Betting on Bucks
The numbers are in, and the northern Piedmont continues to be the best place to kill a trophy buck in North Carolina.
Approaching its 10th anniversary, the 2-buck limit has been credited with improving the overall quality of bucks in Piedmont counties. Initially, it resulted in a 10-percent reduction in the antlered-buck harvest.
After a decade of putting the tip of his pen to the paper, it wasn’t difficult to tell which areas were producing the Tarheel State’s biggest bucks — even if Osborne’s method was anything but scientific.
Little has changed in the handful of years since Osborne’s retirement; if he handed his map down to Evin Stanford, his successor, it would have a lot more dots, but they’d mostly be in the same places.
And most of those places are either in the northern Piedmont or along one of the major river drainages in the northeastern corner of North Carolina.
Through the 2008 season, North Carolina has produced 19 bucks that have qualified for the Boone & Crockett Club’s all-time record book. Thirteen of them have come from those two aforementioned areas, and if you widen the survey a bit, counting those deer that were oh, so close to the record book, the numbers get even more pronounced.
That’s no surprise to Stanford.
“Probably, the deer in the northern Piedmont have better genetics; they’re probably a little better than in the rest of the state,” he said. “You take the coastal plane; those deer genetically are designed to be smaller, to cope with the environment – the heat and humidity. You get up in the northern Piedmont, and those deer are engineered a little differently.”
And when Stanford describes the makeup of an area that might produce trophy bucks, he accurately describes those same areas.
“It would be an area with rich soils, and area that has an older age-class structure,” he said. “You want a place where the buck-doe ratio is better, a place where the deer population is within the carrying capacity of the land. You don’t want an area where the deer are overpopulated.
“The particularly rich soils occur in the northern Piedmont … and some of the Yadkin-PeeDee and Roanoke (river) corridors are particularly nutrient-rich watersheds.”
Throughout the Piedmont the antlered buck harvest has decreased somewhat since the Commission enacted a 2-buck season limit back in 2000. The antlerless harvest has gone sky high, increasing by as much as 40 percent. So that has, in most cases, got the population under control and taken a lot of pressure off younger bucks.
But, Stanford said, good soils and good habitat don’t guarantee that a deer hunter will be overrun with bucks big enough to grace a place of honor in their trophy rooms.
“You can go to an area that’s got very rich soils, but if every buck gets harvested before he’s two years old, that situation is not much different from what you find in areas with poor soils,” he said.
So, the equation is habitat, soil and a lower buck harvest. Those factors still point to the northern Piedmont.
“Habitat, soil quality and hunting pressure are all related,” Osborne said. “Pressure and the places where big deer are being killed are highly correlated. We have a lot of places in the Piedmont where, if you kill an older deer, he’ll tend to be a real good deer.
“Our counties with the highest corn yields are in the Piedmont. Probably, that has to do with soil fertility. It has to do with how many minerals are being picked up by the vegetation, and how much of that stuff will stay in the soil.
“You can’t attach the success of deer in the Piedmont to anything that has to do with genetics. Oh, you might get some good genes in a herd in a certain area, and you might see a few real nice bucks get taken out. But by and large, it has more to do with deer getting good, quality food, living in good habitat, and avoiding hunting pressure enough to live a few years.”
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