February 10, 2022
Several years ago, while visiting with a deer biologist in South Texas, he told me the majority of bucks don’t reach their peak trophy potential until age 6.
That became the catalyst for me to apply this in my own whitetail honey holes at home in Saskatchewan.
Before we dive deep, consider how many wild, free-ranging bucks actually survive to age 6. I don’t have any actual statistics, but I will say, in all caps, NOT MANY! And even for those that do, there is no guarantee every 6-year-old buck in the woods is going to be a wall-hanger.
Based on my experience, there seem to be three different kinds of bucks. First are those with smaller antlers, or less desirable genetics. They account for about 75 percent of the bucks that cruise past my Stealth Cams. Second are bucks that seem to be on the right track when they are young but reach a plateau in antler size long before they reach full maturity. I’d say roughly 20 percent of bucks fall into this category. They will look awesome as youngsters but just never materialize into true giants. The third category is the final 5 percent of bucks with the potential to become truly world-class whitetails. These are the bucks every bowhunter craves.
So, now you’re waiting for one of the 5-percenters to show up. When he does, he’s usually 2 or 3 years old. Assuming you have a goal to let such bucks reach full maturity, that means you have to exercise trigger control for three or even four years! Here’s the really scary part; you are perhaps this buck’s mildest threat. He also has to survive everything else thrown at him — predators, disease, winter, vehicles, other hunters and even other bucks during the rut.
By the time such bucks reach full maturity, we are now talking about 5 percent of the 5-percenters. To me, such bucks are kings; rare creatures worthy of gracing walls and magazine covers. Hunting such bucks is very enjoyable, as long as you understand and accept the long odds going into it.
The anticipation is the best part. Will that little bump turn into a G5 next year? If I let him go one more year, will he survive? And if he does, will he finally be the buck of my dreams? Yep, watching and saving bucks is a dangerous game. You’ll experience 10 times as much heartbreak as you will success, but when it does work out, you won’t trade the experience for anything.
For example, one of the times it worked out for my wife Kelsy and I was with a buck we called Blades. We got our first trail-camera pictures of him when he was just 2 years old. He lived on public land, so the odds of him making it to full maturity were stacked against him. But with the potential he had, Kelsy and I made a pact to let him grow until he was at least 6 years old. Every season, he showed up on the same camera around the same time, and every year he was bigger and had more character than the year before.
When Blades was 6, Kelsy started hunting him. She sat every day the wind permitted her in the month of November. Here’s the next challenge. Such bucks are smart; if they weren’t, they never would have made it that long. So, now you have to find a way to get a chance at him with your bow, and that can be just as much of a grind as the rest of the process. He beat us that first year and made it to age 7.
The next fall, we got to live the fairytale ending you hope for when Kelsy took Blades with her TenPoint crossbow. This buck truly is what makes being selective and patient so rewarding. Outcomes like that will have me living this process over and over until my deer-hunting days are done. The only thing I would change is that next time, I’m going to shoot that big, old buck instead of Kelsy!