Deer Management By Age

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deer management
There are many different aspects to deer management, including nutrition, but also whether or not you shoot a buck that passes by your tree stand.

We always emphasize the importance of providing optimum nutrition throughout the year so the deer can reach their genetic potential, but there is also another side to deer management. You make a number of important decisions with your trigger finger – whether by squeezing it keeping it still. What you shoot and what you pass up has a big affect on future deer hunting and once you start experimenting in this regard, you will face a big dilemma: which bucks do I shoot and which ones do I let go? Most deer hunters make that decision based on antler size. I suggest that there is a better way.

Most serious deer managers tell us that a buck isn’t mature until after his fourth birthday. During his fifth fall, he is 4 1/2 years old, and that is when he starts to put on the kind of antler and body size he is capable of producing. He also becomes much harder to hunt at this age. A 4 1/2 year old buck is more secretive and reclusive than a younger buck. At this age, he is a fine trophy buck no matter what he has on his head and shooting one is no small feat. Getting bucks to this age is not easy either because they are so much easier to kill when they are a year younger and right on the verge of becoming great trophies.

When you start making deer management decisions based on age rather than rack size, you open up the possibility for an interesting dilemma. What if you have a chance to shoot a dandy buck that is genetically superior but obviously still young? Sounds simple enough on paper – you pass him up. But, in the real world it can be a whole lot tougher. A trophy buck is still a trophy buck even if he is only 3 1/2 years old. Many hunters will mash the trigger before they even consider how old the buck is. Believe me, I know from experience. I’ve done it.

The Toughest Decision

deer hunter with trophy buck
There comes a time when all deer hunters have to make a tough decision and decide whether to shoot a buck or let him pass by. Sometimes landowners will work together on choosing which bucks to let walk.

Consider this situation, there is one area one deer hunter hunts where the neighboring landowners have all decided to work together to let young bucks walk. In this setting, it is not only encouraged that you pass up small bucks, it is expected. The properties are not high fenced so there is always a real possibility that when you pass up a nice trophy buck he will jump the fence and test someone else’s willpower and judgment. Also, your idea of “young” might not match that of your neighbor and “boom” he’s dead.

Two occasions stand out. Both bucks were 3 1/2 years old and both were already exceptional deer. The first was a 6 X 5 that would gross score 160ish. That’s a shooter everywhere this deer hunter hunts, but because he was young he decided to grudgingly let him go to see just how big he might become. As he watched him walk under his tree stand at 8 yards and cross a small clover field behind him, he knew that he would someday be a true monster. This deer hunter's hope was that he might see him again someday.

A State Record One Year Removed

During mid-November of 1999, a deer hunter passed up one buck four times at close range over a three-day stretch. The first time he saw him he immediately grabbed his bow off the hanger and began to prepare for the shot. But as the buck drew closer he could see from his body shape and facial features that he was definitely young.

deer hunt Iowa
It takes a lot of self control for a deer hunter to pass up a buck. Deer hunters need to make an investment for their futures by sometimes passing up a buck.

This deer hunter made a snap decision to let him go. He had to literally hang the bow up and put his hands in his pockets to keep from shooting him. He finally worked so close that he was actually under his tree stand. He could see two five-inch abnormal stickers off the inside of his right beam that added to what I figured was already a gross 160-inch ten-point typical frame. Total gross was about 170 – a tough deer to pass up! Many people have heard the story and say he is lying, but it really did happen. This deer hunter remembers telling hiself that if he was ever going to shoot a 200-inch buck someday this was the deer.

As he walked away he felt silly at first, but then he began to feel a sense of pride. In a strange way, it was like graduation day. Even though he knew that buck was likely the biggest he’d see all year, and would look great in photos and on the wall, he had made an investment in his own deer hunting by not shooting.

Again, trophy bucks like that don’t come around very often in a deer hunter’s lifetime; it’s a shame to cut them off before they start to reach their potential. After passing the trophy buck once, it became much easier to pass him again and again over the next few days. As predicted, after hunting several different states during the 1999 season, that buck was the biggest he saw all year.

After that season, he moved with his young family out of Iowa to a home in Michigan that was closer to his wife’s mother. And, of course, as luck would have it, he didn’t draw a tag to deer hunt Iowa in 2000. Enter Larry Zach. Larry is a wildlife artist of great skill and he also deer hunted the same general area. During the summer of 2000, Larry began seeing a giant non-typical around the same patch of timber where he’d passed the trophy buck the previous November.

During the summer, he had the chance to see a videotape of the trophy buck. Even though it was a little grainy having been shot at long range through Larry’s spotting scope, he immediately recognized the deer was the same one he’d passed up. His antler structure and abnormal points were identical, but what a jump he had made in antler size! Now instead of having a basket-rack, he had a bushel basket-rack.

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