The Key to Larger Bucks

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

popular: "quality" and "trophy" management. The concept of quality deer management began in the southern United States and its primary principle is to manage deer populations, habitat and the hunting experience for quality.

Of course, perceptions of quality vary, but the idea is to manage deer in a way that promotes hunting ethics and responsible herd management, including control of deer populations by harvesting does. Trophy management is more restrictive, with primary emphasis on producing a buck with the largest possible rack.

Growing trophy bucks requires nearly complete control over harvests of bucks and does and is not practical in Missouri. Trophy management works best on large land ownerships in the southern and western United States.

Under our statewide deer management system in Missouri, antlered buck harvest is not regulated because buck harvest has little influence on total population levels. The result is high hunting pressure on antlered bucks with few surviving to older age classes.

The key to managing for large bucks is to allow males in the 1.5 to 2.5 year-old age classes to live longer. Managers can accomplish this by not shooting young bucks during the hunting seasons. This may seem simplistic, but deer survival is high when they are not hunted. Chances are good that a buck will survive if not taken during the hunting season, and will likely grow larger antlers the following year.

When regulating buck harvest, the same factors that affect populations on a property apply. However, bucks are more active and have larger home ranges than does. This is especially true during the breeding season, which coincides with the firearms season.

As a result, the minimum acreage required to effectively manage for older bucks is higher. Unless ownership is large (at least 1,000 acres), growing bigger bucks will require cooperation from surrounding landowners. Landowners wanting this type of management should contact neighbors with similar goals and develop a plan that protects 1.5 and 2.5 year-old bucks during the deer hunting seasons.

This will require that hunters be able to identify and age bucks "on the hoof." Probably the best way to learn to do this is to spend some time at deer check stations where deer are aged.

Controversy currently exists over whether spike bucks (usually yearlings, with unbranched antlers) should be culled when managing for quality deer. One theory suggests that these deer are genetically inferior and should be removed. Another maintains that many of these spike bucks are

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