|Defining realistic goals for the area and way you hunt is tough, because they involve myriad factors. I’ll give it a shot anyway.
No matter where you live, even the most prime piece of deer hunting land shouldn’t be home to more than 35 deer per square mile. So, if you own or control 320 acres, the habitat would provide enough quality food for 17 deer. That means you’d have about nine bucks, including two or three that are 3-years-old or older.
Therefore, under a strict trophy-hunting program, your hunting group would be extremely lucky to tag three mature bucks in one season. Complicating this scenario even further is the fact that researchers have proven that landowners cannot "stockpile" bucks. Just because you pass them up this year, doesn’t mean they’ll be around next season. Most bucks disperse twice by the time they’re 2 years old. What invariably happens is that you wind up growing deer for your neighbors to shoot.
This example emphasizes a need for realistic goal setting for harvest strategies. There’s nothing wrong with holding out for Mr. Big, but be forewarned that you might hunt for years without filling a buck tag. Hunters who show such restraint and satisfy their venison needs by filling doe tags are truly a notch above the rest of the heap.
I hate it when people refer to deer hunting as a sport. It’s a pastime — an activity that’s been in our blood since Day 1. Sports are about numbers, and many of today’s buck hunters love to throw them around in the form of antler scores. The popular Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young scoring systems are useful in quantifying the size of a buck, and that’s the only reason why I use them in daily conversations with hunters.
However, scores can help hunters understand what to expect from their land. The following chart is a general buck-hunting guide for landowners in most parts of whitetail country (excluding Texas, the Deep South and extreme Northeast).
Less than 40 acres: 50 inches 1 year
This chart should not be interpreted as an endorsement of state-mandated antler restrictions. Scientific research has proven that state-mandated restrictions do little to improve the overall health and well-being of deer herds.
Pennsylvania has shown that antler restrictions can work in micromanaging some tracts when coupled with heavy doe harvests. The greater point, however, is that restrictions mostly divide hunters by invoking the will of trophy hunters on meat hunters and other serious hunters who find equal enjoyment out of harvesting any legal buck.
To me, each hunt and each deer is different. In fact, my most memorable hunts are those in which I’ve killed does and small bucks, and even hunts when I didn’t unleash an arrow or fire a bullet. Granted, meat hunters would be best served to target as many does as possible, but it goes deeper than that. How many people do you know who proudly display their forkies, 6-pointers and small 8-point racks in their homes, garages and machine sheds? I know a lot of them.
What’s more, I know firsthand the hunting skills possessed by many of these guys are twice that of some of the so-called celebrities you see on TV.