The Limiting Factor

Written by: Mike Guerin

Deer management is a multifaceted endeavor, envolving harvest management, habitat management etc. Professional land managers are trained on these subjects. But for do-it-yourselfers, managing your own land effectively doesn't mean you need a Masters in wildlife biology.

There are a few basic concepts that you need to understand and they really aren't that complicated or hard to grasp. This article will deal with one of the concepts. The law put forth by a European scientist's named Liebig. The law he defined is known as Liebig's Law of the Minimum.

What this law states is that the rarest requirement of an organism will be the limiting factor to its performance.

As an example a crop's yield is restricted by the lack of a single element, in this case lets suppose the soil is low in Nitrogen, adding more phosphorus will not improve the crops yield. Once the soil has nitrogen added crop yield will increase until another element becomes the limiting factor. And no further improvement in yield is possible until more of that element is made available.

This same concept can be applied to a deer herd as well as to the original concept of nutrients for plants. Your deer herd also has a limiting factor. Something that is keeping it from reaching its potential. That potential is defined by you. It could be deer weight, antler development or simple deer numbers. Whatever your goals successfully improving your deer herd depends on identifying what your limiting factor happens to be.

Sounds simple enough but this critical step is often ignored by the lay land manager and results in needless expenditure of money and effort or inconvenience. It may help to give some examples of common mistakes that are made so that you can more easily avoid making them yourself.

One very common mistake is the assumption that genetics in an area are poor and quality bucks are not a realistic goal. Certainly some areas have better genetics than others. Antler and body size in general get better or bigger the further North you go. This often leads people to set their sites low and never address the true problem. It is amazing how the areas that are most commonly attributed with poor genetics also coincide with poor soil and/or have very heavy hunting pressure.

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By not recognizing the true cause of the small deer in this situation the problem is never adequately address and a solution is never found. If soil is the problem you can take steps to improve the quality of the available forage by planting food plots and maybe reducing the deer herd. With proper lime and fertilizer the soil can be improved, the lacking nutrients can be supplemented and deer herd can be significantly improved.

Or if hunting pressure is the limiting factor steps can be taken to correct the harvest. A more managed and controlled harvest can improve the numbers and age structure of the herd and make significant strides in producing a better quality deer herd.

Another example of how not identifying the limiting factor can be harmful is soil pH. Not identifing what the limiting factor is with your soils is a very common problem. And this can hurt your deer herd via the lack of better quality food plots.

Low pH soils can cause you to waste lots of money on fertilizers that will end up simply getting washed away by the rain. Low pH prevents plants from utilizing the available nutrients. Low pH soils greatly reduce the effectiveness of fertilizers. Often cutting the effectiveness of it by more than half. Fertilizer expense can be significant and you certainly don't want buy twice what you really need or waste half of what you did buy and still have your plants not produce the forage they should.

But what if the limiting factor of you land is out of your control? Suppose surrounding land owners allow the harvesting of deer in a manner that is counter to your goals. If that is the case then you will still be helped by having that knowledge. You could try to get them to adopt quality deer management practices themselves or maybe if that isn't possible. You can still put that knowledge to work by determining you need to hunt somewhere else.

Whatever your limiting factor is, identifing it is the first step toward improving your hunting success and reaching your hunting goals. Sure you can start changing parts on that broken car and you might get lucky and change the broken part first. But knowing what the problem is before you begin to change parts can save you alot of headache and money. So make an effort to identify just what the limiting factor is for your deer and then do whatever is feasible to improve it. Your deer will thank you.