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Published on: Sep. 20, 2011

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sex ratio.

The only tools required are a pencil, paper and binoculars. The process can be as simple as recording the number of bucks, does and fawns seen and the length of time spent hunting.

Observation data can be collected at any time. The most important part is that it is collected at the same time from year to year so that you have consistency for annual comparisons. Collection of observation data during the archery season before the November firearms season can provide a good indicator for annual comparisons of deer numbers.

Actual deer abundance can’t be determined from observation data. It can show population trends. Annual comparisons of the number of bucks and does sighted per hour, along with the number of fawns per doe, are good indicators of the trend in deer populations. This observational data serves as a measure of the success of your deer management.

Census Data

Obtaining accurate census data requires the ability to collect reliable estimates of deer density on your property. Many hunters use infrared-triggered digital trail cameras to scout and pattern bucks on their property. These types of trail cameras may be the best tool available to landowners for estimating important characteristics of the deer herd on their property, including deer density, age structure, sex ratio and fawn recruitment.

Conducting a trail camera survey is relatively simple. Many hunters already have established mineral/salt licks that deer use during the spring and summer months. These sites, or other areas that deer frequently use, are great places to conduct a formal survey. Some simple guidelines for a trail camera survey are:

  • One camera per 100 acres.
  • Place about 50 pounds of corn approximately 12–15 feet from each camera. (Be sure to remove any bait 10 days before the start of the archery deer season.)
  • Set cameras to take a photo every one to five minutes. (More frequent pictures do not result in better estimates.)
  • Run the survey for 10 consecutive days in August.
  • Once the 10-day survey period is complete, review the photos and count the number of bucks, does and fawns. Make special note of the number of unique bucks you have photographed.


Research indicates that with a camera per 100 acres you will successfully capture 90 percent of the deer in your hunting area.

Determining Harvest Rates

When determining the number of does to harvest, one must take into consideration several critical factors:

  • Localized deer densities
  • Fawn recruitment (number of fawns surviving to the fall)
  • Sex ratio (number of does per buck)


These demographic characteristics can be generated from the trail camera survey described above. The size of the property you hunt and the amount of hunting pressure that occurs on the neighboring properties are also important considerations when determining doe harvest rates. Because many of us are not fortunate enough to manage large tracts of land (more than 1,000 acres), we must take into consideration what the neighbors are harvesting and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Proper collection of harvest and observation data can reveal trends in doe numbers and will serve as a guide to creating initial harvest recommendations. As you gather additional data and see changing population response to various doe harvest rates, specific harvest rates will be easier to determine. Small property managers may not obtain enough information to get meaningful results from low deer harvest numbers. One way to address the issue of limited data is to share information with neighboring properties through the formation of a deer management cooperative. Deer management cooperatives are simply neighboring landowners working together to reach common management goals. A better understanding of activities across the fence can ensure that better harvest decisions are made and increases the likelihood that everyone reaches their specific management goals.

As you go afield this fall in pursuit of Missouri’s most popular game animal, go armed not only with your weapon of choice, but a deer harvest plan. One based on your specific management goals and guided by past harvests and observations. Remember to collect data along the way so that the plan can be refined in the years to come.

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