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Deer Hit List:

How to Pick Shooter Bucks

It’s August, folks, and that means whitetail season is getting close—very close for some.  In fact, Florida has already begun its hunt and other early-open states are just weeks away. Cue the pre-season goose bumps and let the big-game planning begin. It’s time to sit down with that stash of trail photos and video you’ve gathered through the year and put together a deer hit list.

What deer are in your sites and how do you choose which to harvest? You’ve probably got some ideas and we’ve got a few more to consider. But first, let’s look at the stewardship responsibilities of ethically selecting deer to harvest during the hunt. 

Discipline and Deer Management 

For experienced deer managers, there’s more to harvesting a buck than bagging the one with the biggest antlers—though that brings its own reward and bragging rights. Choosing the right shooter deer involves discipline, stewardship, and aiming for a mature animal whose life cycle is complete. Which isn’t always easy for an eager hunter. 

One experienced Redmond deer manager said, “The smallest tool in your hunting arsenal is the hardest thing to manage, and that’s your trigger finger. It takes discipline to look at a nice buck and say, ‘Hey, that thing looks good, but we’re not going to shoot him; he’s only 3½ and is going to be amazing in two years.’” 

It’s a deer manager’s job to know herd structure, buck-to-doe ratio, age classes, what your management plan is, and responsibly determine which deer on your property are harvest eligible. 

How to Pick Shooter Bucks

Age is the first thing you should determine when choosing shooter bucks for your deer hit list.

Age is the first thing you should determine when choosing shooter bucks for your deer hit list.

If you’re new to deer management, here are three things to consider when assembling a hit list of shooter bucks for yourself or guests on your farm this fall.

1.  Age Rules

Age is the number one priority—and antler size is not necessarily an accurate indicator. Check out this Boone and Crocket buck age class chart on the National Deer Association website. It shows bucks of any age can display a range of antler scores, with rare 1-year-olds reaching over 100 inches in antler span!  

A whitetail buck is considered physiologically mature at 5½. So how do you determine if you have mature shooter bucks on your farm? The best way is to follow individual growth over years using trail cam surveys, field observation, and good optics. This University of Missouri article also has detailed info on how to age a deer in the field based on body characteristics and size.  This buck aging poster created by the QDMA is also a great tool.

Here are a few reasons you should pass up young bucks and choose age over antlers: 

  • You want deer to complete their life cycle; generally, that’s around 6 years old. 
  • Bucks reach their full genetic potential by 5½; by then their genetics are spread through your herd. 
  • A bigger-bodied deer means more meat in your freezer. 

Each deer management program is unique. Your property is different than the hunter’s in the next county. Establish the oldest age class of shooter bucks available on your farm and look for that class when you’re studying pics and assembling a hit list. 

Tip:  Use Trophy Rock and a trail camera to help you get perfect shots of deer that aid in the aging process. Just elevate Trophy Rock high enough that your deer’s head is up and body perfectly broadside to the camera.

2.  Antlers Matter

Once you’ve established age class of shooter bucks, it’s time to look at rack size. Yes, age comes first, but at the end of the day, what all hunters want to sit around the fire and spit ‘n whittle about is antler tines and rack span.  

Most hunters know a big spread on sight, but if you’re shooting for trophy potential, you need to look closely at overall height and width, the number of points, and mass. This Boone and Crocket page can help you tally the antler score of whitetail bucks and know if you’ve got a potential winner on your property. 

Tip:  Good nutrition and minerals can help bucks reach their genetic potential for antler growth. The 60+ all-natural minerals in Trophy Rock cover every trace mineral deer need for optimum health. 

3.  Preference Next 

After age and antlers, it’s up to you how to narrow the field on your fall prospects. Here are some factors hunters look at: 

  • Uniqueness. Has a shooter got a cool drop tine or some marking that sets him apart? Maybe that’s your guy. 
  • History. Been following a deer from a yearling on and he’s now a prime target for harvesting? Good luck. 
  • Huntable. Got a buck with consistent patterns that make him accessible and easy to hunt? Go get him. 

Have you already honed in on your shooter buck? Does he have a unique nickname you identify him by? In our next blog we’ll talk about keeping files as part of deer management and the funny monikers hunters give their bucks. Check back to see if any of your names make the hit list! 

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