By using trail cameras, many landowners and hunters have some idea of what mature bucks are living on or near their hunting land. But far fewer have a grasp on the overall condition of their deer herd. Trail cameras are a great tool for not only for deciding which big buck you will set your sights on during hunting season, but also for managing and improving your deer herd as a whole. Conducting a camera survey can provide the landowner or manager with information on sex ratio, relative age, general health, antler growth, fawn production, and recruitment, all of which will help to guide harvest and land management decisions. Perhaps most important, if surveys are conducted over multiple seasons or years, the information gathered can help to track significant changes in herd characteristics and allow for focused, proactive herd and land management.
Right now (late summer/early fall) is an ideal time to conduct a camera survey because most fawns have been birthed and are mobile, antlers are close to full-development, and since acorns have yet to drop, most deer will readily come to bait sites. Late winter/early spring (after hunting season has closed) is another good time. The survey should span a length of 10-14 consecutive days and camera density should consist of 1-camera per 100 acres. Be sure to place cameras in areas of high deer activity, such as feeders, deer trails, scrapes, natural funnels, and water sources. Baiting 7-10 days prior and during the survey will greatly improve the survey's success and accuracy; after all, the goal is to get as many deer on camera as possible. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has produced publication ANR-1895 Managing White-Tailed Deer: Camera Surveys which outlines many of the details and considerations to take into account regarding a camera survey.
After the survey is complete, photos must be examined for total fawns, does, and bucks and unique bucks must be determined and counted. A free computation form may be found at www.qdma.com which will help calculate the statistics of does: buck, fawns: doe, acres/deer, and deer/square mile. This information can aid in developing sound harvest and management strategies and can be used to provide data that supports the formation of local hunting cooperatives (i.e. those hunting families, clubs, or groups from nearby or surrounding properties that wish to manage towards a common goal). State and private wildlife biologists can assist you with interpreting the results and provide recommendations towards deer harvest and land management to maintain or improve your deer herd.
It is still important to understand that camera surveys are not a substitute for gathering information such as weight, age, and lactation rates from harvested deer. Harvest data provides critical information about herd health and composition and should be used alongside camera survey data to develop appropriate management recommendations. Detail on this important management practice can be found in extension publication ANR-1412 Managing White-tailed Deer: Collecting Data from Harvested Deer.
Information like this and so much more is available at your counties Alabama Cooperative Extension System office or on-line at www.aces.edu. Please give us a call, visit us on the internet, or make a visit!
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