By Nathan Unger
One thing I believe all or most hunters can agree with is that the deer population has to be managed in some way in order for our sport and livelihood to survive through the next century. However, not everybody practices management in the same fashion. So what I want to do in this article is provide some ideas of what has worked for me the last several years at the property I hunt now and provide some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Growing up, shooting a buck was my only goal. It didn’t matter how big, how many points or how old it was I just wanted my first buck. At the time, two of my brothers were collectively aiming for the same goal. So what happened? All three of us shot our first buck the next two seasons. Two seven pointers and a spike buck.
Season three (at this specific property) roles around in 2012 after we shot these bucks, and we wanted what any hunter wanted. To shoot a bigger buck. The problem was we didn’t see any, but little did we know the impact of shooting three 1 1/2- 2 1/2 year-old bucks the preceding two seasons was going to have on the age of the males in our herd. The next two years we made a pact (my dad, brothers and I) that we wouldn’t shoot any bucks that we didn’t want to mount. That way the consequence of our shots would affect our bank accounts, so we wanted to make those mounts count, and we decided if we wanted meat for the freezer we would manage the does in our herd.
That’s exactly what we did!
The following season we began seeing some results of our management. I was hunting towards the end of November in 2013 and was able to take a good 3 1/2 year old buck (picture is on the “Trophy” page). The next year my brother was able to record his biggest buck to date – a nice 4 1/2 year old in late December. We really started seeing the fruits of our management at the end of the season in 2014 when we captured two 4 1/2 years old bucks on camera. This 2015 season, there are at least three 130″-140″ class deer with the potential to grow even bigger.
I write all this to say that when we started we didn’t look much beyond the current hunting season, and we believed that somehow big bucks would just magically appear out of thin air. After studying big bucks and educating ourselves on deer management we discovered that in order for them to grow you might just have to pass on them when they’re young.
As far as does our concerned, the age-old question posed is – “is it better to shoot older does or younger does?” What I’ve deduced the past several years from articles and other knowledgeable experts is if you want to grow your deer herd shoot younger does, and if you want to thin out your herd shoot older does. This is because older does our able to foster their young during the winter better finding cover and food sources more effectively, and they are able to protect their fawns from predators better than yearling does can.
Now, I understand that not everyone has the ability to hunt multiple times a year or has private property that they can manage overtime, so I get that. I really do. I know some hunters hunt public land that is pressured by other hunters so any deer is a good deer. I’ve been in similar situations before and understand not everyone hunts for trophies, and providing for you and your family is a higher priority. So don’t think I’m trying to impress this belief that you should only shoot 4 and 5 year old deer.
However, I do think we need to be cognizant of the overall deer herd. We need to educate ourselves and others about this precious resource – about the negative effects of not practicing management, but moreover, educating others on the overwhelming positive effects of quality deer management.