It was several years ago, and five mature white-tailed bucks lay dead in my alfalfa, victims of the bite of a tiny fly. If they hadn’t perished from disease, they would have stood a very good chance of making it through the hunting season. While they would have been considered trophies in many states, in our region, they would have been considered, “next year’s deer.”
Due to advances in technology, changes in hunting practices, and the climbing age of the average hunter, the number of older deer being harvested by hunters is on the rise.
For the second year in a row, the statisticians at the Quality Deer Management Association have released data showing that bucks over 3-1/2 years of age outnumbered any other age class harvested by hunters in the 28 states that gather such data. Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas averaged in the mid- seventies for bucks in that age group, while the national average was over 35% of bucks harvested being over 3-1/2. That is the highest rate since such data could be scientifically estimated.
One of the driving forces behind the increase in harvested buck maturity has to do with the rising age of the average hunter. The typical deer hunter is 46 years old and at or near the peak of his earning potential. He is spending over $2,500 per year to chase deer rather than golf balls although I know of a few who do both.
Advantages in scouting cameras and the quality of their images allow hunters to know more accurately the bucks in their areas and focus their efforts pursuing specific animals. While perhaps less romantic, such hunters are much less likely to harvest younger deer.
Changes in hunting practices are also allowing deer to mature. In years past, hunters would gather and drive whitetail much as they did pheasants, sending animals out of protected sanctuaries and onto neighboring properties where they could be shot by less discriminating hunters. Today’s trophy hunters are preparing food plots and hunting blinds that allow them to increase their odds without moving deer out of their normal security patterns. Once again, data provided by trail cameras give them information as to travel times and frequencies so that hunters are better informed as to productive hunt times.
Perhaps the most telling factor is math. With an estimated 30 million white-tailed deer are roaming the country today, fewer hunters are in the field.
More mature hunters are also changing their definition of a quality hunt. While game managers try to estimate how many licenses need to be offered in order to keep wildlife populations at sustainable levels, they are being forced to adjust their calculations. Fewer hunters are actually ending their trips with a gun shot. More are taking up more challenging and traditional weapons that have lower success rates than modern weaponry affords. Time spent helping a spouse or grandchild get their deer is often seen as more rewarding than adding another set of horns to their own bragging wall.
Bigger deer are the result.
For years I have guided sportsman who were at the point in their lives where new horizons and the possibility of a truly magnificent deer were more important than the filling of a tag. For those of you who haven’t yet harvest the buck of a lifetime, hunters like them are tilting the odds in your favor.
Get your applications filled out, the season is only a few months away.