Killing trophy sized bucks year in and year out is a fantasy to most hunters. I know more people that have never killed a “trophy class” whitetail buck than hunters that have. This can be due to a multitude of reasons. Sometimes it’s just beyond the control of the hunter. Many folks don’t have access or the ability to harvest trophy bucks each year, and that’s okay. But, if you do have the right ingredients, and you still aren’t killing bucks to put on the wall, what are you doing wrong?
First off, let’s get one thing straight: a trophy buck is whatever YOU perceive it to be. Don’t let some half rear-end outdoor columnist (like myself) try and tell you what a trophy buck is. If you’re proud of it, then consider it a trophy. Now that we’ve gotten that part out of the way, let’s assume for the sake of this column that you have access to enough acreage holding deer to kill a buck. You’ve done all that you know to do, but still aren’t getting the results that you want. Let’s talk about a few things that might be holding you back.
How much time are you actually spending in the woods? I feel like we should cover this topic before we get to anything else. Killing a trophy buck doesn’t usually happen without a little planning and a little scouting. The old saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good” can obviously apply with hunting, but I’d rather be consistent rather than lucky. To consistently increase your odds of killing bucks, you’ve got to put the time in. If you aren’t in the woods hunting, you can’t kill them.
Since I mentioned time in the woods, are you taking precautions to not leave your scent everywhere when you enter your hunting area? It’s been said that old men don’t get old being stupid. After watching the debacle in Washington D.C. over the last few years, I’m starting to question that old statement, but the same can be said about big bucks. They don’t get big by being stupid. If you are leaving your scent all over the woods, you can be sure that your odds of killing a big buck decrease. When you go into your hunting area, take care not to leave your scent all over everything. Avoid touching unnecessary things (ex. a rub tree or a scrape) and make sure not to disturb your hunting area when the wind is blowing toward where you think your buck is bedding.
How much pressure are you putting on your hunting area? Just like with leaving your scent, your very presence in an area can drive a potential trophy buck away. At our old camp, we had a rule that once deer season began, the days of joy riding on your four-wheeler ended. We didn’t want the unnecessary noise and pressure adding to the already present difficulty of killing a mature buck. If you use a machine to access your hunting area, park it as far away as you can and go in on foot. Now, you’re killing two birds with one stone. You’re cutting down on unneeded pressure and getting a little exercise at the same time. When you start doing this, you’ll also notice much more deer sign that you would have had you been riding around. This, in turn, may also contribute to you bagging your buck.
Are you killing the right amount of does? To have said this when I first started hunting would have drawn the ire of many hunters. What was once preposterous to even think of killing a doe, is now necessary in order to grow big bucks. Some people like to go with the 2 to 1 doe to buck ratio, and I won’t argue it, but I don’t necessarily agree with it either. I think by having a few more does per buck you increase your chances of really growing your deer herd, but there’s a fine line between a few more and too many. If you’ve got too many does and a limited food source, your bucks are going to have to compete with them for the nutrition necessary to be healthy. If you kill too many does, your bucks aren’t going to hang around with no options for a girlfriend. As far as knowing how many does you need to kill, that’s going to depend on your herd population. This is something you will have to figure out through scouting and observation.
Let ‘em go and let ‘em grow. If your goal is to kill trophy bucks, you can’t expect them to grow into monster five-year old’s if you’re shooting them when they are two. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pictures of guys shooting 2.5-year-old bucks and calling them “cull bucks.” How in the heck do you know they are culls? I’ve seen some raggedy looking bucks at 2.5 develop into some serious contenders at 4.5. Just like with teenage boys, some bucks are late bloomers. In my opinion, your best bet is to not shoot any culls under the age of 3.5. You could be thinking, “but what about him breeding bad genes into the herd.” You could be right…or you could be dead wrong. That young, underdeveloped buck that you think should be culled could turn out to be the biggest deer you’ve ever killed. For this reason, I suggest allowing them to reach maturity before taking out a perceived management deer.
If you’ve been having trouble bagging a buck you can brag about over the last few years, I encourage you to mix it up a little. What do you have to lose? Try some new things. Adjust your tactics. Keep a journal and document your hunts, then learn from what you might have done wrong. Most importantly, keep it fun. There’s enough pressure on folks these days without adding hunting to the list. The weather is about to cool off, so get out and enjoy God’s creation!