Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett bucks on a regular basis? Three and a half year-olds scoring in the 160s...In my woodlot? That's what local deer hunters used to think, but modern deer management practices are proving that anyone willing to protect young bucks can grow them anywhere that there's good habitat. Sound management is leading to amazing results across the country in places that are not traditional "big buck" areas, and right here in our own backyard in central New York is a prime example.
Except for the occasional high-scoring buck, New York State is not thought of as a "go to" place for trophy whitetails. Most New York deer hunters see those once-in-a-lifetime bucks as some kind of genetic anomaly, taken only by the luckiest of those who spend time in the autumn woods. Indeed, the New York State Big Buck Record Book (Gun, Archery and Muzzleloader) holds only 60 some typical whitetail bucks scoring better than 170, less than 200 scoring in the 160s, and those records go back to the 1930s. Less than 30 of that total are from the middle of the state. That is hardly comparable to the best known states and provinces for trophy whitetails in North America, but the winds of change are sweeping the landscape in many states.
We can date exactly when that change began in central New York – the fall of 1994. That's when the first group effort to voluntarily pass younger bucks started on 9,000 acres in Otisco Valley. The management idea spread quickly and private clubs and cooperatives came on board as the concept moved across the central New York region. We knew even then that using number of points as a criteria for passing yearlings would high-grade that year-class and put heavy hunting pressure on the better yearlings – the eight and ten pointers that would be the higher-scoring bucks in just a couple of years. As a result "width outside the ears" was used as the initial criteria; knowing that even the best yearlings did not have that kind of inside spread.
One avid young hunter in that firstcooperative, Matt Riter, observed that even the largest yearling racks were framed entirely behind the eye, while most 2 1/2s had antler tips that extended slightly ahead of the eye. On many properties "antler tips ahead of the eye" was added to the criteria as further protection of those great yearling bucks that were showing up. Little did we know at the time that those exceptional yearlings with eight or more points made up approximately 25% of the year-class in most of central New York and on the better habitat a whopping 35% (Bureau of Wildlife research – WMU 7H).
Prior to this effort a normal hunting season would produce the majority of harvested bucks as spikes and fork-horn yearlings, with the occasional very average 2 1/2, and rarely a 3 1/2 year-old ten-pointer. Everyone believed that was "nature's way"; that it was all our region had to offer. But stored away in the gene-pool of the whitetail subspecies Odocoileusvirginianus borealis was the potential for very large-bodied and exceptionally large-antlered whitetail bucks. These borealis whitetails are the same subspecies that inhabit Pike County Illinois and legendary areas of Ohio; the only difference is, for some reason in New York we never tried to protect the younger bucks. By managing for quantity, not quality, and by not letting these bucks grow to an older age, we were not tapping into the potential that had always existed. Now landowner/deer hunter clubs and cooperatives are managing privately and exceptional bucks are popping up everywhere.
Central NY, as well as eastern and western New York and many un-thought of areas like Long Island and New Jersey, are perfect places for whitetails to grow. Hillsides are covered with woody browse and security cover, and river valleys have well-drained soils where farmers already grow corn, alfalfa, trefoil, cowpeas and soybeans. Nutrition levels are naturally high. In truth, whitetails here have everything they need and when managed progressively the potential for great whitetail bucks rivals any location in North America.Continue to Page 2 »
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