It’s pretty clear that I am a strong believer in Quality Deer Management (QDM). That means I strive, through careful harvest strategies and intense habitat management, to create healthy deer herds with balanced sex and age ratios that live in healthy habitats which benefit all the wood’s plant and animals communities.
Many of those who happen to disagree with my management philosophies—and that is fine, it’s a free country—would accuse me of being an antler-hungry elitist. Much of that angst comes from a basic tenant that young bucks are passed and only mature bucks harvested. Traveling the country as a hunter, writer and Quality Deer Management Association employee, I’ve heard all the arguments against selective buck harvest. Here are a few of those arguments and why they just don’t wash.
The worst philosophical offender in my book is the guy who says, “If I don’t shoot that young buck someone else will.” What a foolish thing to say. If a buck, young or old, meets your management goals, earns an honorable place on your table and in your memories, by all means loose an arrow or squeeze the trigger. But why shoot a buck that doesn’t meet your management goals? Shooting a buck to keep it from another hunter is selfish and downright dishonorable. If that buck brings another a proud moment, be happy you had enough self control to give that gift.
Another excuse I hear parroted is, “I can’t eat antlers.” Me neither, and that is why I shoot does. In fact, I shoot about 20 or 30 does for every buck I kill in Georgia. Passing a young buck will not leave your skillet empty. There are plenty of doe-harvest opportunities, probably more. A sensible “meat hunter” should have no problem passing a spike in favor of a doe. After all, you can’t eat antlers, big or small.
Young hunters present an interesting problem, given our issues of recruitment and retention. Many of us do not want to limit a young or new hunter’s harvest opportunities for fear of losing them to other recreational activities. I came along just before the boom in either sex days. It didn’t hurt my desire to hunt not to shoot the does that filed past my rifle on buck-only days. At the time, we wanted more deer and that meant not shooting does. Apply the inverse philosophy to young hunters. We teach them the importance of balancing sex ratios and age structures—accomplished by letting young bucks walk. If harvest is the end game, there are plenty of chances to harvest a doe and that improves a deer herd.
I love seeing a mature buck with a heavy set of antlers slipping through a hardwood bottom, especially if it is headed toward my bow stand. That is a by-product of sound deer management, a reward for doing the right thing. And with more and more hunters practicing QDM, more and more hunters have that opportunity. So think long and hard about the choices you have this season and don’t take the easy way out.