October 27, 2013

Hunting: It’s all about the antlers

Hunters want that prize, but it’s better to let bucks mature.

By Bob Humphrey

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The next year is perhaps the most important milestone in terms of antler development. By age 4 a buck has reached maturity. It has stopped growing so any surplus minerals formerly used for skeletal growth now go to antler development. With the right genetic potential and proper nutrition a buck could grow a staggering set of antlers.

Few deer in heavily hunter areas ever reach this age, making them rare, and increasing their value and significance to hunters.

There’s little question that every hunter’s dream is to one day bag a trophy buck, but meeting that demand is no easy feat. Little if anything can be done to influence genetics in free-range deer. Improving the nutritional quality of the habitat will help, but the most important step is allowing more deer to reach older age classes.

A hunter can make a personal choice to pass up young deer, but that’s not easy and often not productive in a state where most hunters are satisfied with shooting any antlered deer. Another option is to seek out more remote areas with fewer hunters. Unfortunately they also have far fewer deer, and a couple seasons with few or no deer sightings can discourage even the most dedicated hunter.

That leaves three more options. You can try to get all the hunters in the area you hunt to agree on higher voluntary minimums. You can hunt in a state with a higher proportion and number of older bucks. Or you can continue to hit the woods and hope somehow, some day, purely by luck, you’ll be among the one thousandth percent of hunters who bag a truly big racked buck in Maine each year.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

bhunt@maine.rr.com

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