By: Ben Smith
Last week, I talked about some things you can do to improve your chances of harvesting a trophy buck this year. I mentioned scent control, noise reduction, management, and patience. This week I really want to dive into the patience and management aspects, mainly because these might be the biggest obstacles to overcome for myself.
Killing big bucks takes patience. Read that sentence, read it again, now burn it into your memory. If you’re going to kill big bucks, you’ve got to put the time in. Disclaimer: anyone can get lucky, it happens, but if you’re going to do it year in and year out, you’d better be ready to sit some long painful hours staring into nothingness. Patience, not my strong suit. Most Americans don’t have a shred of patience. We want what we want, and we want it now. But guys that kill big deer understand the level of patience and perseverance that it takes to get it done.
I believe that pressure and patience can go hand in hand. Ever been so amped up to hunt that you can’t sit still in the stand? Guns N’ Roses had a song in the late 80’s called “Patience” and one of the lyrics reads, “Sometimes I get so tense, but I can’t speed up the time”. Sometimes I’ll catch myself, especially in an evening hunt, trying to speed up the time to get to that holy hour before dark when things start to come alive. This normally happens when I’ve gotten pictures of a nice buck on camera. Being this antsy in the stand can make hunting miserable and will also increase your odds of screwing up something when the opportunity does present itself. Don’t put pressure on yourself, take some deep breaths, understand that the timing has to be right, and enjoy being in the woods. Remember, you could be digging ditches instead.
Next, and this is something that I also touched on briefly last week, is management deer. Aside from patience, letting a nearly “ready to kill” buck walk by you is very, very hard to do at times. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve watched a buck go by that I badly wanted to kill. It’s happened a lot. It’s painful. You know when you let him go that it’s not always a guarantee that you’ll get a chance to shoot him when he grows a little more. Heck, I’ve watched a pretty nice buck walk right underneath me and disappear onto the neighbor’s property only to be followed by a gunshot 10 minutes later resulting in that buck being killed by another hunter. Like I said, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see him again, but if you shoot him when he’s too young, there’s a 100% guarantee that he won’t grow another inch.
To try and eliminate the old “cull buck” excuse, we try not to shoot any buck that isn’t 4.5 years old or older. The key word in that previous sentences is “try”. This is in perfect world, and I won’t sit here and lie to you and say that we haven’t killed a 3.5 year old. Now, you might be sitting there saying, “Isn’t 3.5 years old considered mature?” The answer, for the most part, is yes. By making a “4.5 year old or better” rule, we’ve eliminated killing a buck under 3.5. We are giving our deer the opportunity to really develop into the best specimen they can be. If you’re going to kill big bucks, you can’t shoot your 2.5 year olds. This goes for messed up looking racks on 2.5 year olds as well. When we say we try not to shoot anything under 4.5 years old, that means anything under 4.5, regardless of its antlers.
Speaking of “cull bucks”, my business partner brought something up the other day that I’d never really thought of before. Even if a buck is a cull, only half of his genetics came from his father. Maybe his father’s genes weren’t the problem. What if the does genetics are the ones that are messed up? You could kill all of your bucks and still have a doe out there with bad genetics giving birth to little messed up bucks. To truly rid yourself of any bad genetics in your herd, you’d just about have to kill off the entire herd to make sure. I don’t know anyone that is willing to do that. And please, for the love of all things, cut out the old tale of “once a spike, always a spike.” The ONLY way this is an accurate statement is if you shoot every spike, thus not allowing them to become anything better.
The good news is that more and more hunters in Mississippi are catching on to this thought process. Mississippi is now consistently ranking in the Top 5 nationally for mature bucks harvested. Of course, these numbers are entirely an estimate from the MDWFP, as we don’t have mandatory harvest reports like many other states (an entirely different article for the future). According to the numbers from the last MDWFP Deer Report, Mississippi residents experienced a 63.6% success rate for killing deer, including a 44.4% success rate for bucks. During this period, the average age of all bucks killed was 3.8 years old. Even better, the average age of public land bucks killed was 3.6 years old, so it’s not just private landowners that are getting the idea. To me, these are fantastic statistics considering that just ten years ago the average age of statewide bucks killed was 2.9 years old!
This year may be your year. This year may not be your year. I hope everyone has a banner year in the woods, with exception to the Southern Miss Baseball team participating in our contest. My greater hope is that we will all practice patience and be conscience enough to understand, and use, the best management practices to ensure that we have big bucks for the future! Happy Hunting Mississippi!!