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Want A Bigger Buck?

Posted Nov. 1, 2005

Almost everyone interested in deer enjoys seeing a large buck. What can you do to improve chances for a larger buck? The answer is simple do not shoot one that is smaller than what you consider big. Young age is the factor most limiting buck size. This is the primary reason why we do not see more trophies. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation check station data indicates that more than 90 percent of Oklahoma buck harvest is less than four years old. The same trend occurs throughout much of Texas, too. Yet, white-tailed bucks generally do not reach their maximum antler and body size until after their fourth birthday.

If you shoot a buck before he matures, he will never get larger. I frequently hear the complaint, "If I pass him, he will probably get shot on the neighbor's land." Maybe, but if you shoot him, you guarantee he will not get any larger. At least a buck has a chance if you let him walk. If you want some venison, harvest a doe, or harvest several does, but do not compromise and take a smaller buck.

Patience is a virtue. The more time a person spends afield in good conditions, i.e., good habitat with abundant deer, close adult sex ratio and well-distributed buck age structure, the better chance a person has to see or harvest a trophy buck. Even under the best conditions, most deer hunters will not get an opportunity to harvest a trophy buck every hunting season. This is why the sport is called hunting.

In many North Texas counties and throughout Oklahoma, each hunter is allowed only one buck during deer-gun season. Hunters who harvest small bucks hurt their chances of harvesting trophies in many ways: they prevent many bucks from getting larger; they probably spend less time afield because they already harvested their bucks; and, afterwards, they cannot legally harvest mature bucks when they encounter them.

Many people have double standards for harvesting bucks with a bow versus a gun or during late season versus early season. There are a limited number of bucks out there. We decrease our trophy opportunities whenever we take a young buck. The whole idea behind hunting with primitive weapons, such as bow and arrow, is to make the hunt more challenging to make the trophy more meaningful. Why cheapen it by lowering your trophy standards? True trophies can be and have been harvested with a bow because some of the largest bucks harvested in Oklahoma and elsewhere have been taken with bow and arrow.

There are many ways people attempt to manage buck harvest, such as point restrictions, spread restrictions, age restrictions, hunter restrictions and doe harvest requirements. Some of these are ineffective and some are helpful. However, the best way to manage buck harvest is to limit the total number of bucks harvested from a property. To maintain some quality, buck harvest rate should not exceed one-third the estimated number of bucks present on the property. To manage for trophy bucks, buck harvest rate should not exceed one-fifth the estimated number of bucks. The more conservative the buck harvest, the better chance for a trophy. When limiting overall buck harvest, trophies can be produced even when some young bucks are harvested because the vast majority of bucks are allowed to grow older. In situations where managers do not have deer population data, a reasonable starting point is to limit buck harvest to less than one buck per 275 acres of deer habitat for quality management and less than one buck per 450 acres of deer habitat for trophy management.

Does everyone need buck harvest restrictions? No I do not believe we should impose buck restrictions on beginning hunters. But, I see nothing wrong with expecting more from experienced hunters. What is another small buck to someone who has harvested several bucks? We expect more from college graduates than we expect from first graders, so we should expect more from experienced hunters than we expect of beginning hunters.

In summary, when a buck does not meet your trophy criteria, don't shoot it.