Crucial Cooperation | Maintaining a Deer Hunting Cooperative
Most deer hunters are familiar with the concept of a deer hunting cooperative. In case you’re not, a deer hunting cooperative is usually comprised of many different hunters, whether they be landowners or lessees, and combine their efforts to achieve the goal of creating better deer hunting. Usually their properties are adjacent to one another. However, this is not a rule. The properties can be in a general area, but preferably the deer hunting cooperative members are managing the same deer herd. In order for this to happen, there must be a common ground. This is the deciding factor that, in reality, determines the success of the cooperative. Properly managed deer hunting cooperatives are so effective that some states have implemented cooperatives on public ground. Each member must follow the set guidelines for the betterment of the deer hunting cooperative. While a cooperative is the ideal way to combine efforts for deer hunting, there are many ways it can go awry. Here are just a few ways a pre-existing cooperative can spiral downwards or keep the idea of a future deer hunting cooperative from gaining a foothold.
The first, and most common mistake when managing a cooperative is focusing too much attention on antlered deer. While many consider the number of mature bucks harvested or roaming their property as a benchmark for success, the fact is the antlerless deer, or does, are the key to a well-managed and balanced herd. A balanced adult buck to doe ratio will result in a more intense rut, lack of over-grazed food plots, healthy fawns born closely together during the spring months, and better overall hunting. In turn, this will benefit the health of the whole herd. Whether your goal is to have a well-balanced herd capable of producing mature deer or a place where deer are commonly spotted for the simple enjoyment of being outdoors, the only way to reach those goal is through managing the antlerless deer.
The time in which the ideal antlerless deer harvest occur is also important. While many hunters wait until the end of the season to punch their doe tags, the best time is early during the season. If your deer hunting cooperative decides on harvesting 60 does, why not accomplish this sooner rather than later? Imagine the forage that will be left behind for the surviving deer, especially during the late season, if the quota is met earlier than later. While this is a relatively simple concept, many cooperatives still strive to meet their quotas as late in the year as possible. Shifting their hunting habits and harvesting dates is a simple trick that will benefit the surviving deer immensely, especially a rut-worn buck.
Aging deer on the hoof is a somewhat new practice that many hunters are utilizing. The same hunters who are practicing aging deer on the hoof are realizing that gauging a buck by his headgear is not a proper way to manage a cooperative. Most cooperatives have antler restrictions such as a buck must have a total of 8 points or 4 points to a side. It is also common for an antler spread to be incorporated such as the antlers must be outside of his ears. These restrictions allow young deer to grow to maturity every year, and many deer hunting cooperatives use these restrictions as their basis for producing mature bucks. Of course, not all deer are alike and for this reason a deer should be aged on the hoof. It is not uncommon for a large buck with 8 points or less to reach maturity in a cooperative with an 8 point minimum harvest rule. If the deer were aged on the hoof, the cooperative members would be judging that particular deer from an age standpoint and not his antlers. Swaying backs, sagging bellies, deep chests and thick necks are characteristics of mature deer and should be the deciding factor if a deer is deemed harvestable or should be left to walk.
No matter how you have established your herd management efforts, the cooperative will suffer if the habitat is not managed correctly. As you can imagine, every tract is different and just because multiple tracts are adjacent, doesn’t mean a deer is provided with everything necessary to survive and reach maturity. The management of the habitat is key and must not be overlooked. The first thing to do is to access your property and determine its limiting factor. What’s holding your property back and what is great about your tract? Then derive a plan on how to maximize the deer usage on your property. Once that is done, zoom out to consider the nearby deer hunting cooperative properties. What do they have that you don’t? The management practices needed on one tract of the cooperative may not be necessary on others. Think of the cooperative as a whole, and but start by assessing each individual property. What type of habitat management techniques can be implemented to increase the productivity of deer hunting?
As you can imagine, between creating bedding areas and establishing year around food sources there are many facets to consider. This is where actually meeting your deer hunting cooperative members and working together with them will benefit your management efforts.
The last mistake, and the most detrimental, is losing sight of what’s important. Sadly, many deer hunting cooperatives fail because one landowner refuses to follow the guidelines and their hunting tactics hurt the success of the cooperative. It is important to understand that forcing a landowner to manage their herd is a recipe for disaster and will eventually backfire. Whether the hunters in a cooperative are leasing or actual landowners, they have a right to hunt however they want. The overall goal is to have fun with family and friends and to enjoy the hard work that was put in year around.
It is common for a deer hunting cooperative member to back out after the first year or two after establishing a cooperative. It is also very common to have a few new members join in and increase the productivity of the cooperative after a few years, once the success of a well-managed herd has become evident.
Furthermore, establishing a cooperative is not an impossible task. It may seem impossible to get numerous hunters to agree on set guidelines, but the hard work establishing a deer hunting cooperative is surely worth it in the long run. When pitching the idea to a prospective cooperative member, let it be known that starting by letting yearling deer, a year and a half or younger, walk is the primary goal. The secondary goal is to assess the antlerless deer density and derive a harvest plan. Not all cooperatives need excessive doe harvests, so much consideration should be taken before a cooperative wages war on a somewhat-balanced deer herd. Aerial maps, trail camera photos, and recent harvests are all facets of a cooperative that should be considered.
At the end of the day, a deer hunting cooperative’s purpose is to increase the hunting productivity of a particular amount of land. The guidelines can be revamped and reconsidered as the cooperative progresses. The overall goal is to have fun and experience the gift of the great outdoors, and that should not be taken for granted. Work with your neighbors and create a cooperative that will last for years and provide a great amount of hunting memories.