Recently, a frustrated hunter called to bemoan his lack of success, and in the course of his moanings, he said to me, “If you had to hunt a ‘natural’ deer herd like the one I hunt, you wouldn’t have all those big bucks on your wall.”
Then, he went on to describe the deer herd he hunted, which, like all too many around the country, turned out to be half-starved, doe-heavy and buck-depleted. Well, the beleaguered caller was right about one thing – if I had to hunt a herd like the one he hunted, my wall would be darned near empty. But, he was dead wrong about another thing – the herd he hunted definitely was NOT NATURAL!
You see, a natural herd is well-fed; has nearly as many bucks as does; and has plenty of older bucks. Many hunters have become so accustomed to out-of-balance, over-crowded, unnatural deer herds they don’t even realize their sad state of existence.
Today, if you want to hunt a “natural” herd, you have two choices. ONE, you can go to the few places that by happenstance (and light hunting pressure) still have natural herds. You know such places as today’s trophy hotspots. They include the lightly hunted regions of the Northwest, upper Northeast, Central Canada, Mexico and Plains and Prairies, along with the vast ranches of South Texas. Or TWO, you can restore YOUR herd to a more natural state and produce more good bucks at home…with sound management!
Biologists tell us it takes three things to grow good bucks – sufficient age, good nutrition and quality genetics – all things inherit to balanced, natural herds.
Age is simple – just don’t shoot young bucks. Give’em time to grow up and get big. Most hunting experts and biologists agree that it takes at least 3.5 years for a buck to reach “maturity” and to be considered a trophy. Before 3.5, a buck just hasn’t had the time to grow antlers large enough and gain sufficient survival savvy to be considered “mature” or a “trophy.” True, a buck may reach his greatest antler size and “street smarts” at 5.5 years of age and older, but it seldom feasible to manage for bucks of this age. There are just too many ways for them to turn up dead before reaching that age.
As for nutrition, either reduce deer numbers to the available food or, better yet, increase the available food to the desired deer number. The possibilities of nutritional management are huge, literally! More and better food will grow more and better bucks.
The emphasis on genetics is often over-blown. In truth, you don’t really need to worry about genetics until age and nutrition are fully addressed. Genetic potential is always better than you think. It’s often just masked by the lack of age and poor nutrition. Once age and nutrition are improved, I will almost guarantee that you’ll like what you see. If not, then it’s time for some judicious culling of inferior bucks to tweak genetics.
Finally, get the buck/doe ratio back in balance by taking at least as many does as bucks. Remember, harvesting does is just as important to good management as taking bucks. Address all of the above, and you’ll be on the road to a more natural herd…and the good hunting and better bucks that come with it.
Next time, we’re going to look at the keys to sound herd management and the path back to plenty of good deer. I’m David Morris. See you then.
Posted by David Morris
Photo by Hardy Jackson