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Whitetail Deer Management
by John Cook
February 23, 2005

The deer management techniques that we use on our property have changed a lot over the past thirty years in relation with the changing deer herd. Whitetail deer numbers in the entire state of West Virginia have grown considerably and our land has been no exception.

We started shooting does in 1997 after the pictures from our scouting camera revealed that we were overloaded with does. Since then we have shot 22 does and only 7 bucks. Three of these bucks, two 8-points and one 10-point are the three largest antlered bucks that we have taken in the last thirty years. We had noticed that there were larger antlered bucks when the deer population had just started to climb in the eighties and then antler sizes began to decrease as the deer numbers grew too high and we were shooting the young bucks each year.

All of this made us realize that we needed to lower the deer population by shooting does and letting the young bucks grow up.

We are currently doing several different things in an attempt to have a well-balanced, healthier deer herd on our farm. These include:

Harvesting does.

Letting young bucks grow up.

Planting food plots to help boost the nutrition.

Mineral licks.

Keep records on the deer harvested and a log of the bucks seen during hunting season.

Leave an area of sanctuary during the hunting season so that the deer are not pressured.

Provide a limited amount of shelled corn with automated wildlife feeders.

On some occasions we also cut down trees to provide browse in the winter and fertilize plants growing along the edges, especially the honeysuckle.

The Results

Since changing our hunting strategies we have noticed some changes for the better. We have seen bucks fighting, which we had seldom seen in past years and bucks have started reacting to calling, particularly grunting. We are finding shed antlers now; sheds are hard to find when they're just spikes. Also the numbers of bucks as compared to does caught on our scouting camera pictures has increased dramatically. This tells us that our buck to doe ratio is improving.

On the other hand, we still feel that our total deer numbers are too high. The body weights of the deer we are shooting are still low. The body weights of the three does that we shot in 1997 ranged from 65 to 85 pounds while the weights of the four does in 2003 varied from 55 to 82 pounds. Although we are not deer aging experts we do look at tooth wear to determine the approximate age of the deer. We usually look at the lower front teeth. A couple of the does that we've shot have had these lower front teeth worn all the way to the gumline.

Record Keeping

I believe that the records that we keep have given us a lot of valuable information. We record every buck that we see during hunting season. We include the date, time, number of points, location, person who saw buck, time, and rack width and characteristics. During the season of 2003 we recorded 87 buck sightings, of course many of these bucks showed up several times. It is neat to look back and see the bucks grow up that we have recorded. The rack characteristics are similar from year to year and allow us to identify many of the deer that we see. Most years I am able to look at this list and figure out an approximate number of different bucks that we have seen.

We have also kept deer harvest data since 1997 and I wish that I had started doing this earlier. This data includes the time, date, number of points, location, hunter, dressed weight, inside antler spread and approximate age. I think that we can tell a lot from the weight data and wish that we had kept track of the weights from the bucks that we had shot several years ago when we first got our scales. The weights of the bucks that we have shot since 1997 have ranged from 72 to 130 pounds. The 72 pound deer was a spike that my 9 year old son shot in 2002. The 130 pound buck was an 8-point that I killed in 2000. I knew that this buck was at least three and one-half years old and most likely a year or two older. I had watched this buck for the two previous years when he was a nice wide 6-point and had found one of his shed antlers in 1998. We also had a few pictures of him from our scouting cameras.

One suggestion that I would have for every deer camp would be to buy a set of scales. They provide a lot of information for the relatively cheap cost.

Whitetail deer management is not difficult, is good for the overall health of your deer herd and a lot of fun.

You can read more about our deer management at my website

I have been deer hunting in West Virginia for close to 30 years. Now I am teaching my children to hunt and enjoy it more each year.

Wildlife Scouting Cameras
by John Cook
February 23, 2005

For years I wondered how big the bucks were that were roaming our property in the dark of night. After all, I knew that monster bucks had to be eluding me during the daylight hours only to roam the woods at night. In an attempt to reveal these mysterious nocturnal monsters I purchased a scouting camera in 1996.

After a couple of years of using the camera I was very disappointed. The camera worked fine and we had many pictures of deer, but they were the same does and spike bucks that I was seeing during the day. Something must be wrong; I knew that there had to be big bucks stalking the hillsides at night. After all, everyone always said "you know there is a big one in there somewhere".

After many rolls of film and an equal number of anxious trips to retrieve developed pictures, I came to realize that there simply were not any mystical trophy bucks roaming our property.

This scouting camera was the proof that I needed to convince myself that the problem was not nocturnal deer but it was actually a deer management problem.

In the eight years since that initial camera purchase I have gotten pictures of bucks that I had not seen, but this wasn't until after I had implemented a quality deer management plan on our property. One thing is certain, if mature bucks are not on your property you will not get a picture of them and you will definitely not see them.

You can use your scouting camera pictures to get approximate buck to doe ratios simply by observing the ratios that are in the pictures. Also it is easier to estimate the quality of the bucks on your property once you have a picture that you can study. You will also get pictures of the other wildlife that make their homes on your property.

With a scouting camera you can practically perform 24 hour scouting, especially with the new digital scouting cameras. For those of us who work it is difficult to spend a lot of time scouting, but the camera can be your eyes.

A scouting camera cannot find bucks that are not there but they do a real good job of letting you know what is.

Camera Placement

Where do you put your scouting camera? This is one of the fun parts of having a scouting camera. Deciding where to put the camera is just like deciding where to hunt.

The easiest way to get pictures of whitetail deer is to have something that attracts them. If you do this, a camera can take a lot of pictures in a short period of time. Be careful of your delay settings on your camera or you could get a lot of pictures of the same deer.

It is interesting to put the camera up at various places such as: well used trails, scrapes, rubs, food plots and minerals licks. I'm sure that you can think of a few places where you would like to know how much deer activity takes place.

Most scouting cameras have the ability to place the date and time on the photograph. This can be very helpful in determining the time of day the deer show up at your particular hotspot. I use it to let me know what time I have to be in the woods in the mornings so that I donít have to get out of bed any earlier than I have to.

Set Up Tips

There are a few things that will help ensure that you will not be disappointed with your scouting camera.

Try not to place the camera where it is facing into either the rising or setting sun.

Clear weeds away from the front of the camera so that you do not get pictures of weeds swaying in the breeze.

Do not set your camera up too close or far away from where you expect the deer to travel. A camera set up on a tree within 3 feet of the trail is too close whereas most flashes cannot reach much beyond 30 feet or less.

Fresh batteries! It is very disappointing to find out that you didn't get many pictures because your batteries have died. Rechargeable batteries are gaining popularity lately; Iím having good success using them with my digital scouting camera.

I advise buying a scouting camera that has a locking device. It would be too easy for someone to walk away with your camera if it is not locked.

I am using a digital scouting camera for the first time this year and highly recommend them. There are many advantages to the digital camera, in particular the capability of viewing your pictures right away.

The exciting part is seeing a picture of a nice buck that you didn't know was on your property. These pictures help you get out of bed on those cold mornings and make you stay in your stand longer when you get bored. Get yourself a scouting camera and have fun with it.

You can read more about our experienced with scouting cameras and our latest digital adventures at

I have been deer hunting in West Virginia for close to 30 years. Now I am teaching my children to hunt and enjoy it more each year.