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Our bucks are getting bigger

This deer hunter has seen more big-racked bucks in this 2020 New York state archery season than ever before, and that's in 50 years of serious hunting

By Oak Duke
The Spectator
A nice 10 pointer grunts as it exits a scrape.

Deer season is getting better here.

Not just quantitatively, but qualitatively too.

And if it gets any better, I think I'll explode from the overload of adrenaline.

And thanks. That heartfelt thanks is to every deer hunter out there who has passed on (not shot at) a "scrub" buck.

Because you did that, I saw a monster during this archery season. Not once, or twice, but I've had six sightings in three different, separate hunting areas. And those critters are what I'd guess to be incredibly rare four and a half year-old bucks. 

This deer hunter has seen more big-racked bucks in this 2020 New York state archery season than ever before, and that's in 50 years of serious hunting.

But it's because a year ago, or two years ago, a deer hunter in the regular or bow season "let 'em walk."

And that's who I'm thanking.

Our area is not big enough, remote enough or wild enough to lead one to believe that in two or three years, that big 12-point, 140-class tanker I almost arrowed hadn't been passed up during shotgun season when he was a fork horn or a "scrubby little six."

And because of this, repeated so many thousands of times across the Southern Tier of New York state and Northern Tier counties of Pa. there is a larger population of three and four year-old bucks out there, bonafide trophies in anyone's book.

Hunting groups, landowners, and individual hunters are all buying into the notion that if we want meat, shoot a doe (Harvesting does is also sound game management.) But that yearling buck, which sports his first set of horns or even that two year-old buck, now a "spread buck", if he makes it through the season, will be awesome next year.

And we aren't looking down the long tunnel of time.

In just a couple years, any good hunting area can grow jaw-dropping trophy bucks in just a couple of years. 

Of course, everyone doesn't and maybe shouldn't buy into the theory that the youngster we let walk today, will next year or the one after that, will grow into a real racker.

"If I don't shoot 'em, somebody else will." 

Maybe, maybe not. 

But it is a sound biological fact that the antler growth between the second and third year of a buck's life is the greatest.

According to research, a buck's antler size increases 140% from its first year (as a yearling) to its second! From its second to third it increases by another 24% and if it reaches maturity at four and one-half years old, it increases another eight percent.

We are finally seeing bucks like these, thanks to the guys who let 'em walk.

Years ago, hunters strove and felt very fortunate to just "get a buck." The white-tailed deer population was a fraction of what it is now. The success rate was low.

And then, during the 70s, as the deer population began growing, hunters for the most part shot the first antlered buck they saw.

It was only until the 1980s when hunters began passing on small bucks, realizing that there were enough bucks to be selective. But it was very rare. There was a lot of head-shaking and many hunters didn't understand. It was new. 

As the decade drew to a close, archery season was coming into its own, then and in the early 80s with the popularization and effectiveness of the compound bow.

And by the time the 90s rolled around, the idea that "any deer with a bow was a trophy," had been replaced by "a buck with a bow."

And by the mid-90s, many archers were passing on smaller bucks and holding out for a "spread buck" or a "mounter."

According to New York state hunting statistics, the average age of the New York deer hunter is getting older.

So that means, to some degree, that there has been an evolution of thinking in many deer hunters. 

Consequently, antlers have gotten larger, body weights have increased, and whitetails are much more impressive to see as older bucks, sprinkled throughout the herd.

Glimpses of these heart-stopping critters are still rare. But thanks to the "let 'em walk" philosophy, we all now have our chances at the stuff dreams are made of.

Oak Duke

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.