Revolutionary New Era in Whitetail Management Is Here! - Part I


Photo by Hardy Jackson
Photo By Hardy Jackson
What if I told you a management strategy existed that could allow you to increase the number of deer on your property two or threefold, maybe more? What if I told you that same strategy could also increase your buck size to that of the best the area could produce? Then, what if told you that your “more and bigger” deer could be contained within a relatively small area, perhaps seldom or never to leave your property? And then, finally, I told you that you could do all that while actually improving, yes, improving, the quality of your native habitat to the benefit of all wildlife, game and non-game species alike!

“Yeah, right,” you say, “and the IRS is going to waive my taxes next year!”

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, with Tecomate leading the way, innovative biologists and game managers across the country are snapping the shackles of so-called “conventional wisdom” and growing more and bigger bucks that ever thought possible right in their own backyard! Best of all, you can too!

The Tecomate Management Strategy is a way for you to bring a slice of great trophy country now seemingly found only in faraway places to your own backyard! Before we look ahead to this groundbreaking new strategy, let’s look back to gain an understanding of from whence we’ve come and where we are today.

From the time the nationwide deer recovery first began in the mid-1900s until the expansion was more or less complete in the 1970s and 80s, management by game agencies correctly focused on protection. Later, as deer filled the available habitat, and in too many cases overfilled it, the strategy began to shift from protection to maintenance. In time, the goal became that of trying to control deer numbers, primarily through harvesting does, while maintaining maximum hunting opportunity for the greatest number of people. Worthy goals, no doubt, but they seldom brought the most desirable results. Political constraints or the simple lack of control usually thwarted the goal of holding numbers down. The “chicken-in-every-pot” goal usually translated into excessive buck pressure. All too often, out-of-balance, overcrowded, stressed deer herds top-heavy with does and seriously short of bucks, especially mature bucks, were the results, coupled with long-term damage to the native habitat and subsequent poor nutrition.

Through all this, the game agencies and most professional biologists were trying to manage vast chunks of real estate – counties, regions, whole ecosystems and indeed entire states. With the responsibility of the overall resource resting on their shoulders, agencies did not have the time, money, personnel, knowhow or, frankly, the mandate to manage individual tracts or invest in developing the techniques necessary to do so. As a result, their strategy was big-picture. They were macro-managers. About the only real tool they had available was to control as best they could the number and sex of the deer harvested by regulating hunting pressure through seasons, bag limits and other game regulations. Thus, most of the management advice they disseminated to private land managers paralleled their own experiences and dealt largely with harvest strategy and herd balance.

Because of their scant experience in managing individual tracts, at least intensively, they placed relatively little emphasis on enhancing habitat or food availability and almost none on trying to significantly elevate the nutritional plane of specific tracts of land. Since they only dealt rather superficially with large tracts, their management perspective demanded lots of acreage to make a difference. And, habitat improvement on huge acreage was a matter of breadth not depth, thus only modest gains were feasible. From this environment evolved conventional management wisdom – 1) large tracts are necessary to manage deer; 2) harvest manipulation through regulating hunting pressure is the most effective management tool; and 3) about the only way to enhance carrying capacity is through relatively low-impact wholesale management of natural habitat. While those conclusions are logical purely from a macro-manager’s perspective, there’s a whole lot more to the story when it comes to managing individual tracts.

In a way, the quality of the resource and hunters’ expectations had been on a collision course for a longtime. Hunters had been steadily advancing in experience, knowledge and standards, while the deer resource has been slipping in some important ways by which a growing number of hunters now measure the health of a herd. Certainly, overcrowding, poor nutrition and bad herd balance head the list of threats. Too many deer result in smaller deer, lower reproduction, stress, greater human/deer conflict, susceptibility to parasites and diseases and long-term damage to the habitat, which leads to an inevitable lowering of the carrying capacity. Poor balance, usually as a result overharvesting bucks and underharvesting does, leaves herds depleted of bucks, especially mature bucks, and top heavy with does. Not only is this very bad for deer, but it left the demanding whitetail hunter frustrated and determined to find ways to improve the health of the deer herd and the state of his sport.

To understand why the modern deer hunter is more discriminating than ever before and why he wants more from his chosen sport than conventional management had delivered, it is necessary to look at from where he has come. It is said that there are typically four stages in the evolution of a deer hunter. The first, as you would expect for a beginner, is simply to kill any legal buck. Size does not matter. The second stage is to take as many deer as possible. When sufficient numbers have been tallied, the third stage follows when the hunter begins seeking more challenge by taking deer with different type weapons, i.e., bow, muzzleloader, handgun, etc. The last stage is reached when the hunter shifts his focus to the most challenging of all the whitetail clan – the trophy buck.

Certainly, this pattern is representative of countless modern hunters, especially the myriad “baby boomers” who began hunting during the herd expansion years of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. The fact that so many hunters today have so much experience lies at the root of the rub – many hunters have now reached the so-called “trophy stage” and are only interested in hunting good mature bucks, not just in killing any buck. For too long, this goal was inconsistent with the realities of most deer herds. Frustration was the result. Now for the good news, the future promises to be better … and the future is NOW!

Based on everything I’ve seen and heard, there is a fifth stage in the evolution of a deer hunter. It offers hope for the frustrated and, I’m happy to report, for the well-being of our deer herd. This fifth stage stems from a commitment to the sport and a sincere interest in the welfare of the whitetail. Yes, it is motivated by a love of hunting, the desire to see more good bucks and the hope of harvesting big, mature bucks, but its end is a healthy, vigorous herd and a bright future for our sport. The fifth stage is an action stage that calls for getting involved to bring solutions. I am speaking of management. More specifically, the kind that restores nature’s original management scheme for the whitetail, when nonselective predators held the whitetail in-check with its habitat, resulting in healthy, balanced herds with tight buck/doe ratios and well-distributed age classes.

Society as a whole began the disruption of this natural scheme by demanding the elimination of the large predators. We hunters, often under the auspices of misdirected policies, contributed to further imbalance by a selective and excessive harvest of bucks while leaving the does largely unchecked to reproduce beyond the ability of the habitat to support them. So, in the natural whitetail herd, we find the baseline objective for modern game management – a balanced, healthy population with a tight buck/doe ratio and plenty of mature bucks that is maintained within the carrying capacity of the land by a near-equal harvest of bucks and does.

Does man have a role in returning deer herds to a natural balance and maintaining them there? Of course, only it’s not just a role; it’s an obligation. The large predators that once “managed” the deer herds are no longer tolerated in close proximity to man, which happens to be where most whitetails live. Man must assume the role of game manager to help restore our herds to a healthy state and then maintain them there. Hunting is one of the primary and most essential tools in his management arsenal … and I might add, the one that provides the economic clout to make it all possible!

A hunter’s involvement in management can be direct and focused, like working to improve the deer herd on a particular tract of land. Or, it can be indirect and broad, such as educating himself in the principles of game management in order to do what’s “right” in his role as a hunter or to encourage agency game managers to act in the best interest of the resource. The truth is that every time a hunter pulls the trigger on a deer he is “managing.” Without knowledge, he cannot know whether his “management” is good or bad. Regardless of the level of involvement in management or the motivation, all hunters need to be a part of securing a better future for both the whitetail and the sport through promoting a healthier herd. If the desire and the means to accomplish this goal are present, as I believe, then a positive change is within our grasp and serious management is the way to get there.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. In the face of declining quality in the country’s deer herds from both too many deer and an excessive buck harvest, a handful of innovative private landowners and managers said “enough!” They started looking at what they could do to grow bigger bucks back on the old homestead. At the forefront of this movement were the principles of Tecomate Wildlife Systems, led by management pioneer Dr. Gary Schwarz, owner of famed Tecomate Ranch, and Steve Vaughn, my former partner at WHITETAIL magazine and owner of the management research facility, Fort Perry Plantation, in middle Georgia.

From the outset, those of us involved in the pioneering work into this new frontier of nutritional management were committed to find ways to help the average landowner, not just those with vast holdings, grow healthy herds with more and bigger bucks. Because limitations exist in every deer herd and every manager, our goal was to develop intensive management strategies that would yield maximum results on small or marginal tracts and with reasonable resources. What we developed after more than a decade of intensive research and management at Tecomate Ranch and Fort Perry Plantation was a bold new management strategy, now widely known as the “Tecomate Management Strategy” or “Tecomate Food Plot System,” that has thrust food plot based nutrition into the limelight as a powerful tool capable of completely altering the face of private land deer management for the better … and bigger! And, this commonsense nutritional strategy works on tracts once thought to be too small for an effective program and even on marginal land with low inherent carrying capacity. In short, the Tecomate Management Strategy is now rewriting the management books and opening the door to great homegrown hunting to almost anyone with a decent slice of deer country!

We have long known that quality nutrition is key for a healthy herd and that nutritious food increases deer size and numbers. For size, the agricultural crops of the fertile farmlands of the Midwest or Central Canada provided a case in point. For numbers, the proof could be seen in the incredible deer densities found in association with the irrigated alfalfa fields along the otherwise lightly populated riverbottoms of the Plains and Prairies. Certainly, progressive Texas ranchers, who have always set the pace in private land deer management, have incorporated enhanced nutrition, usually direct feeding, into their management for years. Yet, only recently have we come to realize the degree to which the private land manager can elevate the quality of nutrition on his property and the astounding impact it can have on his herd.

Deer are like any other animal – meet their basic requirements for life, i.e., food, water and cover, and they thrive in good health, reach large size and reproduce abundantly. Think of them as little cows in this regard. Ranchers have always operated in the sure knowledge that more and better (nutritious) feed allows more and healthier cows to be supported on a given acreage. Assuming water and cover are in adequate supply, exactly the same principle applies to deer – the more and better the food, the more and bigger the deer.

That fact was the beginning point for our new strategy, but let’s take it one step further. What if all the deer’s needs, including a ready supply of preferred, highly nutritious food, were met in a relatively small area? Doesn’t logic say the deer would stay close by rather than wander off to where pickings are poorer? If the answer is yes … and it is … then you have the final block in the foundation of the Tecomate Management Strategy. Namely, provide deer with a localized supply of more and better food, along with nearby cover and water, and you get more and bigger deer that hold tight in the area. Does it really work? A resounding YES!

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In concept, it is. Yet, it marks a major turning point for deer hunters, from a reactive role in game management to a proactive role. This strategy empowers private land managers across the continent to take charge of deer management on their property and to determine their own hunting destiny … while contributing to a healthier deer herd! That’s saying a lot!

Posted by David Morris

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