5 year old buck +
I would call that a successful turnaround. I know I've read studies that show it's darn impossible to really manipulate the genetics on a free-range herd so you have to be happy with what you have even if they will only get so big after 3.5. I think having a quality hunt on improved ground should override the desire for more antler inches anyways and I would say they should have that now. I'm sure something can be tried to add more bone to these guys but at some point you hit the law of diminishing returns.
Thanks, Shawn. In my experience, we have more control over genetics in wild deer than the studies indicate, but I generally agree that it is pretty limited. You can only influence 1/2 the equation in wild deer, as you don't have the control to monitor whether the doe is passing on great-horrible antler genetics. When you put an arrow in a doe, you may well have just killed the golden cow of antler genetics.
That said, I have no doubt in my mind that we have way more control over the quality of bucks that live on our lands than we are lead to believe. Shoot that 3.5 year old, 100" 8 point bully and that 2.5 year old 100" 10 is more likely to stay on your ground and be there to hunt next year, when he's 130".
You can only work with what you and he area has to offer, though. On the one hand, I'm thrilled that I have 3 3.5+ bucks to hunt on the one property that began this specific discussion. On the other, I wouldn't expect a great jump from any one of those 3 bucks. Two of them are already 4.5 years old (they were both 2.5s when I began). Now, between the property layout, surrounding pressure and client's goals, no way any one of those 3 are getting a free pass. That said, if either of them sneak through, I'd bet neither has more than 20" left to add, which would leave them well short of gross Boone. I admittedly could and have been wrong on this at times, but one can get to the point where they're right considerably more often than wrong.