Chuck Sykes – The Management Advantage Consulting
Inevitably, when I meet with a new landowner or give a seminar to a hunting club, the first thing out of their mouth when harvest regulations are discussed is; yes we are protecting our bucks. We only shoot bucks that are 8pt. or better. Most hunters believe that they are practicing deer management correctly by setting an 8pt. or better rule. In their mind, they are protecting all of their young bucks by using this harvest criteria method. I understand their thinking and I know they have the best intentions in mind when setting these rules. However, this is not the most effective harvest restriction method to improve the quality of bucks found on your property.
In my opinion, the only way to accomplish this is to set harvest restrictions based on age and age alone. The main concern when most people set harvest regulations for deer management practices is to grow bigger bucks. Well, it is extremely hard to accomplish that goal if you are taking the best of each age class which in many cases is what you are doing with the traditional 8pt. or better rule.
Think about it like this. Let’s say for example you have just gotten into a new hunting club. The rules say that only bucks with at least eight points can be harvested. Your first afternoon bow hunt finds you on a beautiful food plot and deer start flooding into the plot. A bachelor group of two year old bucks come within range. The four bucks are a spike, four point, six point, and eight point. You do what the rules say and shoot the eight point. Everyone is happy at the club house when you return.
Did you do the best thing for your clubs goals of growing bigger and better bucks? Did you do the best thing for the deer herd? Absolutely not! All you did was take the cream from the crop. Over time, your herd quality will decrease if you keep this up. Take this same scenario and change the deer up just a bit. You still have the four bucks in front of you except this time you have a yearling spike, a two year old eight point, a three year old eight point, and finally a four year old six point. According to the rules you will have to shoot either the two or three year old eight point instead of doing what is right and taking out the older and inferior six point. Are you beginning to see the pattern I am setting up? Without the ability to identify the bucks by age and make a harvest determination, you cannot effectively perform deer management. In my opinion, most hunting properties need to set harvest restrictions that allow them to harvest three year old or older bucks. Whether the deer is a ten point or a six point should not matter. Each property is going to be a little different as far as what your individual age regulations will be based upon. I have used such criteria as antler spread on some properties, main beam length on another, and body size on still another. The main thing that a land manager needs to understand is to set regulations based on that specific location. There is no cookie cutting formula that will work everywhere.
Once you have everyone on the right page by being able to identify bucks by their ages, then you can start looking at antler characteristics. When I am talking about antler characteristics, I am referring to removing bucks with six or eight points versus bucks with ten antler points. Or in some cases, removing bucks with no brow points.
The whole objective when setting up harvest recommendations is to improve the quality of the deer herd. Using criteria that compare deer within age classes not across age class is the best method. By using just an 8pt. rule, you may be comparing a yearling to a four year old just because they both contain 8 antler points.
Each year, we review thousands of trail camera photos developing harvest recommendations for our client’s deer management plans. When we are looking at property in Illinois, our criteria is much different than properties is Alabama.
One particular property in Alabama has a high number of six point bucks. Therefore, setting harvest regulations based on antler points would not be the best thing to do. Even though setting the typical 8pt. or better rule would protect over 90 percent of our yearling bucks, which is a great thing. It would also protect many of our older age class bucks that are only six points.
We have set our regulations based on main beam length. By setting an 18 inch main beam requirement, we protect not only most of our yearling and two year old bucks, but we still leave the opportunity wide open to remove our older bucks with less than 8 antler points. This system works extremely well on this property.
Whatever system you decide to use, be sure that you are not essentially high grading your herd. Set your standards where you are protecting your one and two year old bucks. If you harvest every deer in your area that is three years old, you will never be without bucks to hunt because you will have deer stepping up each year. You get into trouble when you start dipping into your younger age class with you harvest.
I don’t care where you are in the country, if you can consistently harvest three year old bucks or older, you are doing a great job. B & C score or number of antler points doesn’t matter. Age Matters!