Question: I am on a 2,000 acre property in Eastern Oklahoma with several other guys that we lease for white-tailed deer hunting. We have started doing deer surveys to estimate the number of deer on the land, but we are not sure how we should go about managing the bucks on the property? Any suggestions?
Answer: First, everyone always emphasizes the importance of providing optimum nutrition throughout the year. This is important so that the bucks in your area can reach their genetic potential. However, there is much more to whitetail management than nutrition, and there is more to whitetail hunting than just pulling the triger. It’s true that hunters make a number of important decisions with their trigger fingers, so what you shoot and what you pass up has a big affect on future hunting.
You face a common question: Which bucks do I shoot and which ones do I let go? Most hunters make that decision based on antler size (as in the biggest), but this is typically a bad decision. Using this technique, the best bucks tend to get shot first, leaving the inferior bucks to sire the rest of the herd. WRONG.
A buck can not be considered mature until is is at least is 4 1/2 years old. It is at this age that a deer manager can really see the kind of antlers and body size he is capable of producing. Getting bucks to this age is not always easy because they are much easier to kill when they are a year younger and right on the verge of becoming great trophies. This is the age (3 1/2) when most hunters simply can’t pass up a “trophy” buck. Little do they know that the buck they just shot would have been a real monster a couple of years down the road.
When a hunter starts making management decisions based on age rather than antler size, you get a good idea of what bucks look like. When a lot of hunters head out hunting, they see a buck and shoot it—never really studying the deer they see. Instead of learning of the buck’s body characteristics that help them to age the deer, the simply shoot it. DONE.
Next time you shoot a buck, look at it before you pull the trigger. Study the jawline, the neck, and the relationship of the front shoulders to the belly to the hindquarters. Then, once the animal is harvested, remove the jaw and age the deer deer using the teeth. This will give you a better understanding of the relationship between the physical characteristics that you see and the actual age of the deer when you’re out whitetail hunting.
Once you begin to manage and harvest bucks by age, you will become very proficient and aging deer on the hoof. This ability, of course, is critical for managing bucks by age. In closing, to keep a good age structure of bucks on your property, I would recommend that you and your fellow hunters harvest no more than 20% of the bucks off the property in any single year. This includes culls at all age classes as well as trophy bucks. NOW YOU”RE TALKING!