Shooting small bucks fills a tag and adds meat to a freezer, but there are other things at play.
Deer hunting isn't just about killing the first deer you see. It's about killing the right deer.
Doe management is a necessary part of hunting in some areas, and hunters who practice ethical doe management are doing their part to keep their local deer population healthy and thriving.
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Similarly, hunting large bucks is a way to manage mature, aged deer. However, there is one subset of a deer population that hunters should almost always let walk away: small, immature bucks.
These young bucks haven't had a chance to grow to full maturity. They may have antlers and be legal to take, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to draw down on one. By allowing small bucks the chance to grow into maturity, there are several benefits for both the deer population and the hunters who chase them.
Killing the Best Future Bloodlines
The biggest reason to let a small buck walk away is that by killing a buck that hasn't matured, a hunter is eliminating the possibility of that buck reaching full growth potential and breeding several does along the way. This is especially important in young bucks that show great potential for becoming nice, big bucks at maturity.
By not allowing these little bucks to fully grow, all a hunter is doing is preventing that buck's bloodline from continuing to grow in the herd.
It is important to let small bucks mature to at least three years of age in order to best determine if their genetics will improve the herd quality.
Taking Small Bucks Means Leaving Large Bucks
Hunters who use tags on small bucks knock themselves out of contention for larger, smarter bucks. Hunting a mature, intelligent buck is twice as rewarding as taking a shot at a yearling buck still learning how to survive. Young bucks don't have all the tools or experience in place to make hunting them a challenge.
Hunting should never be about killing the first brown body you see. It should be about ethical hunting practices and deer management for the betterment of the herd.
For the benefit of the herd, these hunters should focus more on improving their skill level to take mature bucks rather than simply shooting the first deer they see.
A Reason to Come Back
If you leave small bucks in an area, it stands to reason they will grow into mature bucks. By never eliminating a buck before it reaches its full potential, you are ensuring you will have a place to hunt that holds the kind of game you want to take.
Game management starts with the individual hunter. You are responsible for letting small bucks have the time they need to mature on your hunting property and you will be the one to benefit from positive game management in two to three years when that little spike turns into a nice ten point buck.
By allowing small bucks on your hunting property to grow into nice mature bucks, you have the benefit of knowing there are quality bucks in your area. Instead of guessing at the quality of animal you may see from your stand or blind, you will already know there are quality deer ready for harvest.
Teach Young Hunters the Value of Herd Management
Young hunters must also be taught the importance of quality game management. It is up to adult hunters to make sure these youngsters know the difference between a mature buck and a yearling. They need to know why it is important to let the small bucks grow and why it's okay to take an older buck from the herd.
By teaching beginning hunters about the importance of herd management, it will be easier to maintain quality deer herds in the future.
There's no denying the "on the surface" advantages of shooting younger bucks.
It is so easy to pull the trigger and put that young meat in the freezer. Hunting for small bucks is less time consuming and usually takes a lot less effort.
It's perfectly legal, and for those with very little time or care in regards to quality deer management, the practice will never change.
For those reasons, small bucks will always fall victim to hunting season. There is no real way around it. However, the more hunters who make the choice to let them walk, the better chance they stand to produce bigger, nicer deer in their area in the future.
It is up to us hunters to make the call. Is quality more important than quantity? If the answer is yes, then quality deer management will provide many future rewards.