Can you let'em walk this deer season?
By John K. Flores
The shot rang out from somewhere close to me, and I could only assume it was from my partner, Jake Spangler, who dropped me off on one of his stands 45 minutes earlier. If it was Spangler, I thought to myself, it had to be a pretty decent buck. Otherwise, he’d have let it walk.
Meanwhile, from my location, I was having a bit of action of my own. First, a doe bleating over and over like a sheep walked out on me, then a button buck. There’s nothing like a hunt where you’re seeing deer.
Suddenly, from right of my stand, a real buck with an attitude -- obviously rut-stricken -- busts out of the tall grass and makes its way towards me. It’s hard to tell what his headgear looks like at first. The direction he’s coming from is out of the sun that’s barely above the tree line and right in my eyes.
The closer the deer gets, I see where he’s probably a good four-, maybe five-point, with a body that reminds me of a middle linebacker’s. Never picking up my rifle, I decide to let the deer walk. Though tempting, I know that given another year, this deer could become one worth bragging about.
In a discussion I had prior to the season with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Deer Study leader Scott Durham, where this year from 72 entries, 20 bucks were placed on the department’s Big-Buck List, there’s no doubt hunters everywhere are letting deer grow up a bit more before they harvest them.
Durham said, “The big-deer harvest is just getting better and better. Guys are definitely more selective. Those participating in our DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) have gone from 50 percent of the buck harvest being 1-1/2 year old deer to 50 percent of them now 3-1/2 plus year old bucks. We’ve got some parishes where the age structure on some of these clubs is just incredible. And, they’re just killing really old deer and those younger deer are getting passed.”
Spangler hunts family property below Franklin that’s been in his family for three generations. The family manages their property by maintaining a four-point or better rule. As a guest of Spangler’s, he graciously said to take anything I wanted and that the definition of a trophy is different for everyone.
According to Durham, deer hunting has evolved into a business, where emphasis is now being placed on managing for big trophy deer.
“Deer hunting is a business now,” Durham said. “A lot of guys are really into it. It’s something people can afford to do, and it’s not quite as expensive as duck hunting and all that. There’s a lot of emphasis on big deer. There are a lot of magazines and kind of ‘hoopla’ made over big bucks. There are podcasts and all this -- it’s just been a steady evolution towards that.”
Spangler, 35, grew up hunting deer with his father, killing his first deer when he was 12 years old. And over the years, as technology has improved, he has harvested bigger deer than his father’s generation.
“One of the things that has helped us is being more selective,” Spangler said. “My dad’s generation wasn’t as selective as we are now. He doesn’t hunt anymore, but he is amazed at what we kill or when I tell him what we’ve seen.”
Learning to be selective paid off for Spangler. When he picked me up from my stand, there on the deck of his boat was a wide 8-point -- the shots I had heard earlier were indeed his. For several minutes we talked about his hunt and what happened. Now it came down to whether he should add another mount to his wall or not. The big 8 had an inside spread of nearly 16-inches and decent tines -- definitely worth bragging about.
It would have been easy to shoot the buck that circled my stand in search of the doe that came by earlier. But, with the season only days old, I wasn’t about to press the panic button trying to put some meat in the freezer.
In my younger years -- coming from the same generation as Spangler’s father -- there’s no doubt I probably would have shot the buck where it stood. But, having hunted deer for the past 36 seasons, I’ve learned to enjoy it more -- there’ll be plenty of opportunities, and if not, so be it. What’s more, I’ve learned to appreciate some of the lessons of this younger generation of hunters by now letting a few walk…
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