The Georgia Deer Management Assistance Program

DMAP offers habitat and harvest guidance from biologists, and sometimes doe harvest flexibility for landowners and managers.

Shawn Lumsden | June 28, 2024


Last September, the author was targeting does in some sawtooth oaks, hoping to add to their DMAP numbers. One by one the does filtered in about 20 minutes apart. Then the coyote came trotting by, likely looking for one of the many fawns in the area. “It ended up being my best management hunt ever,” Shawn said.


It’s no secret that just about every deer hunter wants to shoot big bucks. With the exception of obtaining free-range meat and perhaps the challenge of the pursuit, it’s a top reason many of us hunters wake up so early just to sit 20 feet up in the cold, dark woods instead of sleeping in and drinking coffee next to a roaring fire.

However, in order to shoot big bucks, you must be able to see big bucks. In order to see big bucks, you must have big bucks. In order to have big bucks, you must understand their wants and needs.

Genetics, age and nutrition are the fundamental building blocks of growing big deer. Numerous studies have proven that there isn’t much you can do to alter the genetics of free-range whitetail deer. Age is easy if you can train yourself and those hunting the same herd to pass bucks in younger age classes and allow them to reach maturity. Nutrition, on the other hand, although complicated and comprised of many layers, is the building block that can be improved upon.

As a hunter and landowner interested in managing for quality deer, managing your native habitat should be the foundation of your management program. For starters, you must keep your timber thinned. Allowing that sunlight to penetrate through the canopy will promote growth of native forbs, grasses and shrubs that are crucial in a whitetail’s diet. In order to maintain a high degree of premium native forage, you’ll need to use prescribed fire as a tool to manage the vegetative growth. In Georgia, this typically means burning on a 2- to 4-year rotation, preferably in a checkerboard style. Once those two practices are met to the best of your ability, you can now justify the expense of supplemental protein feed and summer food plots.

The next layer to this proverbial nutritional onion is to strive for maximizing the highest number of quality plants on the landscape. Biologists often refer to these plants as “ice cream plants” or “first choice plants.” Some examples are ragweed, pokeweed, beggar’s lice—the list goes on and on. Like the names suggest, these plants tend to be the first ones eaten by deer because of their high nutrient content and palatability.

Poor or marginal forage just simply doesn’t grow enormous racks and healthy fawns. Even on the most well-managed properties, there are natural nutritional bottlenecks (or stress periods) where food, especially high-quality food, can become limited. In the South, these bottlenecks occur in the late summer and late winter. As land managers, we do our best to manage our habitat to minimize stress in deer during these times of the year, but sometimes, due to overpopulation, we just simply can’t grow enough high-quality groceries to get the most out of our deer herd. This is when it may be necessary to take some mouths off the landscape to free up additional forage. Even with a whopping 10 antlerless tags allowed per resident hunter per year here in Georgia, that likely isn’t going to make much of a difference if your property is overrun by deer.

This is where a program called “DMAP” could be utilized.

What Is DMAP?

The Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) was created to allow site-specific, science-based harvest flexibility on private lands in order for wildlife managers to effectively manage their deer herds and mitigate problems such as over-population. In order to justify harvest flexibility, an annual deer survey is required along with a wildlife biologist’s professional recommendations on what is needed to resolve the issue or issues at hand. The biologist then prescribes a solution which may be a set amount of antlerless deer needing to be removed from the landscape.

How DMAP Works

First, a trail-camera deer survey needs to be performed from late August through early September to assess the demographics of your herd. This survey can be conducted by the landowner or a consulting wildlife biologist. The goal is to census deer after they have grown most of their racks but before they abandon their summertime patterns.

Although there are several survey methods, we use the 14-day baiting technique. With this method, not only is it essential to pre-bait for a minimum of seven days prior to the survey, but you must also make certain the bait sites don’t dry up during the 14-day survey period, or it can skew your results dramatically. I recommend utilizing a wildlife biologist’s expertise in conducting the survey. Not only will they need to count every single deer and classify them, they also will provide a detailed report with your estimated density, sex ratio and buck age distribution. Within that report, some biologists will even categorize your bucks into different age-class folders, allowing you to quickly see which are mature enough to harvest and which should be given another year or two. The data collected from the survey is then given to the Regional DMAP Biologist, who will make harvest recommendations and may issue you tags if biologically justified and required to meet your objectives.

Be sure to enroll new properties by the deadline of Aug. 1. See the flyer above with the program details, along with the four levels to choose from and the costs associated.

Requirements For DMAP

In exchange for allowing harvest flexibility, Georgia DNR requires a small degree of record-keeping from the participant(s). In order to comply with the program, you will need to extract jawbones from every deer harvested and record either live or dressed weights. For bucks, you will need to take several antler measurements as well. This data will be used to compare weights to age classes over the course of the program and assess deer health. Managing the population and reducing the deer density on your property should cause average body weights to increase over time, which correlates with a healthier herd and ultimately bigger bucks. Harvest data and annual camera surveys are required to qualify for harvest flexibility. Upon commencement of the program, Georgia DNR will provide you with the following items:

• Harvest Data Sheet

• Jawbone Extractor

• Jawbone Tags

• Loppers

• Scale

A benefit of a well-managed habitat and deer population is an older age structure and quality of the land’s mature bucks.

Tips For DMAP Success

• Build a deer hoist—a simple rope and pulley system over a tree limb will suffice.

• Harvest does whenever the opportunity arises – DO NOT wait until the end of the season.

• Find a processor that accepts donated deer.

• Find a processor that accepts deer that aren’t field-dressed

• Make a list of folks who will take deer meat before the season begins.

• Invite your friends and family to come hunt.

Quality Deer Management (QDM) Cooperative

DMAP is a great reason to begin a QDM Cooperative. It proves to your neighbors that you are committed and serious about managing for quality whitetails. Ever hear hunters say “I only shot that buck because if I didn’t, the neighbors would have!” What’s ironic is that your neighbors very well may be saying that about you! Take this opportunity to invite your neighbors over for a grill out or a football game and communicate your goals as a deer hunter/manager. You may find out your goals are eerily similar, they just simply haven’t been communicated and trusted by your neighbors.

In just under two years of its inception, our co-op has already become a major success. We now have six neighboring landowners/hunting clubs committed to passing all bucks under 5 1/2 years old. We send photos to each other regularly keeping tabs on our community’s younger deer, especially the 3-year-old bucks who show major potential; these are the deer you need to protect since they will likely be your next giants. Tips to keeping your co-op’s goals front and center is to communicate regularly, have annual meetings and send out plenty of photos of bucks that should be taken, not just bucks that shouldn’t be. After a few years, you may be very surprised to see the jump in antler quality.

In addition to ensuring bucks get a few more birthdays, co-ops are great for managing the overall deer herd by working collectively to reduce doe numbers. The larger the footprint where people are working toward the same goal, the quicker your objectives can be met.

Benefits Of Antlerless Harvest

Before closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the benefits of doe harvest beyond freeing up additional forage for other deer. First and foremost, the fewer does that are on the landscape during the rut, the more bucks will need to move around to find them. That means they will have to venture outside of that 5-acre sanctuary. The more they have to move, the greater likelihood they will walk by your deer stand. Secondly, with a balanced sex ratio of say one buck to every one doe, the more bucks will have to compete for the does in estrous. That means you’ll see more sign in the woods like rubs and scrapes. You’ll also likely experience greater response with calling using rattling antlers, grunt tubes or doe bleats. Shooting does also helps prepare you for that once or twice per season shot at your target buck. For bowhunters especially, it teaches you when to stand up, when to draw, patience in waiting for the perfect shot angle and controlled shot execution, something 3D targets will never emulate.

When biologically justified, DNR may sign off on antlerless harvest flexibility for a DMAP property.

Physiologically speaking, you’ll slowly begin having your older, more physically fit bucks breed more of your does, reducing stress on your younger bucks, resulting in better expression of genetics over the years, which leads to my final benefit of doe harvest worth mentioning. Keeping your population at a healthy level ensures to the best of your ability that all does are bred during the primary rut, avoiding a secondary rut, which is often physically demanding on rutting bucks. The last thing you want during the most stressful time of year is for bucks to be worn down more than they already are. In order for them to grow the biggest antlers possible, you want them to start that growing cycle off in tip-top shape since nutrients only flow to the antlers after the buck’s body has absorbed its required share.


If you are serious about managing for quality, a tool like the Deer Management Assistance Program may be just what you are looking for.

If you are interested in taking your herd to the next level, reach out to Charlie Killmaster with Georgia DNR ([email protected]) for more information on how to get involved. Or go online to

For more wildlife management practices, tips and strategies, be sure to follow us at @flintriverplantation on Instagram.

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