Whitetail Hunters Pursuing Older Mature Bucks

While it probably comes as no surprise to most of the knowledgeable and hunt-savvy members of NAHC, a new study released this week by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) confirms the growing trend by American deer hunters of pursuing older and more mature bucks, rather than shooting yearlings.

According to QDMA, more 1 1/2-year-old bucks (yearlings) are getting a pass from deer hunters than at any time in modern history, from data gathered for its 2014 Whitetail Report.

In the 2012-13 season, the most recent season with complete deer harvest data available from all states, only 37 percent of antlered bucks killed by hunters in the U.S. were yearlings, down from more than 62 percent in 1988. Antlered bucks do not include "button bucks," so this means nearly two-thirds of antlered bucks killed by hunters in 2012-13 were 2 1/2 years old or older.

"The trend is clear: More deer hunters are choosing the benefits that come from protecting yearling bucks and building numbers of older bucks in a deer population," said Kip Adams, a wildlife biologist and QDMA's director of education and outreach, who compiles the annual Whitetail Report. "The decline in yearling-buck harvest has been more rapid in some states than others, and hunters in a handful of states still take high percentages of yearling bucks, but even in most of those states the trend is in the right direction."

When most yearling bucks are protected and survive to adulthood, hunters witness more rut behaviors, get more responses with rattling and grunt calls, see more scrapes and rubs, find more shed antlers, and see and kill mature bucks more frequently, Adams explained.

The study data indicates voluntary restraint by hunters plays an increasing role role in reducing harvest rates among yearling bucks.(Related post: "Jeff Foxworthy: Committed To Quality Deer Management") QDMA found that among the five states with the lowest yearling-buck harvest rates, two of them, Kansas (14 percent) and Oklahoma (15 percent), do not have any mandatory antler restrictions at the state or regional level. Additionally, the national rate has been declining in recent years even without any new states adding statewide antler-based harvest restrictions.

"Though we recognize state-mandated antler restrictions are wanted and needed in some situations, we have always said we prefer this choice to be voluntary among hunters who want the benefits of an older buck age structure," said Adams.

Are you (and other deer hunters you know) showing more restraint these days, and passing on the smaller and yearling bucks? Share your comments below.