Hunters are managing their land now more than ever. The fact that landowners and hunters understand the importance of managing the habitat and the herd is of great benefit to all hunters and even more so, the deer. It seems that the practices and concepts of Quality Deer Management (QDM) has finally defeated the seemingly ineffective methods of traditional deer management. With all the new information from various studies and modern practice techniques it can be confusing trying to grasp the basics of whitetail management.
Many hunters are now willing to pass shot opportunities on younger bucks along with their neighboring hunters. While not all hunters have the acreage nor the herd density to harvest a substantial amount of antlerless deer or modify the forested habitat of their hunting land, they can pass a shot opportunity on a young buck. There is a misconception that we can cull individual deer for the genetic improvement of the herd. While this may sound good in theory it is rarely effective on free ranging deer on the average hunter’s property. The fact that a buck has a scraggly rack this year doesn’t mean that he will produce the same the following year. It can happen but there is no way to accurately predict this. Some bucks just don’t have what it takes to reach trophy potential but you have no way of foreseeing what a buck will mature into if you harvest him as a yearling. The old adage “once a spike, always a spike” couldn’t be more false. There are many biological reasons for a deer to develop odd racks one year and not the next, and many trophy deer produced spike antlers as their first set of headgear. A free ranging deer has on average, a home range of roughly 640 acres. Young bucks usually travel far more than any other age class deer. This is because they are establishing home ranges and covering a substantial amount of ground. This subjects them to more encounters with hunters even if they are just passing through. Not only will culling that buck not have an impact on the genetics of the herd, he may not even be staying on your property.
Keep in mind that many mature bucks are not capable of producing antlers that many hunters would consider a trophy. It is perfectly acceptable to remove these deer from your hunting land but only after the buck has matured and you feel that he is showing the majority of his antler and skeletal production. Only then would I feel comfortable removing a deer based solely from a genetics standpoint. The attached photo is a mature buck that I harvested in 2011. Only after capturing many photos of the buck and studying his bodily characteristics did I feel comfortable harvesting him. According to his tooth wear he was 5.5 years old and was sporting a massive 6 point rack. I couldn’t have predicted that by judging him 4 years prior when he was a yearling.
Whether you are trying to produce high quality bucks or just out in the field trying to fill the freezer, it is practically impossible to influence the genetic makeup of your deer herd. If you are unsure of a buck’s maturity it is best to let him walk. Harvesting him as a cull buck will have little effect on the herd and if he matures to produce a large 4 or 6 point rack in a few years he will still be trophy in his own right due to his age. Occasionally, hunters make the mistake of labeling a young buck as a cull as a reason to harvest him. I feel that this is a disservice to the accomplished hunter and the harvested buck. Of course, all management aspects aside, the goal is to harvest whatever deer makes you happy and be proud of it!