippi an attractive place for deer hunters. But it's not just numbers that make for a healthy herd and a good hunt.
"The quality of deer hunting is directly related to the level of management and the knowledge of the hunter or manager," Bales said.
Many hunters and landowners practice quality deer management principles to promote a healthy deer population. These principles ensure a good buck-to-doe ratio, better body weight and antler measurement, adequate antlerless harvest, protection of younger bucks and the production of older bucks.
The problem is that one land manager or hunting club cannot improve the local deer herd alone. Deer travel over many acres and may move onto land hunted by others with different goals.
In response, Bales established three Quality Deer Management Cooperatives in Wilkinson County. These cooperatives involve about 25 individual hunting clubs and 34,000 acres. The only requirement is that clubs collect and submit data about the deer harvested. However, members are encouraged to follow quality deer management principles.
The clubs keep Deer Management Assistance Program records. DMAP, operated through the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, analyzes the clubs' harvest data and provides results.
The first cooperative was established in 1992. Bales said the management effort is succeeding, with the number of mature bucks harvested per square mile increasing. One cooperative has seen a 200 percent increase in the number of mature bucks and the others have seen 100 to 150 percent increases.
"White-tailed deer hunters want to hunt where there are mature bucks. They want to harvest some, but they also like to just see them," Bales said. "A lot of hunters are seeing 1-, 2- and even 3-year-old bucks, but letting them go and instead waiting for mature bucks age 4 and older. That means fewer bucks are being harvested, but hunters are enjoying the sport more."
The hunting club cooperatives collect data all year, which they give to Bales in the spring. Reports are run on the data and trends are noted. Clubs use this information to make decisions on hunting practices for their own members in the coming year.
While many hunters see the value of deer herd management and accept new hunting practices, Bales said young hunters readily adopt the principles. Peer pressure enlists the cooperation of others.
"It's about quality, stewardship and doing what's right for the herd," Bales said.
Dean Stewart, Extension wildlife specialist, said hunters have the best success when they pursue mutual goals.
"Working with many landowners who can block up land area and control the number of hunters also gives more control over the harvest and management of the deer herd," Stewart said.