Taming the temptation to harvest the first thing with antlers that walks into range is not something easily done for most deer hunters. But recent data indicate that Oklahoma hunters are harvesting fewer yearling bucks.
Indeed, deer hunters are realizing that each time they pull the trigger or let an arrow fly, they are making a management decision that can influence the deer herd in the future, and make future hunts more successful, too.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has embarked on a public awareness campaign to influence deer hunters to think about their choice before deciding to harvest a deer. The slogan “Hunters in the know … let young bucks grow!” is intended to emphasize that herd management means more than simply harvesting more antlerless deer.
As the Oct. 1 opening day for archery deer season nears, hunters are being reminded that when they harvest a deer, they are in essence making a wildlife management decision that can affect future successes. Through its Facebook page, the Wildlife Department recently invited deer hunters to share their stories about passing up the first buck they saw when hunting.
“My theory has always been you will never kill a big one if you kill it before it grows,” Michael Musgrove wrote. “I let five smaller bucks walk; killed a 155-inch with my Matthews during primitive, and had a bigger one pass by outside of recurve range a week later.”
Matt Martinsen wrote that hunting is getting better every year. “If more people just let the little-basket eights or smaller walk, the deer woods would be so much better.” Martinsen passed up “at least 10 different little guys last season, and shot one buck (130 inches) and five does.”
Beatrice Loftin and her husband try to practice good deer management on their hunting property, and they make judgments about a buck’s age before deciding whether to shoot. “This is good practice because it allows the deer to grow so they can ‘be all they can be.'”
During the first week of the 2012 archery deer season, Caryn Williams of Coweta was faced with a tough decision while hunting. “I watched a real large-bodied six-point stop about 25 yards in front of me. I had a good opportunity to take him, but I passed. Looking at his rather large body, I kept thinking, ‘Wow, if this guy has this nice of a body, and he appears to be only a year or two old, by next year he should be a beautiful typical, rather-large eight-point.’
“I have never shot a buck that I would consider a wall-hanger, so I decided it would be a waste to kill him just for the meat, because next year he should be meat plus a nice trophy!” Williams wrote. “Hopefully he is growing a perfect eight or 10 points, and we will get to meet again this year!”
In March, the Quality Deer Management Association recognized Oklahoma in a report showing that bucks aged 3.5 years and older comprised 51 percent of the state’s total buck harvest in 2011. Wildlife Department deer harvest data also show that the percentage of yearlings in the total buck harvest has continually declined over the years, from nearly 70 percent in the late 1980s to just 25 percent in 2011. (See accompanying graphs.)
Erik Bartholomew, the Wildlife Department’s big-game biologist, said the fact that fewer younger bucks being harvested indicates that Oklahomans are enjoying good hunting opportunities.
“Hunters are better educated, and they are being more selective about what they harvest,” Bartholomew said.
Hunter Drew Turner wrote that he has passed on numerous small bucks. “The most exciting thing I’ve ever done while hunting was let that first six-point walk on by with the intention of letting him grow.”
Matt Ross made the choice to wait many times during the season. “I probably passed up more than a dozen bucks, all within bow range,” he wrote. “Several were nice eight-points, just not quite old enough. I ended up shooting an old gnarly buck with a broken nose.”
Despite deciding to pass up several smaller bucks, Emery Lamunyon of Luther wrote that “all in all, I had a great year!” He ended up with two nice does in the freezer.
Bartholomew said the state’s 250,000 deer hunters can continue to improve the health and structure of the deer population by making conscientious decisions about what they are harvesting. “We encourage hunters to continue thinking about the bucks they are harvesting each year. Ask yourself each time you see a buck, ‘Is he the one I want?’ and look for opportunities to pass on younger bucks in order to wait for an older one.”
The Wildlife Department urges hunters to visit its Facebook page, which is a great resource for those who want to see photos of older, larger bucks. The Department shares photos submitted by visitors, especially on “Trail Cam Tuesdays” when deer photos take center stage.
Hunter Kris Spivey summed up “letting young bucks grow” and the notion of putting some serious thought into a decision about whether to harvest a deer. “It might take three seconds, three minutes or three years, but patience will bring a big buck.”