Growing Mature Bucks

fairchaser

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We manage about 800ac in ag country and target 5.5+ yr olds regardless of headgear. If you’re only trying to get them to 3 or 4, they aren‘t likely reaching their antler potential.
In our part of the state, the bucks don’t make it to 6.5. Rarely do they make it to 5.5. They have reached 90% of their antler potential by 4.5. This is why we target 4.5 year olds. But I realize it can be different in other places.
 

DoubleRidge

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Thanks for sharing this. Confirms my suspicions. Until 4 seasons ago, I didn't care what I shot so long as it wasn't a spike or forky. still only managed to kill some doe here and there. But thanks to re-engaging with archery and getting into trail cam due to getting one as a gift. Once I saw what was really out in my neck of the woods I suddenly became more interested in learning how to hunt them. But like the bucks I've killed or friends or lease members, there's always some ground shrinkage it seems to all parties relative to the cam footage. at end of day, learning all this makes it more fun to know that just getting the biggest one you can get in the herd/area you got is just its own trophy. I like that. I don't have time to hunt at home much less go out of state. Some parts of Africa probably have better buffalo or lions than others but its still a lion

You made the comment "getting the biggest one you can in the area your hunting"....I believe this may be your best approach...don't focus on the score...focus on the challenge of killing the most mature buck...you mentioned having a few 4½ year olds on the lease....so target those bucks....and remember that on all properties there are better years than others...by that I mean some years if we have a mature buck that scores 130-140 then that's our #1...then other years if the biggest mature buck would score 120-130...then that's our #1....so if the top mature buck in your area scores 110-120 then go after him...hunt hard....and enjoy the process...chasing only mature bucks is extremely challenging but can be very rewarding when everything comes together....and I'm guessing that with 1,000 acres...as more lease members let more bucks reach maturity...you'll see an increase in opportunity at bucks which will meet your goals....good luck hunting.
 

BSK

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And always remember there's a big difference between growing mature bucks and growing large-antlered bucks. Growing mature bucks is easy. Just don't shoot them when they're young. Growing large-antlered bucks requires more skill in determining age and antler growth of middle-aged bucks and specifically protecting the top-end of the middle age-classes (2 1/2 and 3 1/2)
 

TheLBLman

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Growing mature bucks is easy. Just don't shoot them when they're young.
Growing large-antlered bucks requires more skill in determining age and antler growth of middle-aged bucks and specifically protecting the top-end of the middle age-classes (2 1/2 and 3 1/2)
THIS needs repeating!

IMO, the biggest obstacle in producing mature bucks with above average (or even average) antlers for their age class (among the born cohort) is . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . hunters' antler high-grading of the genetically best antlered young bucks
when those bucks are only 1 1/2, 2 1/2, or 3 1/2 yrs of age.

If we kill off our largest antlered young bucks,
then all that's left to grow older are those below average young bucks
everyone was eager to give a pass.

The best strategy to accomplish more larger antlered mature bucks is simply to target no bucks before they appear 5 1/2. By adhering to this higher standard, a typical mistake becomes a 4 1/2 rather than a 3 1/2.

As to the antler size gains typically from 4 1/2 to 5 1/2, it is relatively small by "score", but often much greater by visible "mass" (circumferences of antlers). Just saying, the "score" is not the full picture in comparing a 4 1/2's to a 5 1/2's antlers.

But on average, the difference between a 3 1/2 & a 4 1/2's antlers are dramatic, period.

. . . . . averages for western Middle TN:

3 1/2: 105
4 1/2: 120

Just based on the score difference BSK posted between "average" 3 1/2 vs 4 1/2s,
a hunter could increase the "score" of his harvested bucks, on average,
by about 20% simply by only taking 4 1/2 & older bucks
rather than just 3 1/2 yr-old bucks?

But guess what happens by 4 1/2 & 5 1/2, when a 140-class-plus 3 1/2 is allowed to live another year or two?
 
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Ski

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You made the comment "getting the biggest one you can in the area your hunting"....I believe this may be your best approach...don't focus on the score...focus on the challenge of killing the most mature buck...you mentioned having a few 4½ year olds on the lease....so target those bucks....and remember that on all properties there are better years than others...by that I mean some years if we have a mature buck that scores 130-140 then that's our #1...then other years if the biggest mature buck would score 120-130...then that's our #1....so if the top mature buck in your area scores 110-120 then go after him...hunt hard....and enjoy the process...chasing only mature bucks is extremely challenging but can be very rewarding when everything comes together....and I'm guessing that with 1,000 acres...as more lease members let more bucks reach maturity...you'll see an increase in opportunity at bucks which will meet your goals....good luck hunting.

That is an excellent post. It's pretty much exactly my approach. I'll target the oldest and/or biggest buck for that season, but also have long term goals of setting that bar higher and higher long term.

It's been my experience the biggest buck is also often the oldest buck, but I have on occasion had to restrain from shooting a very nice buck because he wasn't in the top age class. That doesn't happen often to me, and I don't think it's ever happened to work out because those deer vanished. That's just luck of the draw. Of all the bucks I catch on camera, only some are home grown, meaning my place is their core range. Most I only catch here and there with no rhyme or reason pattern. So when I say I target a specific buck, it's a buck I actually have reasonable odds of encountering because he's a regular on my place.

I often see folks catch one or two nighttime pics of a buck and they devote their entire season to hunting it, passing up much higher odds bucks because they're holding out for "the one", but that deer never comes through again. It's just not realistic, yet it happens so often. I used to be guilty of it. But over time I've learned to temper my expectations and hone in more reasonable odds deer. I don't often get the giant unicorn I caught once on camera, but I do usually end the season with a pretty good buck or two.
 

Ski

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As to the antler size gains typically from 4 1/2 to 5 1/2, it is relatively small by "score", but often much greater by visible "mass" (circumferences of antlers). Just saying, the "score" is not the full picture in comparing a 4 1/2's to a 5 1/2's antlers.

But on average, the difference between a 3 1/2 & a 4 1/2's antlers are dramatic, period.

I've noticed the same exact thing. From 3.5-4.5 is the biggest jump I see in antler growth. Many times 4.5-5.5 is little or no noticeable change. As you say the mass is increased, but to be honest I don't even see that every time. The biggest difference I usually see going from 4.5 to 5.5 is thicker chest/torso and saggy brisket. They get dad bods, not the roided up bulldog look 4.5yr olds have.
 

TheLBLman

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I've noticed the same exact thing. From 3.5-4.5 is the biggest jump I see in antler growth.
Actually, there is a much larger percentage gain
from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2, and from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 just hugely adds even more!

What most commonly happens in most TN areas being hunted is
that the very top-end 2 1/2's rarely if ever survive to 3 1/2.

I'm talking typically about 2 1/2's that gross score 115 to 135.

These specific "top-end" young bucks have almost zero chance to survive for a variety of reasons.

#1: They are young and inexperienced to human dangers.

#2: Their antlers often appear 140 class when they're actually 115 class.
This is because their skeletal system has finished growing, i.e. small deer makes antlers "look" larger.

#3: They get specifically targeted and hunted for, while below averaged antlered young bucks never get a 2nd thought.

#4: Their antlers actually appear to meet the "trophy" status pre-defined by many hunters,
such as "120-class, 140-class", etc.

#5: There are also many hunters who set their bar at "8 points, or 10 points, etc.", which essentially means most only above average 2 1/2's & 3 1/2's are specifically targeted at "trophy" bucks.

#6: They typically rut roam @ 2-plus miles in every direction around whatever might be their most "core" area. This means that even with a 1,000-acre area of control, one of these bucks you refer to as "yours", may actually spend more of his rut time outside the boundaries of your property.

#7: These way above average youngsters appear to "feel their oats" more, are often "bullies", and seem to be much more on the move during daylight than below average antlered ones. This means they not only get killed more by selective hunters, but also are more likely to run over by a car, or killed in a fight with another buck.

The sad reality may be that a top-end antlered young buck has better odds of surviving to 4 1/2 on most TN public lands than he has on most "intensely" managed private lands, where antler restrictions are used to determine which bucks to "protect". Most antler restrictions actually INCREASE the rate of hunter harvests of these very best antlered young bucks.
 

TheLBLman

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A few years ago, same morning, same area of Stewart Co., a friend and I both killed bucks we considered "shooters".

His was aged at 2 1/2, and gross scored 134.
Mine was aged at 5 1/2, and gross scored 125.

The 5 1/2 wasn't getting much bigger if it survived another year.

But a 2 1/2 scoring 134, well, if he had survived to 3 1/2,
what chance would a 150-class 3 1/2 have of surviving
into a 160-class 4 1/2 ANY WHERE in TN where there was deer hunting allowed?

No "reasonable" antler criteria can protect these top antlered young bucks.
The protection can only be age based, or else can be counter-productive.

By the way, I once measured a 2 1/2 in TN that gross scored 146.
140-class 2 1/2's are very rare in TN, but relatively common in some mid-western states.

Truth is, many of the larger antlered bucks many TN hunters kill in states such as Illinois are only 2 1/2 & 3 1/2 yrs old. This is much of why TN hunters have such higher success rates on 120 to 140-class buck in some other states, i.e. they're killing younger bucks there, which, on average, often have 15 to 20 inches more antler at 2 1/2 & 3 1/2 than do our TN bucks.

Also, many states have much shorter gun seasons than TN, meaning those other states may experience less antler high-grading. Even with bordering KY, we're comparing their 2-week gun season to TN's 6-week gun season.

Both shorter & longer gun seasons have different merits, and I am not advocating TN adopt KY's deer hunting regulations. Just pointing out that TN has a lot more going against producing top-end older bucks than many other states. And, even if TN exactly adopted the deer regs of say IL or KY, we would never regularly produce bucks as "top end" antlered as those states with their better soils and better food sources for deer (more widespread soybean & corn fields).
 
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BSK

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I completely agree with everything TheLBLman said about growing the largest antlered bucks possible for a given property.

That said, I'm back into the "hunting for entertainment" phase of hunting. I'll gladly shoot the first "good" buck I see, which usually means an above average 3 1/2+ year-old. And I'm lucky in that I usually have 4 or 5 bucks on camera each year that make my potential "hit list." I'll shoot the first buck on my hit list I see that year.

This year, when MZ opened, I didn't have a single buck on my hit list. Not a buck on camera that was good enough to excite me. Our buck range-shifting and antler development per age-class have been so bad this year.
 

DoubleRidge

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The sad reality may be that a top-end antlered young buck has better odds of surviving to 4 1/2 on most TN public lands than he has on most "intensely" managed private lands, where antler restrictions are used to determine which bucks to "protect". Most antler restrictions actually INCREASE the rate of hunter harvests of these very best antlered young bucks.

Half way through your last paragraph I stopped and had to start over? It wasn't until I read the full paragraph that I got what you were saying...at first all I heard was a buck has a better chance to reach maturity on public land verses intensely managed private....but once I read the full content "where antler restrictions are used to protect certain bucks"....I agree... antler restrictions can actually hurt the effort of protecting younger bucks.

The challenge for land managers then becomes getting everyone on the same page with selecting deer by age verses antler's...I've let 3½ year olds walk and killed them later as a 4½ or 5½ year old...it can be done....I've also let 3½ year olds walk and many times never see them again.

Don't remember who it was on here one time? Mega? or? But anyway...the easiest way they found to manage their property was to tell hunters that they get ONE buck...no restrictions....takes the stress off everyone...but....in many cases it also makes a hunter be more selective....and if I remember correctly the number of mature bucks actually increased verses having an antler restriction like a "15 inch 8 point" rule.
 
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BSK

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Personally, I really like the "restriction of total buck kill" as a way of increasing buck age structure over antler restrictions to protect young bucks. No antler restriction works that well, and as others have pointed out, antler restrictions often increase high-grading.
 

Popcorn

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From 2008-2021, this is what our average western middle Tn bucks look like:

2-1/2 yr old: ( mostly youth bucks)
22 bucks (14%)
137#
7 points
12.61" inside
15.67" main beam
3.30" base

3-1/2 yr old:
53 bucks (34%)
158#
8 points
14.74" inside
17.98" main beam
4.00" base

4-1/2+ yr old:
81 bucks (52%)
177#
9 points
16.08" inside
20.11" main beam
4.62" base

For the past 3 years our minimum criteria shall include 2 out of 4, of the following:
16" inside
19.5" main beam
175#
4.5" base

I bet we haven't scored 10-12 bucks over all years. The score just doesn't mean that much to us. We strive to kill mature bucks (4-1/2+) for our area that everyone is happy to shoot. Our best buck was killed 3 years ago and scored 166" with his right G2 broken off, left was 12" long.

We are fortunate that our 2 neighbors are basically on same page as we are, and between the 3 of us, we manage 12,000 contiguous acres.

It really boils down to what your group is satisfied in killing , and willing to put forth the efforts to do so.
This deserves its own discussion!
It brings about so many questions and additional ways to view the data. Honestly I am blown away! I guess I am spoiled by working with KY and nw TN deer and properties.
 

Ski

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By the way, I once measured a 2 1/2 in TN that gross scored 146.
140-class 2 1/2's are very rare in TN, but relatively common in some mid-western states.

I've got fairly extensive experience in Ohio and Wisconsin, and 146" 2yr olds are nothing near common in those states. I can't recall ever seeing one. That is a pink unicorn if in the wild.

Here in this area of TN 146" would look like an elk on these oompa loompa deer.
 

Deck78

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I completely agree with everything TheLBLman said about growing the largest antlered bucks possible for a given property.

That said, I'm back into the "hunting for entertainment" phase of hunting. I'll gladly shoot the first "good" buck I see, which usually means an above average 3 1/2+ year-old. And I'm lucky in that I usually have 4 or 5 bucks on camera each year that make my potential "hit list." I'll shoot the first buck on my hit list I see that year.

This year, when MZ opened, I didn't have a single buck on my hit list. Not a buck on camera that was good enough to excite me. Our buck range-shifting and antler development per age-class have been so bad this year.
It has been so strange at our farm in Hickman and just since Friday, we have finally seen a shift in deer movement, sign and finally some mature deer showing up for both us and our neighbors.
 

BSK

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It has been so strange at our farm in Hickman and just since Friday, we have finally seen a shift in deer movement, sign and finally some mature deer showing up for both us and our neighbors.
I sure wish I had a bunch of older bucks running around with GPS collars so I could definitively figure out what has gone on this year.
 

Ski

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I sure wish I had a bunch of older bucks running around with GPS collars so I could definitively figure out what has gone on this year.

Boy I'd sure like to know. I'm beginning to think aliens beamed them up to outer space.
 

BSK

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I beginning to consider the idea that the older bucks simply didn't expand their ranges for the rut. Because it is well known that in a hardwood environment buck sign-making (rubs and scrapes) is heavily influenced by acorn crops (average animal health), perhaps the deer were in such poor shape from the drought conditions and lack of acorns that they didn't expand their ranges much for the rut this year. That is the only thing I can think of that would explain the "lack of new bucks showing up on cam for the rut" that so many in the region have been complaining about.
 

AlabamaSwamper

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Southern Wayne CO and NW Alabama
From 2008-2021, this is what our average western middle Tn bucks look like:

2-1/2 yr old: ( mostly youth bucks)
22 bucks (14%)
137#
7 points
12.61" inside
15.67" main beam
3.30" base

3-1/2 yr old:
53 bucks (34%)
158#
8 points
14.74" inside
17.98" main beam
4.00" base

4-1/2+ yr old:
81 bucks (52%)
177#
9 points
16.08" inside
20.11" main beam
4.62" base

For the past 3 years our minimum criteria shall include 2 out of 4, of the following:
16" inside
19.5" main beam
175#
4.5" base

I bet we haven't scored 10-12 bucks over all years. The score just doesn't mean that much to us. We strive to kill mature bucks (4-1/2+) for our area that everyone is happy to shoot. Our best buck was killed 3 years ago and scored 166" with his right G2 broken off, left was 12" long.

We are fortunate that our 2 neighbors are basically on same page as we are, and between the 3 of us, we manage 12,000 contiguous acres.

It really boils down to what your group is satisfied in killing , and willing to put forth the efforts to do so.
Being kinda close, our weights are about identical per age class.

I’d say your side of the county has higher average scores from what I’ve seen. The habitat is about identical so I wonder if being closer to releases of northern strain deer helps that. Although you’d think it would affect body size as well
 

Lost Lake

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Middle Tn
From 2008-2021, this is what our average western middle Tn bucks look like:

2-1/2 yr old: ( mostly youth bucks)
22 bucks (14%)
137#
7 points
12.61" inside
15.67" main beam
3.30" base

3-1/2 yr old:
53 bucks (34%)
158#
8 points
14.74" inside
17.98" main beam
4.00" base

4-1/2+ yr old:
81 bucks (52%)
177#
9 points
16.08" inside
20.11" main beam
4.62" base

For the past 3 years our minimum criteria shall include 2 out of 4, of the following:
16" inside
19.5" main beam
175#
4.5" base

I bet we haven't scored 10-12 bucks over all years. The score just doesn't mean that much to us. We strive to kill mature bucks (4-1/2+) for our area that everyone is happy to shoot. Our best buck was killed 3 years ago and scored 166" with his right G2 broken off, left was 12" long.

We are fortunate that our 2 neighbors are basically on same page as we are, and between the 3 of us, we manage 12,000 contiguous acres.

It really boils down to what your group is satisfied in killing , and willing to put forth the efforts to do so.
Are those dressed or live weights? Just curious.
 

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