My wife loves making lists. She even has apps on her phone so she can manage them all. There’s her grocery list, bucket list and the dreaded, never-ending “honey-do list.” When I acquired Foxworthy Farm, I started making a list of my own. It's a list I make every season—a hit list.
Now, before you go calling the law and telling them you know of a redneck who's lost his marbles, let me explain. This particular hit list is made up of deer that meet the harvest criteria we've put in place to achieve our long-term and short-term QDM (that's "Quality Deer Management") goals at the farm. I wish I could pick which deer make the list based on the ones that bust me on the way to my stand, or those that hog all the food we put out, but it's more scientific than that.
In order to create a hit list, you first need to have a way to monitor the herd. Before the days of scouting cameras I would round up a bunch of my buddies, drape them in Realtree camo, spray them with some doe urine and give them a Polaroid camera. We had to stop this method of herd monitoring when one of the boys was chased back to the truck by a 12-point buck following what his nose thought was a receptive doe. Billy still has a little hitch in his giddy-up today.
Luckily, the Quality Deer Management Association has come out with a handy (and safer) method of conducting a deer camera survey. Click right here to check it out.
The survey will give you a good idea of how many deer are using your property. It will also shed some light on the performance of your QDM efforts, which can be costly and time consuming. You will get a better idea of where to direct your resources, and discover what adjustments need to be made each season. Is your buck-to-doe ratio close to what it should be? Are younger bucks staying on your property, or are they crossing the border where the grass is greener? Are your fawns making it through the spring and summer? Are there too many deer on your property (believe it or not, there is such a thing)?
Conducting a scouting camera survey each season and collecting this data will help when you create a hit list. Deer that are mature in age and growth go on the list; so do the younger bucks that don't have much potential. By the time a buck is 3 years old, you can usually tell if he has the genetics to grow into a trophy. Those that don't show promise, or have abnormalities that are irreparable, may go on the hit list, too.
Then I create a "do not hit" list. This is made up mostly of younger bucks showing great capability of being a buck of a lifetime. They're the deer that are 3 or 4 years old and are already considered wall-hangers. We try to let these bucks get to 5 or 6 before trying to harvest them.
Once we create the hit list, we print out booklets. The “do not shoot" bucks go in one, and the ones that are OK to shoot go in another. This way, when we have visitors to the farm there's no confusion about what's fair game. Even so, it can be difficult to identify a particular deer in the field using a photo. Mistakes can happen. If a visitor to the farm shoots an unqualified buck, they're sentenced to sleeping in the same room with Larry-the-Cable Guy after a dinner of my wife’s extra-spicy chili that's made with a truck full of beans.
You need data to generate these lists, and good data comes from sound herd monitoring ... such as with camera surveys. Make the most of the time and money you're investing in the deer herd. Without good data, management decisions are, at best, a good guess. And I've learned in my time as a game-show host that good guesses rarely win the big prize.
Do you practice QDM and make a hit list? Share your comments below.