QUESTION: A wildlife biologist from the Alabama DNR is scheduled to do a deer survey on my 1,000 acre property in central Alabama. After riding around our place and giving it a look, he is going to make recommendations for how many bucks and does we should harvest, as well as the types of bucks we should shoot, in order to build a better herd and plan our seasons.
My question is: How can the biologist determine how many deer are on our place and make accurate determinations when all he does is see the property from the ground and make a short scouting trip? -- S. Boone
ANSWER: I really can't say for sure what methods the biologist will use to develop recommendations in your specific instance.
The best I can offer is to describe what is typically done, which largely amounts to a well educated guess.
For starters, I would expect he (or she) is quite familiar with general habitat conditions and deer densities in the region. Based on this alone, they may have a general population model that would give a reasonably accurate prediction of deer densities and sex and age ratios in your general area. Unless they find something unusual on the property, they would probably assume your deer densities to be similar to those on surrounding properties, where they may have been consulting for some time.
Next, the biologist can look at the natural vegetation. The presence, absence and relative abundance of certain plant species will provide an indication of deer densities. An abundance of preferred food species would suggest low deer densities. If preferred species are heavily browsed or absent, that would indicate high densities. They may also ask about past management, hunting pressure and harvest breakdown. They can then factor these into the model to make it more accurate for your ground.
I would also expect they will ask you to collect some harvest data, such as sex and weight of deer taken; and may ask you to collect jawbones and look for evidence of lactation in adult does; and possibly measure yearling antler beam diameter. By adding this information to the model they can then adjust recommendations, if necessary.
Until they have more site-specific data, they may make fairly generic recommendations as far as what type of bucks to harvest. For example, they might suggest taking only mature bucks, or offer some type of antler restrictions. Based on what you observe and harvest this coming year, they might modify recommendations for your property in the future.
Remember, this is a long-term, dynamic process. You won't get all the answers right away, but over time, however, the biologists can tweak your management program to better suit your property, your desires and expectations.