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One Buck Limit

By Mike Porter
Senior Wildlife and Fisheries Consultant

Posted Dec. 1, 2009

Isn't it time for white-tailed deer hunters to progress to the next level? I believe deer hunters can evolve and progress like most largemouth bass fishermen evolved and progressed. Throughout the course of human history, including most of the 20th century, bass fishermen kept most or all bass they were allowed to keep. However, during the last 40-50 years, many bass fishermen began to release most bass because they now realize bass are a limited resource and will continue to grow larger over time when adequate food is available. Bass and bucks are renewable, but limited, resources. Most bass fishermen and buck hunters typically want larger trophies. Bass and bucks have to live longer to grow larger.

When hunters are allowed to harvest more than one buck per year, many hunters simply shoot the first buck seen because they know they have more opportunities to harvest bucks if they see a larger one later. In most U.S. deer hunting culture, it has been more "macho" to harvest a buck rather than a doe. However, we need to harvest does to manage deer populations, whereas buck harvest is not necessary to manage deer populations.

Hunters who previously killed several bucks each year would be able to harvest only one, which obviously reduces buck harvest. A one-buck limit induces selectivity among buck hunters, which further reduces overall buck harvest. When hunters are limited to only one buck per year, they tend to be more selective and pass up small bucks because most hunters want to save their buck tag in case they see a large buck. Some hunters who pass up small bucks may not see another buck during their limited hunting opportunities.

A one buck limit does not reduce deer harvest opportunities - it only reduces buck harvest. With liberal doe harvest limits, hunters have ample opportunities to harvest deer and eat venison. Also, hunters, especially beginning hunters, can continue to harvest the first buck seen because they can legally harvest any buck.

It is desirable to reduce overall buck harvest because excessive buck harvest causes distorted adult sex ratios. Distorted adult sex ratios are unnatural and make it difficult to manage deer numbers because does are excessively abundant. It also reduces overall numbers of bucks because each area supports a limited number of deer. When an area is filled with does, there are few places for additional bucks. White-tailed deer have reached or exceeded carrying capacity in most of their U.S. range, leaving little or no room for additional deer.

Additionally, excessive buck harvest causes an unnatural, distorted and depressed buck age distribution, which reduces numbers of large bucks. Male white-tailed deer typically grow in body size and antler size every year until they reach about 4 to 9 years of age (recent research indicates most wild, free-ranging bucks probably grow their largest antlers when 6 to 9 years old). Young age is the primary factor limiting white-tailed buck size.

When hunters progress and critically evaluate harvest decisions, they realize white-tailed bucks are limited resources and most bucks grow larger when allowed to live longer. The optimum situation would be for state game departments to limit buck harvest to one per person annually and provide liberal doe harvest opportunities. Yet, even when state laws allow liberal buck limits, landowners and managers can limit buck harvest on their properties. Even more importantly, individual hunters can limit their own buck harvest.

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