Editors Blog

Dan Schmidt: Trophy Management Works if Everyone is On Board

Giant bucks can be grown if everyone embraces your deer management vision

Want to grow bigger deer? Make sure everyone in your hunting group is on board with the plan, including your neighbors. (photo by Daniel E. Schmidt)

We all love watching those deer hunting videos and TV shows where the semi-famous hunter whacks a mature buck a point-blank range. The following segment typically shows the same hunter with two or three sets of sheds from the same buck. “Yep, this ol’ Mossy Horns,” the hunter will say. “We’ve captured scouting cameras of him since he was a yearling. This is proof of how big a buck can grow if you pass him up when he’s young.”

Such examples are rarely fabricated, and the advice is sound, but too many everyday hunters take it as gospel. Trophy buck management works “like in the movies” if everyone in your camp is on board and if you control enough quality habitat to hold deer. That’s why realistic goal setting is the first step to becoming a buck hunter. Defining what is realistic is tough, because it involves myriad factors. I’ll give it a shot anyway.

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 lucky to fill three buck tags in one season. Complicating these scenarios 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.

That 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 go for several seasons 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.

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