Basically they want better deer hunting where they hunt. This usually translates into the desire to grow and harvest bigger bucks, balance their deer herd to achieve a better buck-doe ratio, increase deer observations and take more direct control over the management fate of the deer they hunt. Naturally this is often much more easily talked about than accomplished. Quality deer management takes time, and adherence to specific goals. It’s not for every deer manager, landowner, lease holder or deer club. 

Lord knows the availability or expanse of such grassroots deer management information today. It is virtually too much for the average person to digest, initiate plans, orchestrate, collect the data, then analyze the results and apply the data outcomes to impact future deer herd conditions. 

The DMAP Program

Thus enters the ideal program to fill the gaps of quality deer management that most individuals or clubs cannot handle. The Deer Management Assistance Program or DMAP was created by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks back in 1976 after it was piloted in Kemper and Noxubee Counties. Since DMAP went statewide in 1985, there are currently about 650 cooperators representing roughly 1.7 million acres. 

Essentially the DMAP program assists private landowner deer hunting clubs in managing their deer. This is accomplished by requiring cooperators to collect and submit essential data on their deer harvests each season. This includes pulling each deer’s jawbone for aging, recording deer weights, taking antler measurements and collecting lactation data on does. 

Other information is collected on a DMAP Data Sheet and also on individual jawbone cards attached to the extracted jawbones. At the end of the deer season the data sheets and jawbones are turned into the assigned MDWFP biologists. In turn they will analyze the data, send back a return report and then meet with each club or landowner to discuss future harvest recommendations and deer management goals. These services are free. 

DMAP in practice

Chad Winkler from Brandon belongs to the Old Pearl Game Management deer hunting club south of Florence. 

“We usually have between 45 and 50 members on 6000 acres of hunting property,” he said. “DMAP started there before I became a member, but we usually develop our deer management plans and harvest goals based directly off what the biologist gives us. 

“It is typical for our doe harvest recommendations to be between 25-35 does each year. On bucks we only try to take the ones that are 3-years old or older. We use a rough measurement of a 14-inch inside spread as a guide. Our ultimate goal like most deer hunting clubs is to let younger bucks walk with the idea of growing larger antlered bucks.

“We don’t get a harvest limit on bucks from the biologist. Basically if we see a legal deer we are permitted to take it. Every year the biologist comes to camp usually in August or September for a membership wide camp meeting. He will put on a demonstration and presentation of what we harvested the year before and give us a summary of the deer data we submitted.”

“At Spring Lake Farms in Holmes County, we joined the DMAP program almost 15 years ago,” said Gary Adams, current president of the corporation. “We were already collecting some of the data the program requires, because having bought a new property, we wanted it developed into a quality deer hunting camp.

“Originally there were eight owners of the 680 acres, but over the past 20 years of ownership the Board of Directors or owners have changed. We now have six owners, but it is almost a completely different slate than the first owners. We signed up for DMAP to obtain professional assistance from a certified state whitetail biologist.”

Adams continued, “Over all it has been a good program for us, but honestly we have not seen the kind of buck development we had hoped for. It could be that we simply don’t have the best genetics, or that because surrounding neighbors do not follow DMAP program and some of them kill any buck they see. This situation severely limits our capacity to apply quality deer management principles on our property.

“With only about 10 hunters on the place each year including a few guests, we are most years barely able to meet our doe harvest goals, but we get pretty close if we are aggressive in the first weeks of the season. Later on the does can be as difficult to take as the bucks. We rarely see what I call hyped up rutting action. This past season we only collected one rack buck all season. It was taken in dying light and even the owner admitted it was a bad judgment to take the buck.

“Probably our biggest downfall is not to be more proactive in using the DMAP data results we get back from the biologist. It is tough, well, impossible to tell six owners that only 3-4 bucks should be harvested each season. Not only did we pay for the property over 20 years, but the annual maintenance fees, taxes and food plots costs are considerable as well.

“As president, I can’t roll the dice to tell an owner he can’t kill a buck this year. We do have an 8-point minimum and we follow the state legal buck antler measurements for our hunting zone. Still we have only taken one BC buck since we owned the place. At times it is not very encouraging. We probably need to hound the biologist for more input, but those guys are maxed out with the number of clubs they handle. It is a stretched resource. DMAP does what it is designed to do, if you adhere to the program.” 

The mechanics of DMAP

Once a landowner or deer club joins the DMAP program, then the regional biologist will visit to explain the details of the program and what data is required to be collected. It is not rocket science to obtain the data on each deer harvested, but it can be somewhat time consuming to get the data and jawbone from each deer killed. 

The DMAP cooperator will be provided with a data collection sheet that can easily be put into a 3-ring binder. That form asks for (1) deer/tag number (matched to deer harvested), (2) harvest date, (3) deer sex, (4) live/dressed weight, (5) milk present on does, (6) antler measurements including the number of points, circumference right and left, antler length and inside spread, (7) check if hoof sloughing is present, (8) tag number if additional doe tags were issued, and (9) a blank for comments. Some camps add the name of the hunter so individual harvest tallies can be maintained. A deer tag is filled out similarly and attached to each jawbone. 

The DMAP program helps landowners and clubs focus on quality deer management principles. The program works. Collecting the data is relatively easy, but can be tedious. With patience and dedication DMAP will enhance your deer herd.