Balancing ratio of does to bucks key to proper deer management
The so-called "Buck Law," which only allowed the harvest of antlered deer, can be largely blamed for the lack of trophy bucks and overpopulation of deer in Oklahoma.
"For decades, most state wildlife departments mismanaged the deer very badly. They embraced the Buck Law," said Jim Shaw, emeritus professor of natural resources ecology management at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. "We are trying to correct for past mismanagement."
For a healthy deer population, the sex ratio of does to bucks should be about one to three. While great strides have been taken to manage the deer population, the sex ratio in Oklahoma is approximately one to 15.
"The more skewed the sex ratio, the faster the population grows and the fewer trophy bucks it produces," Shaw said. "With heavy hunting pressure directed at the relatively few bucks, fewer of them get old enough to become trophies."
As the quality of deer has decreased, and the quantity has increased, steps have been made since the 1970s to manage the population more efficiently. Some pressure has been taken off the bucks and placed on does during hunting season.
"The idea would be to have a little more balance in the system," Shaw said. "You would like to have a healthy population of deer, and little by little, as they increase the number of doe days and increase the harvest pressure on does, you see a little bit older age of bucks coming through the check stations."
In previous years the average age of deer at check stations in the state was 1.8 years, which is not enough time to grow into a trophy buck, according to an Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service study.
"Large antlered or trophy class deer are generally 4.5 to 6.5 years of age," reads the report. "Occasionally, 3.5-year-old deer will have trophy class antlers."
If bucks were to be protected for a few years, and only does could be legally harvested, the results would be greatly noticed. There would be less pressure on the vegetation, less collisions between automobiles anddeer, not as many ticks and more big bucks.
But is that what hunters really want?
A survey was given a few years back, which asked hunters is they would prefer to see more deer when hunting or fewer deer, but more bucks with big racks. To the surprise of Shaw, the reply was in the favor of people wanting to see more deer.
Hunters will have their chance this year as the population is estimated at over a half million entering deer gun season.