There’s little we can do to manipulate the genetics in a free-ranging deer herd. And despite the millions of dollars and thousands of hours devoted to food plots, nutrition largely depends on soil and climate. But whitetail hunters who want to see trophy-class racks can do one simple thing: Let younger bucks walk.
“The age structure of a herd is highly manageable,” says Kip Adams, a biologist with the Quality Deer Management Association (qdma.com). “Anybody can influence the age of deer in their area by simply protecting younger bucks. Let them get older.”
That sounds great in theory, but in the field most of us want to scratch an itchy trigger finger when a solid 2 1⁄2-year-old buck walks by. One of the silent voices in a hunter’s head at these times—besides the mantra “I will not look at his rack”—is, “If I don’t kill him, someone else will.”
While there’s little you can do about remaining calm in the presence of a remarkable deer, you can work with neighboring landowners to ensure that all hunters in the area have the same basic goal of boosting the age structure of bucks. The QDMA is addressing this dynamic by promoting deer-management cooperatives—collections of neighboring landowners who agree to abide by certain management guidelines, the most simple and effective of which is allowing younger bucks to grow older.
“Landowner cooperatives are the hottest thing going right now in the whitetail world,” says Adams. “Especially in the Upper Midwest, landowners who control anywhere from twenty to three thousand acres are getting together and making a neighborly agreement that they’ll shoot a few does and pass on younger bucks in order to make the hunting better for everyone.”
Once a buck reaches maturity, the variables that contribute to antler mass—nutrition, genetics, geographic race—can really be seen.
“If you’re killing bucks before they can mature, you’ll never have the sort of deer that you could have,” says Adams.
Tools of Quality Deer Management
Managing quality bucks begins with observation. Where do deer eat, hide and roam on your land? These tools will help you pattern the deer in your area.
Bushnell Trophy Cam
Boasting a one-year battery life and upgraded night-vision LED, this high-performance camera is the size
of a paperback book. ($200; bushnell.com)
QDMA Landowner Log
Record seasonal deer patterns, track food-plot planting dates and get a handle on fawning and rut activity with this diary. ($5.95; qdma.com)
BioLogic Perfect Plot
One 9-pound bag of this all-around forage mix seeds an acre of protein. ($65; mossyoakbiologic.com)