Shoot or Don’t Shoot

By GrowingDeer,

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Hi Dr. Grant,

First off, I hope you are doing well and having a good hunting season.

My question is relevant to most hunting places.  I have about 3 bucks on my 250 acre farm that are 3.5 to 4.5 years old.  All of these deer would be shot on neighboring properties without the hunter blinking an eye. Should I let them go or shoot them if I get the chance?  I’ve passed up a couple of bucks that were actually bigger than anything I’ve ever killed, so it wouldn’t be the first time. What would you do?  Where is the point between when you let him go no matter what and when you’re going to let him have it?  I’ve tried the 4.5 year old point the last couple of years, but this is the first year they are really starting to grow.  I hate to shoot them, because you know he could be something really special over the next couple years.  I’m in between a rock and a hard spot.

Thanks always and God bless,



I don’t believe there is a definitive or singular answer to your question.  It really depends on your deer management and harvest goals and your patience level.  The better the habitat on your property compared to the neighboring properties, the more time the deer in your neighborhood will spend on your property.  It’s critical that you have better quality cover than what’s available on the neighboring properties.  Deer will spend most of the daylight hours, when they are the most vulnerable to being harvested by hunters, in cover.  It would be best to make this source of cover a sanctuary so mature bucks are very conditioned to using that area as their bedding/escape area.  Hunting the edges of the sanctuary is okay as long as the sanctuary is large enough that your scent doesn’t alarm deer throughout the sanctuary.  Remember that your scent is probably almost as disturbing as your physical presence to deer.

It would also be best if you had as good (and hopefully better) quality food for deer during the hunting season on your property than the neighboring properties.  I’m always amazed at how small the range of mature bucks can be in areas with high quality habitat.

It never hurts to work with your neighbors.  Take time to learn their deer harvest objectives.  If they are drastically different than yours, gently work to educate them by sharing sources of good information.  They may or may not change, but there is a good chance you will develop a better relationship that over time will benefit both parties.

Finally, my first rule of deer management is that dead deer don’t grow.  There’s always a chance (sometimes it’s slim) that bucks you pass will survive and grow a year older.  If your deer harvest objective is to harvest bucks at least 4 years old or older, then be prepared to pass lots of three year olds.  I’m okay with hunters harvesting any age class of bucks.  However, if hunters want to harvest mature bucks, they must pass younger bucks.  I think it helps if those of us that wish to harvest mature bucks encourage each other.  I hope you’ll take my advice and be patient.  Harvesting a mature buck is a great accomplishment that’s worth the effort!

Growing Deer together,