By: John Eberhardt.
Whitetail deer are the most adaptable, widespread, abundant, and sought after game animal in the country and under “normal hunting conditions” a mature whitetail buck is the smartest game animal we have to hunt.
The Boone & Crocket club was established to promote and log record class game animals taken with all weapons and the Pope & Young club was established to promote and log record class animals taken with archery equipment. It takes a 170-inch net typical and a 195-inch net non-typical buck to qualify for the Boone & Crocket record book and a 125-inch net typical and a 150-inch net non-typical to make the Pope &Young book. To keep it simple the industry nicknamed Boone & Crocket class bucks as “Booners” and Pope & Young class bucks as “P&Y bucks”.
Depending on the area a buck lives it can take anywhere from 2 ½ to 4 ½ years or longer to grow a set of P&Y class antlers. In Midwestern farm rich regions it is common for 2 ½ year olds to sport P&Y caliber antlers whereas in big timber areas and regions with sandy or marginal soil it will take a buck at least 4 ½ years and in some cases they may live a complete life and never grow a 125 inch set of antlers .
Booner’s are another story, they are extremely rare throughout most areas of the country yet fairly common across the farm rich, lightly hunted, rural areas of southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, southwestern Wisconsin and throughout Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Booners are also prevalent in wooded suburbs around most large metropolitan areas. What these rural areas have in common is; they lack hunting pressure due to either low general populations or large tracts of private land that are managed and hunted by few. What makes metropolitan areas so big buck rich is the lack of hunter access, no gun hunting, and most bucks live through maturity and die of old age or get hit by vehicles.
Wherever there is a lack of hunting pressure, large managed areas or where gun hunting is not allowed many bucks survive beyond 4 ½ years of age and reach their antler growth potential. In farm rich regions these bucks often reach Booner class whereas in regions with poor soil and poor food sources a buck can die of old age without ever having grown a set of P&Y class antlers.
For years due to competitive hunting pressure, free ranging whitetail bucks rarely survived to reach Booner status. But now days the words “Free Ranging, Fair Chase, and 100 % Wild” are simply catch phrases that are used on TV shows and video’s that don’t mean much. Over the past 20 or so years many TV and video personalities as well as many outdoor writers micro-manage the properties they hunt to grow Booner class bucks, or they only hunt properties or pay to hunt ranches where someone else does the deer farming and buck management for them. When the so-called experts hunt on pay to hunt managed ranches, their hunts are free in lieu of advertising for the ranch. Bucks taken in these types of areas can be pawned off to viewers and readers as Free Ranging, 100% Wild bucks taken by Fair Chase because they were not taken from a high fenced enclosure, even though the hunting circumstances are very similar.
That hunting pressure is directly correlated to hunting success on mature bucks has been largely ignored on most whitetail shows, videos, and in print and the reason is clear and simple. Recognition as a whitetail expert comes in direct relation to the number of large bucks they have taken, with no consideration as to where they were taken.
To the majority of hunters that hunt in somewhat normal hunting conditions, many of the TV shows and hunting videos are a joke. Bowhunters that have to deal with hunting pressure have to work for every inch of antler they lay their hands on. I often question if some TV and video personalities realize that the areas they hunt in are gross misrepresentations of normal hunting conditions and deer herd compositions, because they never mention the lack of hunting pressure on the vast amounts of land they have to hunt.
I read an article in a hunting magazine about 25 years ago and one paragraph went something like this:
There used to be a time when a wealthy big game hunter’s trophy room would have a trophy class elk, mule deer, antelope, bear, goat, sheep and occasionally African animals mounted on his wall. The one animal usually missing was a trophy whitetail. The reason was simple; trophy whitetails were difficult to locate and kill and guided trophy whitetail hunts didn’t exist. A guide could easily put hunters on any other game animal, but trophy whitetail bucks were simply too evasive. Unfortunately that is no longer the case, like other game animals if you have the cash to buy or lease enough property and manage it or you have the juice to help someone promote their deer farm (ranch), you can take a trophy whitetail buck whenever you want, hunting skill is no longer a pre requisite.
Why do I call it “deer farming”? Because that is exactly what it is. Large tracts of property are bought or leased; they are micro managed with the proper food sources and minerals to make bucks grow huge antlers, young bucks are allowed to pass by hunters in order to grow to maturity, inferior antlered bucks are often culled so they don’t breed their poor genetics into the herd, and then the so-called experts go out and kill one of the many, ready for the outdoor media market, monster bucks on the property. How does that scenario differ from a cattle business where the rancher feeds his cattle the right feed to make them grow as big and as fast as possible, allows the cattle to mature or grow until they are of optimum size for the market, and then takes them to market to sell and get butchered. Why is it that when it comes to farming deer as a business (bucks to be precise) that we can call it hunting? If anyone can intelligently differentiate raising livestock as a business from raising big bucks as a business, other than the way they are eventually killed, many hunters including myself are all ears.
Hunting pressure dictates the age class of bucks a hunter can expect to have in his or her area. The more hunters, the more deer get killed, particularly bucks, leaving fewer to live to maturity. It logically follows that areas with heavy hunting pressure produce far fewer mature bucks than areas with light hunting pressure. In some areas in Michigan over 80% of the antlered bucks killed each year are 1 ½-years old. This means that 2 ½ year olds are somewhat rare, and some biologists estimate the survival rate of bucks that reach 3 ½ -years old or older, at less than one percent. That means that if there were 20 bucks per square mile, there would only be one 3½ year or older buck per every 5 sections (1 mile by 5 miles). Not only is it rare that a hunter take a P&Y buck in such areas, Booners simply do not exist.
While Michigan tops the list of states in bow hunter numbers and is near the bottom of the list as far as P&Y book entries per licensed hunter, we do not have exclusivity on either category. Pennsylvania, Virginia, W. Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, Alabama, Maryland, and Tennessee all have high hunter densities per square mile and low record book entries per hunter. In most areas within these states and in many pressured regions in other states, bucks I term as a “100-inch Booners” are not only rare they are far more difficult to kill than real Booner class bucks in lightly hunted or managed areas. That statement is not up for discussion; it’s a blunt fact. Having hunted in both types of areas I am speaking from direct experience. You may watch a show or video where they are taking big bucks in a pressured state, but rest assured those kills take place either in an enclosure or on a managed deer farm.
There are many so-called experts with several Booners from micro-managed areas, but I know of few bowhunters from heavily pressured areas with more than a couple “100-inch Booners”, under their belt. Unlike football, baseball, basketball, tennis, track, soccer, swimming, or any athletic sport where everyone competes on the same playing field and under the same conditions to become sports icons, when it comes to bowhunting for whitetails the playing fields are far from level.
The fact is that bucks that survive to maturity in pressured areas are severely nocturnal and even during the rut phases when testosterone levels are through the roof; they rarely show themselves during daylight hours. Mature bucks in pressured areas know what the consequences can be, because more than likely they have old wounds from previous hunting seasons. I cannot think of one 3-½ year old or older buck I have taken in Michigan that did not have at least one old wound and in several instances there were 3 different projectiles found and in one instance, 4. On my 14 out of state hunts I have taken 12 mature bucks of which none had a scratch from a previous hunter encounter and I was hunting public land and knock on doors for permission properties.
Bucks in lightly hunted or managed areas associate hunters with danger, but due to the scarcity of hunters, the terms of hunter engagement, and the competitive nature of the rut among so many mature bucks, they move much more during daylight hours than their heavily pressured brethren.
Hunter expectations should be tightly bound to the area in which they hunt and a look at the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan record book can prove my point. Well over half the counties in the state do not have ten 125-inch bow kills listed, and I am talking all-time entries. Many bucks that hunters from managed areas wouldn’t even lift their bow off the hook for are taxidermist material in pressured areas. It only follows that the number of big racks a hunter has is not necessarily an indication of their skill level.
Many bowhunters believe that if there are several other hunters in the vicinity, they are hunting pressured whitetails, and that is so not true. An area starts to receive the heavy hunting pressure status when bowhunter densities start exceeding 10 per square mile and most of those hunters are targeting any antlered buck. On managed properties or in managed areas bucks are allowed to pass until they reach a specific age or antler criteria so no matter how many hunters there are, the only bucks that receive any consequences are mature bucks. Hunters in such areas simply represent a human presence and do not drastically alter the daytime movement habits of bucks while growing to maturity. When there are no consequences, there is no reason to alter daytime movement habits.
I know of many hunters that fit my “100-inch Booner” claims and will use Ed Simpson as an example. Ed is a friend that has NEVER taken a net 100-inch buck in his home state of Michigan in over 40 years of bowhunting. Ed has taken 62 bucks in Michigan with over a dozen being 2 ½ year olds and three being 3 ½ years old. I bet that many of you can relate to that.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. In 1998 Ed began traveling out of state to hunt in either Iowa or Illinois, and a couple times he hunted in both states during the same season. At the time of this writing Ed has logged 15 out of state, one week hunts (none on pay to hunt ranches). On those 15 hunts Ed has taken 13 bucks scoring between 116 1/8 and 168 7/8 inches, and the average time frame for each successful hunt was 4 days. Now that is quite a staggering statistic for someone that hasn’t been able to kill a 100-inch buck on his own 40-acre parcel during 41 seasons of hunting 6 weeks per season. Did Ed suddenly become a better hunter once he crossed the state line? I doubt it.
I feel confident stating that if Ed or many hunters reading this article were allowed to play on the same playing field with the high profile personalities in the industry, they would easily match their success and likely outperform them. In mine and many other hunter’s opinions a consistently successful bowhunter (that does not use bait) from a heavily hunted area could consistently take mature bucks in lightly hunted areas, whereas a tremendously successful hunter from a lightly hunted or managed area would likely be lost if thrown into an area with heavy hunting competition.
This article was written in an attempt to shed some light on hunting reality and let bowhunters know that if you are hunting in a heavily hunted area, you should be ecstatic about taking a “100-inch Booner” and if you hunt in a managed or low hunter density area you should consider yourself extremely fortunate. Where a hunter hunts should have everything to do with their expectations and their credibility to other hunters.
Author’s bio: John Eberhart has bowhunted in his home state of Michigan for over 50 seasons and has 31 bucks listed in the Michigan record book and has taken more more that didn’t make the book. Those 31 Michigan book bucks came from 19 different properties in 10 different counties and all of Johns bucks came from public and knock on doors for free permission properties. John also has also taken 19 P&Y bucks from 13 different properties on his out of state bow hunts and they also exclusively came off public, free walk-on and knock on doors for free permission properties and just as with his Michigan bucks, they were taken without the aid of bait or food plots.
John has produced a 3-DVD instructional bow hunting series called “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” volumes I, II, and III, and along with his son Chris, John co-authored 3 instructional bow hunting books “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails”, Precision Bowhunting”, and Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way”. John has also written articles for many magazines both regionally and nationally and has done many podcasts which are on his website @: www.deer-john.net.
What separates John’s accomplishment of having an accumulative total of 50 record book bucks from 32 different properties from any other hunter in the country is that he’s exclusively hunted on public and knock-on-doors for free permission properties all his life.
A few years back John began Eberhart’s Whitetail Workshops which are 2-day events held in Central Michigan and whether you hunt public, free permission, family owned, leased, managed or out of state properties; attending one of John’s 2 day in-field/classroom workshops will give you the knowledge to be a serious threat to whatever mature bucks are on any property you ever hunt. One of John’s quotes is, “what’s the sense of having motion pictures of big bucks, if you don’t have the hunting skillset to kill them”. For information on Eberharts Whitetail Workshops please visit: www.deer-john.net