buck jpeg

By Steve Wall

What size antlers does a whitetail deer need to be considered a trophy?  This is a topic that is highly debatable and can even become a controversy in some cases.  I have had the opportunity to hunt private land that is managed for large whitetail bucks, but I have also hunted highly pressured public land.  I have killed what I would consider trophy bucks on both properties.  I am a supporter of the philosophy of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA).  Which is:

 ” a practice that unites landowners, hunters, and managers in a common goal of producing biologically and socially balanced deer herds within existing environmental, social, and legal constraints. This approach typically involves the protection of most or all yearling bucks combined with an appropriate harvest of female deer to maintain a healthy population in balance with existing habitat conditions and hunter desires. This level of deer management involves the production of quality deer (bucks, does, and fawns), quality habitat, quality hunting experiences, and, most importantly, quality hunters. “

If the QDMA philosophy could be carried out by everyone, I believe we would all be more satisfied as hunters.  However, as we all know this just is not going to happen.  There are to many varying opinions by hunters and landowners as to how many, and what size deer should be shot every year.  With lands that are managed for “Trophy Bucks”, there are usually antler size restrictions set forth by a land manager or a group of people that manage the land collectively.  There are also landowners who feel more deer is better and will not shoot any does.  On the other hand, there are some hunters who will shoot absolutely any deer that they see. 

Back in one of my recent posts, Buck of Lifetime: My first buck, I said that I may be more proud of my recent accomplishments of public land than I was of this “buck of a lifetime.”  

Drop tine
Drop tine

From almost the time I could start hunting, I had the opportunity to hunt land that was managed for large whitetail bucks.  I am very grateful that I had this opportunity, it made me into the hunter that I am today.  I was able to learn a wealth of information at a very early age about whitetail behavior by observing them and passing up shot opportunities.  At the time, I was very into the “trophy management,” and letting the small bucks mature.  I still believe in the QDMA philosophy of letting younger deer go for a more balanced deer heard.  My issue over time has become, “What is a trophy?” 

During my time hunting on this “trophy managed” land, I passed on a number of bucks that I would have considered a trophy.  I had to pass on these deer because of antler size restrictions set for the land I was hunting.  I understood that this was a part of hunting this property.  I shot my first buck with the rifle when I was 16 years old, but didn’t shoot my first buck with the bow until I was 23.  Now I did have missed opportunities prior to shooting my first buck with the bow at the age of 23, and these opportunities have made me into a better bowhunter.  However, there were also a number of “ideal” opportunities at a number of “borderline” bucks through the years that I would have been more than happy harvesting.  These “borderline” bucks through the years are what has me posing the question, “What is a trophy?”

This struggle of “What is a trophy?”, became increasingly more difficult for me when I moved farther away from this “trophy managed” land.  Between college and living four hours away, I was limited to the amount of time I was able to hunt this property.  Being a die-hard bowhunter, I was able to find some public land near my current location to hunt when I was not able to make it back to the “trophy managed” land.  The problem was I was hunting public land that is highly pressured and of course has nowhere near the antler size of some of the deer on the “trophy managed” land.  I had to make a decision to only hunt does on the public land if I wanted to save my buck tag for the “trophy managed” land.  Having hunted the “trophy managed” land pretty much since I started hunting, I finally came to a point that I wanted to be able to control what deer I was able to shoot.  I no longer hunt the “trophy managed” land and now hunt almost exclusively on public land.

Hunting on public land is a whole different ballgame!  There is more pressure from other hunters and in most places you must remove your treestand after each hunt.  If you put in your time scouting and paying attention to deer movements in the area, you can be successful on public land.  In 2012, during the early stages of the rut, I was able to harvest a really nice buck with my bow on public land  To me, to me this buck was a “trophy”, especially considering I was able to harvest this buck on public land.  In 2013, I was able to follow up my 2012 season by shooting another “trophy” on public land with my bow.

2012 Public Land Archery
2012 Public Land Archery
2013 Public Land Archery
2013 Public Land Archery
2014 Public Land Archery
2014 Public Land Archery

This past year, in addition to my regular scouting, I set out a trail camera.  I was able to picture two 8-point bucks and in mid-October I was able to harvest one of the bucks with my bow!  Like I said before, I am as proud of the success I have had the past three seasons on public land as I am of my “Buck of a Lifetime.”

So, what is a trophy?  To be honest, any deer is a trophy!  However, as I said in the beginning, if we could all follow the QDMA philosophy, we would all be more satisfied as hunters.  I am currently trying to pass on yearling bucks even on public land.  That being said, with all of the emphasis these days on “trophy bucks,” we need to encourage our young hunters to take a deer that is going to make them happy!  It is our duty as experienced hunters to educate young hunters about deer management but also not discourage them with expectations!

Here is a link to my story about my 2014 hunt: http://thehuntblog.com/2014/10/14/lessons-learned-public-land-bucks/

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