Mule Deer management, especially where biology and social issues meet is a complex issue, but an easy band-aid approach doesn’t solve anything.
Have more fawns that live to be adults.
End of story…
That could easily be the end of this article, and it really is that simple. But the meat and potatoes of this straightforward solution get a little more complicated. Here’s where research dollars should be spent, and managers should be looking for accountability in understanding this.
I’ve had it explained to me that a deer’s life is death by a thousand needles, or a deer herd is like a bucket full of water, but the bucket has many leaks or holes in it. Each leak is something that is impacting herd growth, and there are a lot of things to consider, with major factors being (but not limited to): habitat, migration, predation, disease, roadkill, accidents, hunting, natural disasters, winter mortality, etc. And each of these “holes” isn’t that easy to patch. However, we can identify the largest holes and work towards reduce their impact so that fawn recruitment can overshadow the inevitable losses from these impacts.
Another complexity is that there isn’t one solution that fits every deer herd. Herds each have very specific and different needs. Those “holes in the bucket” are not the same size for every herd or sub-herd, so it is challenging. However, this doesn’t provide an excuse for managers, conservationists, or hunters to just throw our hands up in the air and say it’s impossible, or time will heal, as is the case currently in parts of the intermountain west. Sure, these areas have been impacted significantly over the last few winters as they have been extreme and so has mule deer winter mortality, but are there steps that can be taken to help speed up the recovery, and a few simple questions that we should feel accountable to understand and address:
– What are the most significant factors reducing fawn recruitment over the past 5 years?
– Can something be done to reduce mortality during “bad” winters?
– Is the management of other species impacting mule deer herds negatively?
It has been very common for me, over the past year, to hear comments from fellow hunters regarding the shutting down of hunting seasons or reduction of buck tags. As long as you are not hunting does, hunter harvest will not change the recovery rate of a herd, except for conditions where there are not enough bucks to successfully breed all of the does. And actually, carrying a higher ratio of bucks to does can delay herd recovery. Reducing tags and lowering population objectives without a valid reason as to why, is in almost all cases, a simple “band-aid” solution that doesn’t fix or address the underlying problems to remove accountability for the managers.
So the next time we start talking deer management, and I think we should talk about it more, try to get an understanding of why, and let’s start taking steps to put more fawns on the ground and help them become big healthy does and bucks. The answer is not to reduce buck harvest. With great recruitment, you’d be surprised at how fast a herd can recover.