Hunters have contrasting opinions on the shooting and harvesting of yearling bucks.
For some of us, in a dry hunting season especially, the "take what we can get" mentality is in full swing, and that mentality often means taking a shot at an unsuspecting yearling. For others, however, yearling bucks are protected by an unofficial - but unbreakable - sanctuary: to kill a yearling buck is to remove a mature buck from the field a year or two down the road, and fewer mature bucks means fewer kills worth writing home about.
Quite simply, the mentality is this: why shoot a yearling buck when you can wait a few years and harvest him as a bona fide personal record breaker?
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For those who advocate the practice of passing over yearling bucks and allowing them to grow to maturity, the latest harvest data report from the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) will come as a welcome piece of evidence that their efforts are taking hold and making a difference. According to the harvest report - which presents data from the 2012-13 season - hunters last year harvested a lower percentage of yearling bucks than in any other season on the record books. Of the total recorded deer harvests throughout the United States, only 37 percent of the antlered buck haul was made up of yearlings.
That might not seem like such a slim number - especially considering the thousands and thousands of antlered bucks that were likely harvested during the 2012-13 season, but it's still a big improvement over previous years. In their report, the year that QDMA cited as a comparison was 1988, where some 62 percent of bucks harvested were yearlings.
Clearly, more modern hunters are going for mature, full-grown beasts and holding their fire when younger specimens wander by - a fact that bodes well for hunters consistently hoping to score the biggest buck possible.
Undoubtedly, the Quality Deer Management Association will be thrilled with these new figures, as the QDMA views it as one of its primary missions to protect as many yearling buck as possible. Not only can these younger bucks provide a greater level of hunter satisfaction when allowed to grow into full maturity, they can also promote superior reproduction figures on any given deer property.
In other words, the survival of yearlings can help to make a deer herd healthier and more resilient to outside mortality causes. If you are consistently removing the younger male deer from the herd, you are giving your herd a lopsided age structure that will eventually cause major issues.
If you generally avoid taking yearlings and only zero in on older, more mature bucks - or every once in awhile, a doe or two - you will be rewarded by greater levels of activity during the rut.
Just make sure your property isn't becoming overpopulated or you will be risking the starvation of the animals.
So is it ever okay to harvest a yearling buck? You, like all of the hunters who have come before you, will have to make that choice for yourself.
Do you want a small reward this year or do you want to pass on it with the hopes that it will triple or quadruple in size in the next few years? Generally, most hunters will go for the latter option, but if you are out in the woods at the end of a frustrating season - or if you are a beginning hunter looking to put your first harvest on the books - then a yearling might be just the ticket.