There are a lot of deer hunters “managing” properties for better deer hunting. For many this means little more than shooting some does and the biggest buck on the property every year while letting the younger bucks grow up. There is nothing wrong with that approach if the herd can stand to have some does harvested. It sure beats shooting everything that comes along. Is there another way however? Just how far can one take the management of wild deer? Well I am probably pushing the limits and the story of my 2016 season may leave you scratching your head.
Back in 2004 I shot the biggest buck of my life, a 20-point giant that scored 214″. I have spent the 12 years since searching for another 200″+ buck to hunt and it has caused me to pass on some bucks I never dreamed any deer hunter would let walk. Suffice it to say that Gods reality far surpassed my wildest dreams. But after all, how can a hunter shoot 200″ bucks if he fills his tags with bucks scoring under 200″? And just how big are 200″ bucks the year before they break this magical mark? If a buck scores 170-180″ one year, I reason that he has a better chance to break 200″ next year than does a buck scoring 150″.
In the past decade I have been blessed to gain exclusive access to more properties and do more to improve the habitat on those properties than the average hunter ever will. Even though these are primarily small properties, I learned a long time ago that it doesnt take a lot of cover to hide a big buck. How a property is managed is a lot more important than how big it is.
As this hunting season winds down it is all but certain that I will not be making a trip to the taxidermist and yet I feel I had a great season. I hunted some new properties and saw many really good bucks that would score more than 150″, one of them a good bit north of 150″. In fact I let the biggest buck walk that I have ever passed … five different times. I wasnt even tempted to grab my bow because I know the bucks age due to past history with him and I know he has the potential to get even bigger if he lives.
I also passed a chance to shoot the oldest buck I have ever had within range of my stand. I cannot give a definite age on this buck but have photos of him from 2011 when he was at least 3 1/2 years old. That makes him at least 8 1/2 years old now. His rack has never been great; I doubt it ever grossed over 150″. Today I am not sure he would tape an honest 120″. For me to shoot that buck would prove nothing and probably bring me more remorse than satisfaction. He has evaded hords of hunters for years and I think he has earned the right to die of old age.
This afternoon with only 3 days left in the season I finally picked up my bow and drew blood. A well placed shot and a short bloodtrail led me to a buck I had targeted the first time I saw him. Back in early November the buck was chasing does out of range of my stand and as I watched through binos I vowed to put a tag on him. Today it happened.
You are probably wondering how big he was. To be blunt, he was small … REAL SMALL. In fact he is not only the smallest buck I have ever shot, he is the smallest antlered buck I have ever seen. I am guessing he is 1 1/2 years old based on the fact that his body was a little bigger than the does he was chasing back during the rut. His antlers however were puny little spikes less than 2″ long; the last kind of buck you want to see chasing does during the rut.
So as my 2016 hunting season winds down I can honestly say I had a great season. I passed the biggest buck I have ever let walk, passed the oldest buck I have ever let walk and shot the smallest buck I have ever seen. Sometimes being a good land manager means doing something besides shooting does and the biggest buck on the property. Ultimately we should strive to leave the herd in better shape than we found it even when faced with an incompetent DNR that doesnt share your concern for good conservation.