Mid December can be a rough stretch for many hunters. Throughout much of the whitetails’ range the peak of rut has ended and things seem slow in the woods. This can be a frustrating time for those who haven’t tagged a buck. During this time of the year I often think about the saying “don’t pass a buck on the first day that you’d shoot the last day”.
Recently, I went through our Reconyx images and realized that we have a greater number of three year old bucks than mature bucks. With Missouri’s upcoming muzzleloader season and several weeks remaining in archery season, it is very likely that we will have multiple encounters with three year old bucks. As season draws to an end with an unfilled buck tag left, letting these great looking deer walk can be hard.
At The Proving Grounds, part of our management objective is to harvest bucks four years of age or older. At the beginning of each season we develop a “hit list” of all the four year or older bucks captured on trail cameras. The list of mature bucks will be the only bucks we will harvest if given the opportunity. However, it never fails, throughout the season a three year old buck will walk by. This can be very tempting, especially toward the end of season, but we keep our finger off the trigger. We hold out to the very end, even if it means we are left with an unfilled tag.
Several seasons ago, we passed two incredible three year old bucks. It was difficult not to shoot but we stuck to our goal. This year we were blessed to harvest both previously passed bucks. Once we laid our hands on them, it was worth the wait. One of the bucks, Gumby, had developed two drop tines, one measuring eight inches! The other buck, Handy, had 19 points and grossed 173”! Even though there were two unfilled tags several years ago, it was worth it in the end.
If you’re down this season because you haven’t tagged a buck, keep whatever goals you had at the beginning of the season. If you wouldn’t have shot a deer on the first day, think twice about shooting it the last day just to fill a tag. If a young buck has made it this long through season, there is a chance he may still survive. Letting young bucks walk can lead to great future hunts.