This is a little long so please bear with me. The idea of how to keep bucks close to home and within the boundaries of a property is constantly being written about in various magazines and discussed on multiple outdoor forums. Many hunting clubs and landowners keep looking for the answer to this issue but never
seem to solve the problem. Our group here in Pennsylvania is no different.

I would like to provide some information about our area, our hunting results and then look at some ideas that some of you may have about our situation.

The area we practice deer management on is slightly over 1500 acres of hardwoods, secondary growth (crabapples, brush, new growth, etc...) and agriculture fields (350 acres). These fields are leased to a farmer who typically plants them in soybeans, corn and alfalfa. The property is somewhat rectangle shaped and has access via township roads. The surrounding properties are mostly posted which means limited hunting but they have no real structured deer management programs and are not interested in deer management. There are twenty hunters on our ground with 10-12 being true "die-hards". We have been practicing antler restrictions since 1995 (16” or wider). We allow no deer drives on the property. All hunting is basically stand-hunting.

We have aggressively been trying to harvest antlerless deer within the license allocations that are available in PA. Our goal is to prevent habitat destruction, minimize crop damage and try to maintain a good buck to doe ratio. Here are harvest results since we started keeping records in 1998.

Year Bucks 16”> - Does
1998 4 - 30
1999 3 - 32
2000 8 - 54
2001 6 - 49
2002 10 - 82
2003 6 - 70
2004 9 - 73
2005 8 - 72
2006 6 - 68
2007 6 - 53

Each buck is aged by cementum aging at a lab so we feel we have a fairly accurate reading of the age of the buck's being harvested. As an example of what we are seeing, in 2006, we had two - 2.5 years olds, three - 3.5 year olds and one - 4.5 year old. We just sent the teeth in from 2007 so we are not sure about this year's ages.

We have four sanctuaries on the property in size from 5 to 15 acres. Over the last 10 years, various segments of the property have been selectively logged. We have multiple food plots planted in sizes from ¼ acre to 3 acres (The 3 acre plot is entirely inside one of our no hunting sanctuaries). The plots are planted with clover and brassicas.

Each year our trail camera census shows multiple quality bucks on the property. Each year many of these are harvested off the property but this year may have been the highest off-property harvest. In fact the three largest bucks that we had photos of were all harvested off the property. At the end of the 2007 hunting season our count shows there were 16 bucks harvested on our property and the properties touching our ground that measured 16” or more. Seven were off our ground (six harvested and one found dead of unknown reasons) and nine off the property.

Understandably we know bucks travel and a 1500 acre piece of property will not hold every buck within its boundaries. We never expected for some bucks not to be harvested on other properties. However I guess what we are struggling with is that when you compare our property, its habitat, food source availability, etc…. and then compare it to the other properties, we cannot put a finger on a problem with our property and bucks not staying "home".

What we are starting to look at is our antlerless deer harvests when compared to the surrounding properties. With what we feel is an aggressive approach to harvesting does as per QDM practices and comparing it to the surrounding properties very limited harvests, we are wondering if our doe harvest practice is backfiring on us. In other words are we causing bucks to venture off the property to look for mature does that are potentially in estrus? There have been many different points of view on harvesting does early, harvesting mature does and so on, but could hunting antlerless deer aggressively be detrimental to a deer management program if others around you are not?

Hopefully some of you such as BSK and others with experience with this type of scenario may have some thoughts on this dilemma or some may have thoughts on what we may be doing wrong and don't even realize it.

Again, sorry for the long posting and thanks.