Most hunters enter the woods aiming to kill a trophy buck, or at least a good deer to take home to momma. And just about every hunter will want to take a second, third and even fourth buck if the opportunities present themselves, but hunters can get too much of a good thing and reap havoc on the future buck population on their hunting grounds.
Anywhere on the continent, more young animals will be available compared to older, mature specimens. The age dynamics of bucks on any given property in the Carolinas will follow the same structure. Naturally, young, 18-month-old bucks are less cautious than mature bucks and will travel into harm’s way very quickly. In some local populations, two-thirds of yearling bucks will end up at the skinning shed. The heavy harvest of these immature bucks will almost always maintain an age structure dominated by each new crop of immature bucks.
However, overharvesting younger bucks is not the only way to directly affect the age dynamics of a herd. Too often, hunt clubs will restrict their harvests by antler size or a minimum configuration leaving the number of bucks to be harvested unlimited as long as it’s within state limits. As mentioned before, the number of older mature bucks is very limited on any given property.
So why would a hunter want to take out all of the older, mature bucks if they were available and eliminate the chances of having an even older buck to hunt the next year? Well, the easy answer is greed.
Boone and Crockett-sized bucks come from a recipe with three ingredients: genetics, nutrition, and age. If a buck is killed out in the first three years of life, it will never reach its full potential when grown out. Bucks reach their true potential between 4 and 6 years of age. Hunters must let them grow if they ever want to see their herd’s full potential. That means letting some of the 2 ½- and 3 ½-year-old bucks walk, at a very minimum. If a hunter wants to take a nice 3 ½-year-old buck, there is nothing wrong with that, but they should not kill an unlimited number of bucks in the older age classes.
Both younger and older bucks need some level of preservation to allow some to reach their true potential. All hunt clubs or groups of hunters need to limit the number of bucks killed, with a higher emphasis of preservation of the older age classes. Since there are more young bucks and fewer old bucks, a herd can withstand a more liberal harvest of young bucks more easily than old bucks. Every time a subordinate 3 ½-year-old buck is killed, the potential of a true trophy in the 4 ½- to 6 ½-year age classes is drastically reduced proportionally.
Hunt clubs need to regulate buck harvests from the younger classes to the older classes in terms of total numbers, and fewer subordinate bucks in their mid-life should show up with a lead slug in their vitals. Take a good buck every year, but let the rest of them grow another few years to express their true maturity.