Evolution of a Deer Hunter

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By: Colby Ward
By: Colby Ward

I have been hunting for forty two years now and can honestly say, I love the whole experience of hunting more today than ever. Maybe as we get older, we appreciate things more or maybe it’s the opportunity to share these great experiences with our kids, grandkids and friends that make it so rewarding. Whatever it is, I am thankful that I love this sport as much as I do after 42 years. I was reminded how much I love this sport opening week of the Texas bow season.

Bow season started the last weekend in September this year. It was an evening hunt and the temperature was cool. The habitat was still green and growing after the recent rains. I was sitting over a fall food plot I had planted less than a week earlier and there was just a hint of green in a few places starting to pierce through the soil. I had not been in the tree for more than two minutes and a bruiser buck came up out of the creek bottom and headed across the fresh soil of my food plot toward me. The buck was an impressive buck with good tine length, width and 12 points. I quickly realized this was one of the bucks I had seen the year before and aged him at 2.5 years old. He was probably the best 2.5 year old buck I had ever seen on the hoof. I will remind you that we are hunting low fence, free ranging game. Now, at 3.5 years he is looking like a race horse and his head gear is quite a bit more impressive than the previous year. He has 12 points now and a really impressive buck.

Most people would probably think I am crazy to pull out my video camera rather than my bow with a buck of this caliber headed my way, but let me explain why. I am a very passionate hunter and enjoy shooting and eating wild game animals. I have killed many good deer in my life and have several on my wall to prove it, but after 42 years of hunting whitetail, I want the opportunity to harvest a once in a lifetime buck and the only way we will have this opportunity is if we let a buck like this mature to an older age. We have been managing our ranch for over 12 years now and see the results of this management each and every year. State of Texas adopted county wide antler restrictions a few years back for our county as well as the surrounding counties which seem to be helping as well. We work year round to improve our habitat by planting perennial plants that are advantageous to whitetails, as well as plant annual food plots that provide a little extra nutrition during the tough months. But honestly, the most important thing we do is let our native herd get some age.

Everyone joins in for a photo of Michael Ward's trophy 2012 buck
Everyone joins in for a photo of Michael Ward’s trophy 2012 buck

I hear all the time that folks don’t think their native deer have the genetics to grow really impressive racks and I typically say that is hogwash. I believe most areas have a lot better genetics than people think, because the age classes of deer they are harvesting are young.

We don’t hunt the Golden Triangle in South Texas or Wisconsin or any place that if you looked on a map would go for a trophy buck, but I can tell you that by letting our bucks get to an older age class, our genetics are now popping. Reality is that by letting our bucks get to an older age class, we are just seeing the true genetic potential the herd had all the time.

We use Spypoint motion cameras to help us judge age class of bucks
We use Spypoint motion cameras to help us judge age class of bucks

When we first thought of managing our whitetails, we decided a ten point or better rule was the way to go. I look back at those years now and almost hate to print those words. We were harvesting the exact class of bucks that we should have been preserving. These were the bucks with the most potential to grow into something really special without any attention to age class. We shot some good bucks and some of them had some age under them, but we also harvested some young bucks that I now realize had the potential to grow up to be something really special. I believe a trophy is in the eye of the be-holder and we need to be mindful of this, particularly with our kids. We need to make sure they have fun in the field. But as we evolve and mature as hunters, I like to keep challenging myself and growing monster free ranging bucks is the ultimate challenge in my mind.

The guys I hunt with are all pretty seasoned hunters and have some good bucks on our walls. We are now at a point in our hunting lives, where we would rather shoot does and management bucks and hold out for that once in a lifetime buck than shoot a 3.5 year old buck every year.

Nice management buck taken during the 2012 hunting season
Nice management buck taken during the 2012 hunting season

Our strategy is this: Challenge us by shooting mature management bucks and does which align with our overall management plan and let the bucks with the most potential get to an older age class to truly show their genetic potential. This also allows those great bucks to do more breeding, which compounds to make your herd that much better down the road.

This strategy is not for everyone, but I believe is worth considering if you want to continue to continue to challenge yourself as a hunter and grow monster bucks on a regular basis.

My hunt ended with the 3.5 year old bruiser within 30 yards and an easy bow shot. I had 2 young (1.5 year olds) 8 pointers come by and a group of hogs. I had one big boar 40 yards from me and was just about to shoot but hesitated a second too long and unfortunately he did not present me with another shot. I do regret not shooting the hogs and will most definitely sink the new Flying Arrow Toxic broadhead into some flesh next time they come within bow range.

Cheers and happy hunting!

For more please go to: Management Advantage 

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