There on the classic knotty pine wall above the fieldstone fireplace in what can only be described as the ultimate all American deercamp log cabin, deep in the mystical big timber of Michigan’s Manistee National Forest, hangs the most magnificent whitetail beast a deerhunter could ever dream of.
By Ted Nugent
And I know deerhunting dreams. Mine have saturated my life for my entire 65 years, and there is no escaping these special life-enhancing fantasies that drive our unique segment of humankind: deerhunters.
I also know such dreams are as personal and subjective to each individual as anything life has to offer, but I have a very strong feeling that my simple deerhunting dreams are shared by more deerhunters across the land than any assorted variations thereof.
I understand the historical, even mythical fascination with huge antlered stags. I get it. This fascination is Pragmatism 101 in its origins, and began early on in our species existence, far removed from anything that would develop into record books or trophy considerations.
The hieroglyphics on cave walls do indeed tell a story of original man, and the do-or-die relationship with the spiritual beasts that provided food, shelter, clothing, tools, weapons, medicine and spirituality to our caveman ancestors.
Our hunting heritage leaves no room for conjecture, for the large antlered creatures painstakingly depicted in these ancient storybooks tells the story of our admiration, respect and powerful relationship with the creatures that kept us alive.
It was afterall, the baddest MoFo hunter in the clan who consistently brought home the most and biggest critters to sustain the village. I suppose the first example of quality deer management came about by those select souls who specialized in killing game, who came to the realization that the biggest, oldest, largest horned and antlered beasts were also the smartest, most elusive and challenging animals to kill. Game on.
I am confident that the creation of village hierarchy was determined by which hunter was the most successful, thereby drawing the most admiration, leadership position, and dare I say, breeding rights. Like the dominant stag of the herd, the bravest, strongest, smartest, most capable man would establish genetic superiority; hence, survival of the fittest. (killer rock record, by the way).
Regardless of the silly nonsense that we are all created equal when clearly every person is unique, uniquely capable of special talents and individually driven to one-of-a-kind effort and levels of accomplishment (wow, getting pretty deep for a deerhunting article here) “to each his own” is the ultimate declaration of independence and pursuit of individual happiness where freedom reigns supreme.
So, Back to That Deer Head
Which brings me to the deer head on my old Nugent family cabin wall. This stunning embodiment of my deerhunting life has no antlers. It is a fat, butterball whitetail buttonbuck, a nubbin buck, a fawn, with barely visible little velvet nobs atop his six-month-old skull, mounted regally by the taxidermist way back in 1969 who couldn’t believe I was willing to pay to have a fawn mounted.
But I was, and it is important to note, that right next to this little deer is another little deer, also sans antlers. This yearling doe was my first bowkilled whitetail I arrowed with my Bear recurve and a MicroFlight glass arrow tipped with a Bear Razorhead, in October 1972.
The little buttonbuck was my very first deerkill ever, on that long ago opening morning, with my dad’s pre-64 Winchester Model 70 .308.
What these two deer lack in the antler department is virtually negated by the earth-shattering memories of finally putting it all together and, finally punching tags on my beloved whitetail dreams.
Which brings me to the essence of this article; giving my opinion on Quality Deer Management and mandatory antler restrictions.
About Those Antler Restrictions
I am all for “quality” deer management, a concept which can differ substantially from what is officially known as “Quality Deer Management” in many circles.
Both issues can be summed up singularly for most of us, and that is that we want the healthiest, quality deer herds the land can support, but antler restrictions should always be left up to the individual hunter.
When examined honestly, many of the mandatory antler restrictions in place here and there today have absolutely nothing to do with the age of a buck. In some parts of Texas, the original laboratory of QDM and age-based herd manipulation, a legal width or number of points oftentimes is counterintuitive to harvesting older deer.
For example, when the legal width is mandated at 13 inches, I assure you that many older class bucks under 13 inches that should be harvested will die of old age, while a 1.5-year-old 15-inch buck can be killed and surely should not be.
Same with point restrictions. The number of points on a rack rarely has anything to do with the buck’s age. More often than not, if higher scoring, larger antlered older bucks are the goal, the wrong deer are killed and the wrong deer are passed on.
What I Believe
I believe there should be no mandatory antler restrictions, but rather, like has been proven in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, and by contiguous landowner agreements across America, the big push should be on learning to age deer on the hoof according to body configuration, not antlers.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one man’s trophy is another man’s backstrapper. We should strongly encourage letting those young bucks walk, but we should never dictate to our fellow hunters what determines the desirability of one deer over another.
Meanwhile, I will toast my trophy buttonbuck and that little doe every season forevermore. We don’t kill buttonbucks on our properties anymore, but I wouldn’t want it to be against the law.