Growing Mature Bucks

JCDEERMAN

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 19, 2008
Messages
15,412
Location
NASHVILLE, TN
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.
That’s been the million dollar question in my head all along. They either didn’t expand into their fall ranges, or they’re dead. If they didn’t expand, they have to be on someone’s property? We had close to a dozen 2.5 or older deer during the summer. However, only 4 of those have been pictured this fall. What gives?

I would find it hard to believe they are there, but just not getting pictured. Our typical camera setups are not just over scrapes, but in high traffic corridors. Or a food plot with a scrape tree placed 5 yards or so into the plot. These setups serve a dual purpose and have worked for two decades. Would love to see a GPS collar study on a year such as this one
 

Ski

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
2,248
Location
Coffee County
I was going to ask the same thing, because our body weights (live weight) per age-class are MUCH higher than that.

I don't weigh deer but those weights seem about in line with the deer I hunt here in Coffee, live weight. Most of our deer here are TINY. I see the occasional "normal" size deer and when next to other they look enormous.
 

BSK

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 11, 1999
Messages
75,348
Location
Nashville, TN
Our average harvested 2 1/2 year-old live weight is 168.2 lbs
Our average harvested 3 1/2 year-old live weight is 191.3 lbs

Strangely, 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 year-old bucks don't weigh any more (on average) than our 3 1/2 year-old bucks. In fact, some of our highest body weights have come from 3 1/2 year-old bucks, not mature bucks. I've always attributed that to the fact we have a pretty decent percentage of mature bucks in the population, hence 3 1/2 year-olds aren't as heavy into the rut as mature bucks. This keeps their body weights high compared to the hard-core fighters and breeders which are rapidly losing weight as the rut gets going.
 
Last edited:

BSK

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 11, 1999
Messages
75,348
Location
Nashville, TN
That’s been the million dollar question in my head all along. They either didn’t expand into their fall ranges, or they’re dead. If they didn’t expand, they have to be on someone’s property? We had close to a dozen 2.5 or older deer during the summer. However, only 4 of those have been pictured this fall. What gives?

I would find it hard to believe they are there, but just not getting pictured. Our typical camera setups are not just over scrapes, but in high traffic corridors. Or a food plot with a scrape tree placed 5 yards or so into the plot. These setups serve a dual purpose and have worked for two decades. Would love to see a GPS collar study on a year such as this one
Again, great questions I don't have answers for. I personally don't believe all the older bucks are dead. I would have been getting reports of lots of deer found dead (like in a big EHD outbreak). In fact, I seriously worried about that with our drought conditions and heat this summer, but calls to all my clients asking them to look for EHD victims came up basically zero.

I think it is a combination of older bucks not range-expanding as much as well as the lack of scraping behavior. Many camera users place cameras on scrapes to get an idea of what is on their property. With the lack of scraping activity, this may produce a skewed perspective/census. I too place cameras at many types of set-ups other than scrapes, and it's amazing how a couple of bucks - even our oldest bucks - have only been captured on camera at these non-scrape set-ups, or only captured in the background of a scrape set-up. And for the first year in MANY years, this year I killed a buck that had not been previously photographed.
 

Ski

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
2,248
Location
Coffee County
That’s been the million dollar question in my head all along. They either didn’t expand into their fall ranges, or they’re dead. If they didn’t expand, they have to be on someone’s property? We had close to a dozen 2.5 or older deer during the summer. However, only 4 of those have been pictured this fall. What gives?

I've been trying to rationalize what's going on same as everybody else, and while I like the idea that maybe the bucks simply didn't shift, they have to be somewhere. One of the farms I hunt IS where bachelor groups of bucks spend their summer. The oldest buck I've had on cam all year at that place is 2.5yrs. I'm always in a race against time to shoot one before he leaves, but this year I didn't have any.

The other farm I hunt is a big oak & beech wood lot in the middle of a 80acre cattle pasture, butted against the Duck River. It's where rutting bucks cruise through and is usually a place I can shoot a deer any day I want, with pretty fair chance at getting a big one. Not this year. Only one mature buck showed up and I was fortunate to get him, but it's not like I had much selection.
 

TheLBLman

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2002
Messages
34,392
Location
Knoxville-Dover-Union City, TN
Strangely, 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 year-old bucks don't weigh any more (on average) than our 3 1/2 year-old bucks. In fact, some of our highest body weights have come from 3 1/2 year-old bucks, not mature bucks.
I would speculate hunter high-grading (both antlers and "big bodied" bucks) has more to do with this than rut participation of 3 1/2s vs mature. Commonly, the highest scoring racks for an area will also come from 3 1/2-yr-old bucks (even though about as many 4 1/2 & older ones get killed same season).
 

BSK

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 11, 1999
Messages
75,348
Location
Nashville, TN
I would speculate hunter high-grading (both antlers and "big bodied" bucks) has more to do with this than rut participation of 3 1/2s vs mature. Commonly, the highest scoring racks for an area will also come from 3 1/2-yr-old bucks (even though about as many 4 1/2 & older ones get killed same season).
I'm talking body weight, and I've found no correlation between body weight and antler size.
 

TheLBLman

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2002
Messages
34,392
Location
Knoxville-Dover-Union City, TN
I'm talking body weight, and I've found no correlation between body weight and antler size.
I understand that.
Just saying when a hunter sees an above average sized body,
he may have a greater tendency to select that one over one with a small, puny body.

Also, early-born fawns SHOULD still have more body weight at 3 1/2 than their peers born a month or two later? Would think this birthing date difference still showing a weight difference at 3 1/2, but maybe not so much by 4 1/2? Then, these particular early-born 3 1/2's would normally have slightly larger antlers than normal to late date born peers, making the early borns more likely to be selected for harvest?
 

TheLBLman

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2002
Messages
34,392
Location
Knoxville-Dover-Union City, TN
I highly doubt hunters select by body size. They select by antler size.
Generally true.

But birth date effects both antler size & body size on younger bucks doesn't it?

An early born 1 1/2-yr-old buck will usually have both a larger body & larger antlers than one born late? Same for 2 1/2?

Seems plausible this birth-date effect on both body size & antlers will still be having some effect even at 3 1/2?
 

BSK

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 11, 1999
Messages
75,348
Location
Nashville, TN
We still have hunters in my area shooting a few yearling bucks. We lose about 40% of the yearling buck cohort each year to all forms of mortality. Natural mortality should only take 10-15%, so there's a lot of yearlings being lost to hunters (although not like it used to be). But considering some local hunters are shooting yearlings, I doubt much selectivity is going on with 3 1/2 year-old bucks. For the vast majority of hunters in my area, if the buck is 2 1/2, the trigger is getting pulled.
 

Ski

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
2,248
Location
Coffee County
I highly doubt hunters select by body size. They select by antler size.

Agreed. I'm as guilty of it as anybody, but I'm not sorry. I shoot what tickles my fancy.

I get a little lost in the weeds with discussions like this sometimes. It's been my experience that rack size and age generally go hand in hand. I occasionally come across a gifted young buck, and as often a stunted older one, but by and large rack size in the places I hunt is fairly consistent across the board up until around maturity, which then turns into a wild card. Actually the difference between 4.5 and 5.5 on a lot them doesn't even change much. There's usually one every season or two that explode, if they survive. That happens a whole lot more often than a giant rack young buck.

I can only recall having one really special young buck in recent years, but he disappeared. I'm pretty sure he was a 2.5yr old. He dwarfed his peers, and his frame looked at home next to 4yr olds, albeit spindly. Aside from him, most bucks of a certain age have pretty similar size racks until maturity.

1669939877005.png
 

TheLBLman

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2002
Messages
34,392
Location
Knoxville-Dover-Union City, TN
I highly doubt hunters select by body size. They select by antler size.
Just add a bit to this . . . .

A growing number of hunters are defining a "shooter" buck as much by age as by antlers.

Just to be clear, antlers matter, but nearly every year, I pass up some 3 1/2's with higher scoring antlers than a mature buck I target (and may or may not kill). Most years, I also pass up some 4 1/2 & older bucks because of their below par (and/or broken up) antlers.

I'm not complaining, and am very happy with my style of hunting. Just pointing out that when one focuses greatly on age, this has the additional side effect of selecting by body size. Most mature bucks should have larger bodies than most 3 1/2s.

Even if the mature buck weighs less on a certain date, he will often "appear" to have a larger body due to greater chest depth, wider body, greater belly sag, and maybe a slightly larger skeletal frame. A 4 1/2 will often "appear" to have a larger body than a 3 1/2, even when both weigh the same. This is even more the case when comparing a 5 1/2 to a 3 1/2.

All of my "target" bucks are 5 1/2 or older.
I believe it's also fair to say I'm selecting as much by body size as by antlers,
simply because of the average size differences between mature bucks
and bucks 3 1/2 & younger.
 
Last edited:

TNTreeman

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Messages
6,278
Location
Franklin Tn
Just add a bit to this . . . .

A growing number of hunters are defining a "shooter" buck as much by age as by antlers.

Just to be clear, antlers matter, but nearly every year, I pass up some 3 1/2's with higher scoring antlers than a mature buck I target (and may or may not kill). Most years, I also pass up some 4 1/2 & older bucks because of their below par (and/or broken up) antlers.

I'm not complaining, and am very happy with my style of hunting. Just pointing out that when one focuses greatly on age, this has the additional side effect of selecting by body size. Most mature bucks should have larger bodies than most 3 1/2s.

Even if the mature buck weighs less on a certain date, he will often "appear" to have a larger body due to greater chest depth, wider body, greater belly sag, and maybe a slightly larger skeletal frame. A 4 1/2 will often "appear" to have a larger body than a 3 1/2, even when both weigh the same. This is even more the case when comparing a 5 1/2 to a 3 1/2.

All of my "target" bucks are 5 1/2 or older.
I believe it's also fair to say I'm selecting as much by body size as by antlers,
simply because of the average size differences between mature bucks
and bucks 3 1/2 & younger.
My favorite buck I’ve killed was 6.5 yrs old. 14 pt and although I’ve killed bigger bucks his age and mass made it. I study everything before shooting , sometimes it costs me the shot but that’s what I like to do .
 

1984dog

Member
Joined
Mar 24, 2022
Messages
14
Location
Mississippi
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.
I'm with Boll Weevil and Tellico on this. I would harvest mature deer (based on body characteristics) and let the horns do what they do. Research has shown that feeding the deer protein in the summer, planting summer food plots and good quality food plots for the winter/early spring will make the deer bodies bigger - but will only add maybe 10-15% more inches in the horn department. Unless you have several thousand acres that is under your control or a high fence, you will have a very difficult time improving the genetics as many of the 1.5 year old bucks will migrate off your property and make their home range miles away and other new bucks will migrate in. It is always disappointing to do lots of habitat improvements only to see your young bucks migrate away or have your neighbor harvest that nice 2-1/2 year old buck that you let walk.

I have battled with this for years and have finally resorted to taking some out of state deer hunts to address my obsession with 140"+ deer.
 

1984dog

Member
Joined
Mar 24, 2022
Messages
14
Location
Mississippi
Generally true.

But birth date effects both antler size & body size on younger bucks doesn't it?

An early born 1 1/2-yr-old buck will usually have both a larger body & larger antlers than one born late? Same for 2 1/2?

Seems plausible this birth-date effect on both body size & antlers will still be having some effect even at 3 1/2?
There is essentially nothing we can do about when a deer is born as mother nature will be mother nature. However, research has shown that a "great" buck will typically be very healthy (body wise) going into that first winter. To alter this, you have to make sure you have good food and nutrition for the pregnant does and for the nursing does. Habitat wise, this will typically require some quality food sources in February to April and some healthy summer food plots during the summer when the does are nursing. I've been doing this on our place the past couple years and during bow season I am seeing some fawns (with spots) that are bigger than yearlings. Time will tell if this results in bigger racks on our property - but I like seeing healthy deer.
 

Boll Weevil

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 26, 2011
Messages
3,251
Location
Hardeman
Another reason we kill 5.5+ regardless of headgear is many of these bucks are flat out bullies; they'll run off the up'n comers that you want to keep around. Brother killed an old crapper the other day who's neck and face were all scarred up. We had pics of him around other bucks w/ears all laid back and hair bristlin' up...just a menace.

Unimpressive rack, taking up space, consuming resources, and badgering young bucks with more potential...easy management decision.
 

Outdoor Enthusiast

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 4, 2007
Messages
1,222
Location
Carthage, TN
Just add a bit to this . . . .

A growing number of hunters are defining a "shooter" buck as much by age as by antlers.

Just to be clear, antlers matter, but nearly every year, I pass up some 3 1/2's with higher scoring antlers than a mature buck I target (and may or may not kill). Most years, I also pass up some 4 1/2 & older bucks because of their below par (and/or broken up) antlers.

I'm not complaining, and am very happy with my style of hunting. Just pointing out that when one focuses greatly on age, this has the additional side effect of selecting by body size. Most mature bucks should have larger bodies than most 3 1/2s.

Even if the mature buck weighs less on a certain date, he will often "appear" to have a larger body due to greater chest depth, wider body, greater belly sag, and maybe a slightly larger skeletal frame. A 4 1/2 will often "appear" to have a larger body than a 3 1/2, even when both weigh the same. This is even more the case when comparing a 5 1/2 to a 3 1/2.

All of my "target" bucks are 5 1/2 or older.
I believe it's also fair to say I'm selecting as much by body size as by antlers,
simply because of the average size differences between mature bucks
and bucks 3 1/2 & younger.
I can see the point you are making regarding high grading based on body size as well as antlers. I tend to target 3.5 and older bucks as my goal. They are usually larger in body and rack than the younger bucks.

However in a hunting situation if the body appears larger than a typical 2.5 yo buck, I immediately get ready to shoot the buck regardless of antlers. When hunting thick woods, there is often a short window of time to analyze and make decisions. If I wait I often miss out on the opportunity to kill the buck.
 
Top