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Who Wants More Bucks?


When Fish and Wildlife deer biologists talk with hunters or give a presentation on deer management, the topic invariably comes around to, “How can we have more antlered deer available for harvest?” Hunters’ suggestions usually include adding antler point restrictions (APR) or reducing the number of bucks a hunter may harvest across all deer seasons.

Antler point restrictions, currently in effect in 12 regular deer management zones throughout the state, restricts the antlered harvest to a buck with at least three points on one side. While this is successful at saving yearling males from harvest, a corresponding number of older age class bucks do NOT show up in the harvest in subsequent years. Other forms of mortality or movement out of the APR zone decreases the harvest of these yearlings at a later time. Also, APR is not suitable on less-productive habitat as a large percentage of bucks may not have sufficient antler growth to meet the three-point minimum in years of bad mast production.

While it is legal for a hunter to take six antlered deer in a deer hunting year, very few hunters actually do. Data analysis shows that less than three percent of successful buck hunters take more than three bucks a year. This amounts to less than 500 animals per year. Put into context, 500 bucks distributed across New Jersey’s deer habitat (not total land area) results in only 0.09 bucks harvested per square mile.

The simplest way to have more bucks available for harvest is to be selective in your choice of antlerless deer. Since 2004 — the year Fish and Wildlife began recording the button buck harvest on deer data forms — the average percentage of button bucks in the male harvest was 25 percent. This average represents over 6,300 button bucks each year that will not mature to become an antlered buck available for harvest in future years.

Both physical appearance and behavior play a part in identifying deer on the hoof. Keeping binoculars at the ready will help. Of course, fawns are easily told apart from adults when they are seen together. Fawns seen alone without reference to a larger adult can be difficult to identify. While this dilemma can be avoided by waiting for other deer to arrive, observing deer behavior may also provide gender clues. Female fawns usually will travel with an adult doe; male fawns are more likely to venture out independently. Most often, the first deer to approach a bait pile is a button buck. Late in the season a single deer is most often a male.

Physical characteristics are revealing.

  1. Fawns are square. When a deer stands broadside, imagine drawing a line up the forelegs, across its back and down the hind legs. This image forms a square in fawns but would create a rectangle in an adult deer due to the relatively longer back of the mature animal.
  2. Fawns have a “puppy” profile. Observe the shape of a deer’s head. A fawn’s snout is much shorter than an adult’s, with the characteristic young mammal profile curving from forehead to snout.
  3. Males have a flat head.Note the shape of a deer’s forehead. A male fawn’s buttons are not always evident, even up close. But the shape of the head is distinctive: when observed both head-on or in profile, the crown of a doe fawn’s head is rounded, while a male fawn’s will be flatter. An adult male who has dropped his antlers has this noticeably flattened forehead. When viewed from the side, scars may be visible where his antlers had been.
  4. Females have a slender neck. Observe the length-to-width ratio of the neck on female fawns and adult does, then compare them to male fawns and adult bucks. The neck of a doe is more slim and appears long relative to its thickness. Males have a shorter and stockier neck. With some practice, this difference is easily noticed.

New Jersey hunters have liberal seasons designed to keep our productive deer herd at manageable levels. In some deer management zones, hunters are required to take an antlerless deer before taking an antlered buck. In other zones, an antler point restriction harvest strategy is in place to allow bucks to grow older and larger. Harvesting the female deer is essential to control the deer population and is important for quality deer management.

Although it is legal to harvest a button buck or a buck with shed antlers, harvesting a female deer is the primary objective to reach management goals.Inadvertently harvesting an antlerless buck will reduce your chances of harvesting an outstanding buck in the future. By knowing the key features to assess when evaluating antlerless deer in the field, hunters can be more selective, ensuring they harvest the gender they want.


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