One of the biggest energy drains for people practicing quality deer management deals with their philosophy of only hunting bucks which exceed a certain antler size. Unfortunately, many QDM practitioners think that the bucks on their property must have 120”, 130” or 140+” of antlers before they can be harvested. In most QDM situations this is a formula for disaster.
A very nice yearling buck, one that makes up over 85% of the antlered buck harvest in many states. If allowed to live this buck will really blossom by the time it reaches 4 1/2 years of age. Photo #2 shows the proof as it is the same buck at 5 1/2 years of age.
One of the worst things you can do is to get hung up on inches of antler. The quicker a land manager divorces himself of this mind set the better off he’ll be because antler size is nearly always region specific, dictated by the amount of hunting pressure and the management whims of the landowner. Consequently, “one size” does not “fit all” when it comes to the ability to grow antlers in North America.
The goal should never be the Pope & Young or Boone & Crockett record book, but rather, your book. How you get there depends on your approach.
This is the same buck as photo #1, but at 5 1/2 years of age.
Which Bucks to Hunt?
In order to stay focused and enjoy the quality deer management journey consider hunting only the top 10-20% of the bucks on the property under your control. Doing so will enable you to not only have older bucks to hunt, but also eliminate the pressure-induced mindset of measuring success by how many bucks surpass a certain number of inches of antlers.
This photo shows a great yearling and mature buck together, and offers a glimpse of what can take place if yearlings are passed up…to hunt another year.
When it comes to whitetails, Neil Dougherty of North Country Whitetails is one of the top land management consultants in the country. For years he has steered his clients to think in terms of percentages rather than antler inches. “We try to discourage hunters from getting hung up on inches of antlers,” he recently told me. “When setting the bar, we use a 10% rule. We talk about antler size in inches so we have a common vocabulary, but our goal is to harvest mature bucks that are in the top 10% age structure of deer using a given property.
“Following this formula sets a reachable standard and keeps those of us who live in the real world of marginal soils from judging ourselves against standards set for the soil rich grain belts of Iowa, Illinois or Kansas.”
Two mature bucks that have had a chance to reach maturity. Both fall within the 10-20% percentage principal for the majority of managed lands.
The beauty of this is that the region of the country does not affect the 10% rule, nor does the maturity of the deer and your management program. Some areas of the country grow bigger deer because it’s easier for them to grow old. Or maybe deer in a given area benefit from exceptional nutrition. On our New York property, a top 10% buck will be a 135+”-class 4 1/2 year old. A 4 1/2 year old buck in Iowa might be over 170 inches. By thinking in terms of the top 10 to 20% you can have a trophy challenge no matter where your property is located and how far you are into a quality deer management program.
Photo of a 135″ buck, a true percentage principle buck.
“The bottom line is that you should always be proud of harvesting a top 10 to 20% buck, even if he nets no more than 90 or 100 inches of antler. I like this sliding scale with its ever-present realistic challenge.”
Though Dougherty encourages hunters to concentrate on the top 10% of the bucks in their area, this too, is relative. In some of the better regions of the country, bucks in the top 20% will be mature trophies, both in body and antler size.
Photo of a 145″ buck, a true trophy anyplace in North America.
Determining the Percentage
Determining the top 10% or 20% antler size for your area can be done a couple of possible ways.
First, nearly every state in America now has an organized big buck club. By contacting your state’s club you can get a feel for what kind of bucks are being harvested to help set standards.
The Buck Country Interactive Map is another great way to view what has been harvested or shown up on trail cameras all over the United States and Canada. You can view bucks by state and county on the US map and by province on the Canadian map. This type of information can help you determine your own harvest goals.
Practicing Quality Deer Management and the percentage principle has allowed our family to hunt bucks like this one…….recently harvested by me on our farm.
Another and perhaps even better way is to keep accurate records of deer harvested and sighted on and near your property. From this data your target percentage can be determined. It may take a couple years of on-the-ground scouting and studying, but once done the findings will provide a more accurate estimate of determining whether to hunt only the top 10, 15 or 20% of the buck population.