Very few places have this same age structure for the buck population. Typical buck populations include a high percentage (60-80%) of yearlings, a small percentage (10-30%) of 2.5yr olds, an even smaller percentage (5-10%) of 3.5yr olds and almost no 4.5+yr olds. This young age structure is a direct result of harvest pressure by hunters. In the not-too-distant past most hunters focused intense pressure on yearling bucks and Many hunters unfamiliar with Quality Deer Management (QDM) incorrectly assume QDM is only about large-racked bucks. Many also feel antler point restrictions (APRs) are synonymous with QDM. Pieces from both of these beliefs can be parts of QDM programs but QDM is about much more than just antlers or APRs. In simplest terms QDM involves balancing the deer herd with the habitat and having deer - bucks and does - in multiple age classes. Determining and achieving the right number of deer for the habitat is a topic for another discussion and this article will focus on multiple age classes of deer. Most areas have a good age structure for the doe population as it is common for hunters to harvest does 1.5-6.5+yrs. This age structure exists because of traditional deer management practices where hunters focused much of their harvest pressure on bucks and allowed does to survive and fill multiple age classes. removed the majority of that age class. In historical Pennsylvania for example, hunters routinely removed over 80% of the yearling age class on an annual basis! With that removal rate, less than 1% of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s bucks ever reached maturity. Quality Deer Management helps correct this imbalance by protecting young bucks and allowing them to survive into the older age classes. Quality Deer Management isnâ€™t about protecting bucks until they are 5.5yrs old - thatâ€™s trophy management. Quality Deer Management, in simplest terms is about protecting yearling bucks. Yearling bucks are the easiest adult deer to harvest, but if hunters pass them and allow them to reach 2.5yrs, they become a little smarter and some will avoid hunters and reach 3.5yrs. Some of those will then avoid hunters and reach 4.5yrs, etc. Pretty soon you end up with a deer population that has bucks in multiple age classes even while allowing bucks 2.5yrs and older to be harvested. A complete age structure is good for deer and great for hunters. The big question then is what is the best way to protect yearling bucks? There are several techniques to protect yearlings and they all have advantages and disadvantages. Antler point restrictions are a common technique and they involve establishing a minimum number of points a buck must possess to be eligible for harvest. This minimum number should be established with the aid of a biologist and with local harvest data. Advantages of APRs include they are simple and are easy for state agencies to enforce. The disadvantage of APRs is the number of antler points is a poor predictor of animal age. Yearling bucks can have a rack ranging from short spikes to 10+ points. Therefore it can be difficult with APRs to protect the majority of the yearling age class while still making other age classes available for harvest. Managers may unintentionally focus harvest pressure on yearlings with larger racks or protect older age classes. However, because of APRs simplicity and enforceability, they are the most common buck harvest restriction discussed and implemented by state agencies. Antler width restrictions are another technique and they involve establishing a minimum width of antler spread a buck possess have to be eligible for harvest. Again, this width should be established with the aid of a biologist and from local harvest data. The premise of a width restriction is few yearling bucks attain an outside antler spread of more than 15-16 inches. Hunters can estimate a buckâ€™s antler spread by viewing where the antlers are in relation to an animalâ€™s forward pointed ears. Ear tip to tip distance is approximately 15-16 inches for northern deer and slightly less for southern deer. Therefore, if a buckâ€™s antlers are as wide as or wider than his ears, there is a good chance he is at least 2.5yrs. The advantage of a width restriction is it is a much better predictor of whether a buck is 1.5 or 2.5+yrs and therefore can do a better job protecting yearlings. The disadvantage of a width restriction is it is slightly more difficult to determine the legal status of a buck in the wild (vs. APR) and it can be more difficult for state agencies to enforce. A width restriction is more biologically sound than an APR and therefore is commonly used on private lands where managers have more control over the deer management program. A third technique is age restrictions based on body characteristics. This technique involves establishing the age classes available for harvest (2.5+yrs for this discussion), and hunters then use body â€“ not antler â€“ characteristics to determine eligible bucks. Distinguishable body changes occur as deer progress through age classes and this technique requires hunters to be skilled in identifying those changes. The advantage of this technique is it is an excellent predictor of animal age and therefore you can either target or protect multiple age classes of bucks. The disadvantage of this technique is it requires time and practice for hunters to learn the body characteristics of each age class and be able to accurately estimate the age of live bucks in the wild. This technique is currently practiced on some of the most intensively managed properties throughout the country and is the future of deer management for many hunters. This technique is a lot of fun and is very rewarding for true whitetail enthusiasts. Age restrictions are by far the most biologically sound approach and are therefore used for the majority of intensive management programs. Due to the skill involved and practice required by hunters this approach is most commonly used by private land managers and unfortunately is rarely even discussed by state agencies. Two final techniques are â€œearn-a-buckâ€ programs and buck harvest quotas. Both of these programs restrict the number of bucks that get harvested rather than the age of bucks that get harvested. Earn-a-buck programs are typically used in areas of high deer density where managers must force hunters to remove additional antlerless deer. The premise of this technique is a hunter must harvest an antlerless deer to receive (or validate) his/her buck tag. A hunter that doesnâ€™t help the management program by harvesting a doe is not permitted to shoot a buck. This technique protects some bucks because not all hunters will have the opportunity to harvest a buck after harvesting an antlerless deer. Buck harvest quotas are similar to what most states currently use to limit the antlerless harvest. With this technique, managers issue a limited number of buck tags and thus some bucks are protected because not all hunters receive a tag. There are many ways to protect numbers or specific age classes of bucks. No technique is perfect but they all have advantages. The challenge is to educate hunters on the benefits and limitations of each and achieve broad-based support for the selected technique. Hunter support is crucial and it can take a management program to the next level or dump it in the gutter. In general, the most biologically sound techniques provide the most benefits but all of the techniques can improve a deer management program when applied correctly. So, is QDM just about large-racked bucks and are APRs synonymous with QDM? The first answer is obviously â€œnoâ€. Quality Deer Management is about balancing the deer herd with the habitat and having bucks and does in multiple age classes. You end up with larger bucks because they are a byproduct of good deer management. The second answer is also â€œnoâ€; APRs are merely one technique to get bucks into multiple age classes. Antler point restrictions are not the most biologically sound approach, but as Pennsylvania and other states have shown, they can be effective when applied correctly. Kipâ€™s Korner is written by Kip P. Adams, a certified wildlife biologist and the Northeast regional director for the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). The QDMA is a non-profit wildlife conservation organization dedicated to promoting sustainable, high-quality, white-tailed deer populations, wildlife habitats and ethical hunting experiences through education, research, and management in partnership with hunters, landowners, natural resource professionals, and the public. The QDMA can be reached at 1-800-209-DEER or www.QDMA.com.