Buck Harvest and Deer Herd Management

Question: “The guys that I deer hunt with on our deer lease always say that we should only shoot whitetail bucks that are 3.5+ years older or those that are 130+ Boone and Crockett inches or bigger. These guys say that if we hold our buck harvest this strategy our deer management plan will benefit and we will have bigger and better bucks for each whitetail hunting season. Do you think this is a good plan for improving our deer herd?”

Answer: From my experience, this is the wrong way to think about buck harvest and it will not help the overall deer management program or the whitetail hunting on your property. At 3.5 years old, whitetail bucks have a lot of unseen potential left in them and are not really what most hunters would consider mature. Some bucks will reach the 130 inch mark at 2.5, 3.5, 4.5 years old, or maybe even older; maybe never.

Buck Harvest to Improve Antler Quality

Basing whitetail buck harvest by score is not a good idea to me either. If a buck is 5.5 years old and is a 130 inch, 8 point deer, then that is a good animal to take. However, a buck that is 5.5+ year old is always a good animal to harvest regardless of antler score. You would not believe the number of times I have heard hunters tell me that they saw 5.5 and 6.5 year old bucks that they did not shoot because they had poor antlers. I always respond:

“The first reason you should have shot those bucks because they were old. The second reason is because they had poor antlers. These are the bucks you DO NOT want on your property breeding does. A strategy that emphasizes shooting only the best bucks in WRONG! Leaving the poorest bucks in is WRONG!”

However, if a 130 inch, 10 point buck is 3.5 years old then he probably has some growing to do and alot of unseen antler potential. Shooting this buck while leaving older, lower scoring bucks walking around will not be a productive deer management strategy and will actually decrease deer quality over time. Using the wrong strategy year after year only compounds and worsens the problem.

In short, the poorest bucks on your place may never reach 130 inches of antler growth. Bucks should be culled at all age classes based on both age and antler quality. In your case, I would recommend shooting all bucks that are 3.5+ years old with 9 points or less. Bucks with 10+ points should not be harvested until they are at least 5.5 years old. This buck harvest strategy will improve your whitetail hunting, especially when combined with proper habitat management and some supplemental feeding.

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