Harvesting a trophy buck on your hunting lease property can be a challenging proposition. Most lease properties are timber investment tracts that are primarily composed of thick planted pines. Leases typically do not allow hunt clubs to participate in significant habitat management. Therefore, influencing deer quality through habitat improvement can be pretty limited.
1. Harvest Management
3. Trail Cameras
Harvest management may be the only significant management option available to a hunt club. This means selectively harvesting bucks and does to impact age and sex ratios on the leased property. I hunt a lease with similar limiting factors. The surrounding properties are primarily timberland, so there is no nutritional enhancement from agriculture. We plant eight acres of food plots each year and run several seasonal feeders. However, eight acres amounts to less than 1% of the habitat. So, our plots and seasonal feeders aren’t making a significant improvement to habitat quality and herd nutrition. Managing our trigger fingers with the objective of harvesting mature bucks is the only option that we have for producing quality deer. However, as this story demonstrates, that can be all it takes to produce some excellent white-tails.
I hear from a lot of hunt clubs that would like to harvest 120+ class bucks, but they complain that they cannot seem to grow anything better than a 100-inch deer. A buck with 100 inches of antler is typically considered a shooter on most leases. The picture below is a nice 10 point that I caught on a trail camera on our lease in 2012. He is a beautiful buck; a trophy to a lot of folks. He has approximately 100 inches of antlers. I estimated his age at 3.5 years old based on body characteristics and some general knowledge of the deer herd potential on the property. Most folks wouldn’t let him walk. But if you want to harvest quality, mature bucks of 120 inches or better, you have to let these 100-inch, 3.5-year-old deer walk and grow to reach that trophy level. I never had to make that decision. I hunted all fall in 2012, but I never saw this deer from a stand.
A buck’s body continues to grow until he reaches 4.5 years of age. His bone and muscle growth takes priority over antler development. Considering this fact, you cannot know a buck’s true potential until he reaches the age of 4.5 +. So, I was anxious to see whether this deer would show up again in 2013 as a 4.5-year-old. He had a distinct split brow tine on his left antler, and I was hoping that I could identify him if he appeared again on my trail cameras. As deer movements started to increase in October, I got a few pictures of him. In that one year, he added one point and approximately 20+ inches of antler growth earning himself the name “Big 11”. He was now truly a quality hunting lease buck. I had a half dozen cameras all over the property, but I only captured four pictures of him all season. Once again, no one saw him while hunting.
The Importance of Trail Cameras
Trail cameras are the only way that I even knew this buck was on the property. They are an awesome scouting tool. I would not hunt without them. For me, it is almost as much fun checking cameras as sitting in the stand. Cameras allow me to identify and judge the majority of the deer that I expect to see while hunting the property. You never know what might show up during the rut, but most of the time the bucks that I see while hunting are the same deer that I have captured on trail cameras. Studying the pictures taken by my cameras allows me to know what deer to expect and to have already decided if a buck is a shooter or not. If you have to think too hard about it that usually means the buck is not a shooter.
I started the 2014 season hoping “Big 11” would return. If none of the neighbors shot him, if he didn’t get hit by a car, if he didn’t get harvested illegally, and he managed to survive all the perils of a being a deer, he should be a real mature monster. I started running trail cameras in August. I didn’t get a picture of him or many deer at all for two months. However, this is typical on many leases throughout the southeast. There is still a lot of green forage in August & September, so the deer don’t use corn well, and they don’t have to travel far to meet their dietary needs. With only five pictures of him in two years, this buck was hard to pattern. He never showed up twice in the same place, and his pictures were all taken well after dark. It was hard to know where to start.
Worth the Wait
I rotated cameras to different locations every few weeks and finally hit the jackpot. I got six pictures of him on two different cameras in October. With eleven pictures over three years, I could finally start to establish a range for this deer. Our club had one stand in the middle of that range and that is where I hunted. I saw good rut sign the first week in November. There were a lot of active scrapes, and I had significant buck movement on my cameras. I knew this is when I needed to be in the woods. To harvest this buck everything was going to have to be right: stand location, wind direction, and timing. I really had to “hunt” this deer and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Three years’ work paid off when he followed a doe across a trail 120 yards from my stand at 9:45 a.m. I recognized him immediately. There was only one buck of his caliber on my cameras. It took me half a second to identify him and pull the trigger. I have harvested a lot of bucks, but the three years spent chasing him made this one of the most memorable. It was one of the most rewarding hunts of my career.
You won’t harvest a buck like this on a lease every year. It had been five years since I took a buck on this property. Proper scouting and harvest management paid off though. You can be sure that I will be passing up every 100-inch bucks that I see in the future just for the remote chance that it might turn into a “Big 11” one day.
This buck scored 133 inches of antler. He weighed 172 lbs. live weight. Through cementum annuli age verification and based on my pictures he was 5.5 years old.
Contact Jeff to learn more about wildlife management on your hunting lease property. Call 877-5-TO-HUNT, or submit our contact request form.