Should Oklahoma deer hunters be allowed to kill just one buck each year?
Heath Herje thinks so. The man who started the first Quality Deer Management Association chapter in Oklahoma says the state's deer herd would benefit.
Right now, there are too many does and not enough mature bucks in Oklahoma's deer herd, he said.
“That's an opinion shared by a lot of people,” Herje said. “Just take the plunge and go to a one-buck limit, at least for a try.”
Jerry Shaw, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said a one-buck limit might happen someday, but at present the majority of deer hunters in Oklahoma do not support it.
“Most of our hunters are still more interested in hunting opportunities,” Shaw said. “But it's not as big of a majority as it was when I started this job 18 years ago, that's for sure.”
Herje, who holds a degree in Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources from Oklahoma State University, said Oklahoma hunters are harvesting too many of what biologists consider immature bucks.
Although, that number has improved since the buck limit was reduced five years ago from three to two, he said.
Still, based on 2009 data, 57 percent of the bucks killed by Oklahoma deer hunters are just 2½ years old or younger, Herje said. Twenty-seven percent of that group was just 1½-year-old bucks, he said.
Compare that to Kansas, which has a one-buck limit where only 9 percent of its buck harvest is 2½ years old or younger whitetails, Herje said.
Reducing the buck limit is not about trophy management, Herje said. If a buck tag were removed, Oklahoma hunters would shoot more does, the state's deer herd would become more balanced and mature bucks would be doing the brunt of the breeding, he said.
“The antlers would just be a byproduct,” he said. “That's the focus of some people, but in my opinion, it's more biologically the correct thing to do for the deer herd and less about the antlers.”
The eventual result would be a healthier, more socially balanced deer herd with stronger bucks doing the breeding, Herje said. Oklahoma hunters would see more intense rutting behavior, he said.
“People would see things in Oklahoma that you don't get to see now but when you hunt in a state like Kansas or Ohio,” he said.
Shaw agrees Oklahoma hunters need to harvest more does and that getting a more balanced age structure is a good thing.
But the Wildlife Department worries a one-buck limit actually might cause fewer does to be harvested because hunters would spend less time in the woods with only one buck tag, he said.
Hunters can also manage their land for more mature bucks, if they choose to do so, he said. The Wildlife Department even will assist landowners in such deer management, he said.
“If they want to be more restrictive, that's well within their power to do so,” Shaw said.
The Wildlife Department will manage the deer population, first and foremost, based on what the science says is best for the animals, and secondly, based on what Oklahoma hunters want, Shaw said.
“We can provide ample opportunities and still have a thriving deer herd,” he said. “We can satisfy both sides of the argument.”
Culling seemingly inferior bucks will not improve herd genetics
Shooting a young buck with seemingly inferior antlers to cull it from the deer herd will not improve the genetics of the herd, said Heath Herje of the Quality Deer Management Association.
“You can't make an impact on the overall genetics of a deer herd by harvesting one or a handful is what is deemed inferior or scrub bucks,” he said. “It's like a pail of water out of Lake Eufaula.”
There is a trend by hunters to take such animals out of a herd to improve the genetics, Herje said.
Not only does it not help, it could actually hurt the genetics of a herd, he said.
DNA testing shows that such bucks actually may produce offspring with record-size antlers, he said.
“The family tree of an individual deer is enormous,” he said.
Did you know?
Seven Quality Deer Management Association chapters are located in Oklahoma: Chandler, Enid, Okemah, Leonard, Ponca City, Tulsa and Seminole.
For more information, visit www.qdma.com or call (800) 209-3337.
What do you think?
Should the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation impose a one-buck limit for the deer hunting seasons? Send your opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org.