High Grading, Bait, Cams and Crossbows is no good for anyone!

WTNUT

5 year old buck +
I probably heard the management phrase “high grading” over 25 years ago. It was sometime in the early 90s that I started to become intrigued with managing habitat and ultimately deer. I didn’t have a pot to piss in or a porch to throw it off back then, but I was dreaming big. Dr. Kroll had started his series in North American Whitetail called “Building a Deer Factory” - as near as I can recall.

I was all in! As I look through my cell pics this morning from nearly 100 Browning cell cams all of which synched and sent pictures at 6 AM this morning (just as they do at 11AM, 3PM and 8PM every day), I am almost all out.

High grading in its most basic sense means if we continue to let all the young bucks walk and only harvest the mature high scoring bucks (lets say 4.5 here, but 5.5 at my farm), then eventually we will have a lot of bucks that are inferior doing most of the breeding. Statistically the inferior bucks do most of the breeding due to there being far more of them, than those that top out in the B&C range.
Over time the quality is depleted. I am a firm believer in the dangers of high grading at this point. This point is after 20 years of active management following the “experts” and lots of data at this point.

I have more bucks this year than ever that will age out at 5 year old and older. I have a buck to doe ratio that is closer to 1:1 than ever. That comes from many years of shooting 7-12 does for every buck we shot. However, after 20 years of “management” I have a s_it ton of 130 inch 8 points running around and fewer bucks over 160 than ever. I believe (which means I may be wrong or right) we have built a deer factory and high graded our bucks along the way so that we crank out a lot of sedans, but very few sports cars these days.

The hunting industry and technology have caused problems as well. All but one of my farms are in states where it is legal to bait. That means bags of acorn rage, orange crush, corn, and whatever else can be bought to dump on the ground. When you combine that with crossbows (also legal in most of the states where I have farms) and cell cams that allow you to sit at the house and wait until “your target buck” is hitting the bait pile during daylight, you are going in the wrong direction my friends.

The youth think “hunting” means shopping at Wal-Mart for the best bait, and have no idea what “scouting” is or I should say was. The family, sense of community and togetherness that was once peaking during the week of gun season is dying. Yes, we use to bow hunt in the 80s, but we bow hunted with primitive bows for weeks and sometimes we got one, but most of the time we waited for that magical week where we could “even the odds” and get out the shotgun or rifle depending on where you hunted. Today, crossbows and blinds have brought down many, and I mean MANY, of the good bucks before gun season arrives. Therefore, a few folks hunt the first day or two of gun season, but it really is a boring week these days.

So, I ask you are we going in the right direction? Or, are we traveling down the wrong path.


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Mortenson

5 year old buck +
Interesting topic. My guess is you're light years ahead of most of us. You're ahead of the curve. Most of us will never see so many mature bucks that we need to worry about them getting too small. Many of us like to have an edge, someway somehow. We all draw lines that suit our preferences.

I know some guys won't hunt from a blind. Others choose to venture into public if they want a challenge. Or they try a traditional bow. Some might put in a killer food plot and then hunt over it with a traditional bow.

I'm still trying to shoot trophy bucks. I'd rather eat my buck tag consecutive years than shoot a buck I regret. Just my own stance and not a knock on anyone else. I can't manage for deer like you can. I just grind it out and hope my C+/B- hunting skills can get it done every so often. Love eating doe meat in the meantime.

We just fall in the area of IL they used to call the trophy buck triangle. Getting bucks to 5.5 yrs is a huge chore here. Neighbors just aren't on board, nor is my local DNR. I still think that a score in the 130 range stops most mature bucks. I agree with you there. In 50 years that number might be 110. Places like IA that have mineral sites scattered around are probably doing better.
 

yoderjac

5 year old buck +
MSU Deer Lab Podcast

The above link pretty much debunks the theory of culling to improve genetics. "High grading" is kind of the opposite but the same underlying facts apply. In both cases you are removing a specific class of bucks and trying to influence genetics. It just doesn't work on free ranging deer.

As for the influence of the hunting "industry" it has been significant. It has been both bad and good. TV shows and hype have changed the nature of hunting. On one hand hunting in general has been dying for years due to demographic shifts and the urbanization of our population. Few folks today grow up with a hunting heritage and in urban environments, hunting opportunity is limited. Through attrition, the number of hunters has been on the decline. The hunting "industry" has helped generate interest from the next generation. Things like the legalization of what used to be called the "Poachers tool" (crossbows) has lowered the bar and allowed us to introduce kids to a form of bowhunting before they are old enough to get wrapped up in other activities. I know as a Hunter Ed instructor that we often get middle aged folks in our classes that remember good times with Dad or Grandpa when they were little but got caught up in life and abandon hunting in their early teens. They are now interested in trying it again but have no real mentor anymore.

Of course, Hunter Education classes themselves are changing. Our state eliminated the "how to" portion of the class and reduced it from 2 days to 1 day of safety-only back in 2013. The class is still offered but kids in our state can get certified completely on-line these days. The good is lowering the bar to entry. The bad is that we may find out hunting accidents increase in future years. Our state lowered it even more with a "Novice License" that does not require the class at all. Novice hunters must hunt with a mentor. The idea is to let kids try hunting with a very low bar.

Things are changing as they always do. Many of us older folks think it is for the worse, but I remember my grandparents talking about how society was going to the dogs when I was a teenager... :emoji_smile:

Thanks,

Jack
 

jsasker007

5 year old buck +
I think we are in trouble when we think we have some control over what other people are doing. If it is legal it is fine with me.
 

Catscratch

5 year old buck +
WTNUT, I agree with much of what you are saying. I do feel that nature is incredibly self correcting regardless of what we do to her. This self healing is why regenerative farming and grazing can make such an impact so quickly. Granted we can deplete and run down nature in a constant struggle to change her but given half a chance she will rebound quickly. Any management you've done over the last 20yrs is only a couple years away from being completely washed anew. Just like our soils that "must" have inputs to grow a crop due to decades of depletion and tillage will heal in a couple of years so can a deer herd. With this said, even the most astute soil guys like Ray and Gabe stress that there is no magic formula but instead some guidelines to follow. Nature does the rest.

To answer your question; yes I think we are going the wrong direction, but maybe not for the same reasons you suggest.
 

Howboutthemdawgs

5 year old buck +
That’s an interesting post. I would argue that we are in the glory days of mature, high scoring bucks. Not sure where it goes from here but currently it’s pretty strong. I look at my home state (which I don’t hunt), Georgia, and the caliber of deer coming from here compared to 20 years ago is not even in the same stratosphere. Now if we want to argue the morality of bait and crossbows and modern muzzleloaders and cell cams, etc I’m all in. But I do think quality deer management combined with habitat management absolutely works.

As a side, I have strongly considered spending more time on public ground recently. I love the idea of most of that baiting bs being illegal. The newness of my farm is starting to wear so I can justify seeing new territory.
 

S.T.Fanatic

5 year old buck +
The arguement the OP is making only holds any weight whatsoever if all high scoring bucks are killed every year ALONG WITH all of the offspring they sired and all of the does that they bread with. Killing a couple of 5 year old bucks doesnt matter one bit because of the offspring they produced and the FACT that their big antlers may have nothing to do with the buck that bread its mother and everything to do with the doe. This also on top of bucks dispersing from off of neighboring properties. Like Jack mentioned, It is IMPOSSIBLE to change the genetic pool of a free ranging herd.
 

chickenlittle

5 year old buck +
I don’t think any of those concerns would fall in my top 10. Getting to hunt Sunday would be my top need. We do have one cam out but I’m not sure what dad’s seen on it this year. I can’t tell the difference between a 130 and 150, likely both bigger than I’ve ever seen in the field.

Few people hunting on rifle opener doesn’t bother me anymore. We used to benefit from neighbors pushing deer around until they disappeared into unhuntable sanctuaries. If you missed the opener, your chances went down dramatically. Now I look forward to deer acting natural the whole season.
 

SwampCat

5 year old buck +
Just because younger bucks are doing most of the breeding in no way means inferior bucks are doing the breeding. B&C bucks are young bucks at some point in their life - and the genetic material they pass at 1.5 yr old is the same genetic material they pass as a 5.5 yr old. Conversely, just because a buck is 5.5 yrs old does not mean he is carrying quality genetic material.
 

Mortenson

5 year old buck +
I read a story on the Nebraska General sheds from the 50's. Probably the largest known typical to ever live. Just for fun, here's how the article began (credit to author Bernie Barringer):

Hundreds of factors must come together in one shining moment for a buck to reach world record caliber. A long line of big antler genetics must funnel down through the generations into one female deer. This doe must have hit the genetic lottery with a series of big buck sires in the females of her family tree. Then she must breed with a gigantic buck and she must produce a buck fawn, otherwise, all this genetic information will have to be delayed one more year.

general.jpg

Then, of course, this buck fawn must escape the myriad pitfalls that lay out before him. He must escape coyotes, cars, farm equipment and of course hunters. He must live an idyllic lifestyle in comfort with excellent nutrition readily available, and he must do this for five or six years. If all these things come together, out walks a buck carrying a rack larger than the millions and millions of bucks who have come before him.
 

yoderjac

5 year old buck +
Bottom line is that you can really only impact the current cohort when culling free ranging bucks, and you have to have some significant scale to do that. By the way, MSU did a more recent pod cast on culling that addresses culling for herd management purposes which very few of us need to do: Episode 040 - When is it appropriate to cull? The purpose makes all the difference

It covers a lot of the same territory on the genetics as the previous one. Almost none of us need to cull to balance buck to do ratios as few places where doe harvest exceeds 50% and have population levels exceeding the BCC. I can only see this in severely over populated situations that have buck harvest restrictions.
 

WTNUT

5 year old buck +
Interesting topic. My guess is you're light years ahead of most of us. You're ahead of the curve. Most of us will never see so many mature bucks that we need to worry about them getting too small. Many of us like to have an edge, someway somehow. We all draw lines that suit our preferences.

I know some guys won't hunt from a blind. Others choose to venture into public if they want a challenge. Or they try a traditional bow. Some might put in a killer food plot and then hunt over it with a traditional bow.

I'm still trying to shoot trophy bucks. I'd rather eat my buck tag consecutive years than shoot a buck I regret. Just my own stance and not a knock on anyone else. I can't manage for deer like you can. I just grind it out and hope my C+/B- hunting skills can get it done every so often. Love eating doe meat in the meantime.

We just fall in the area of IL they used to call the trophy buck triangle. Getting bucks to 5.5 yrs is a huge chore here. Neighbors just aren't on board, nor is my local DNR. I still think that a score in the 130 range stops most mature bucks. I agree with you there. In 50 years that number might be 110. Places like IA that have mineral sites scattered around are probably doing better.

Very good post and you are right. I may be ahead of some, but if 10 adjoining landowners each having 150 acres fall into the traps I discussed the same will happen. I do agree 100 percent that I was way ahead of the curve. I remember waiting on Kroll’s Building a Deer Factory articles each month like a kid waiting for Santa! I was in my mid to early 20s and did’t own an acre, but I had caught the bug ha ha.


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WTNUT

5 year old buck +
WTNUT, I agree with much of what you are saying. I do feel that nature is incredibly self correcting regardless of what we do to her. This self healing is why regenerative farming and grazing can make such an impact so quickly. Granted we can deplete and run down nature in a constant struggle to change her but given half a chance she will rebound quickly. Any management you've done over the last 20yrs is only a couple years away from being completely washed anew. Just like our soils that "must" have inputs to grow a crop due to decades of depletion and tillage will heal in a couple of years so can a deer herd. With this said, even the most astute soil guys like Ray and Gabe stress that there is no magic formula but instead some guidelines to follow. Nature does the rest.

To answer your question; yes I think we are going the wrong direction, but maybe not for the same reasons you suggest.

Why do you think we are going in the wrong direction? Some of what I am concerned about can be corrected as you described, but I don’t think all of it can be.


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WTNUT

5 year old buck +
The arguement the OP is making only holds any weight whatsoever if all high scoring bucks are killed every year ALONG WITH all of the offspring they sired and all of the does that they bread with. Killing a couple of 5 year old bucks doesnt matter one bit because of the offspring they produced and the FACT that their big antlers may have nothing to do with the buck that bread its mother and everything to do with the doe. This also on top of bucks dispersing from off of neighboring properties. Like Jack mentioned, It is IMPOSSIBLE to change the genetic pool of a free ranging herd.

And, you received your degree in wildlife biology from where? With all due respect, it is not “impossible” to change the genetic makeup of a free ranging group of whitetails. I don’t believe in “culling”, but high grading is not culling. I do agree that 50 percent of the genes come from the doe, and there is no way to know what she is carrying genetically. However, very few and I mean very few bucks within a three mile radius (an area that will hold most bucks 85% of the time) are ever going to reach 170 inches. In my case, we have harvested far too few bucks over the years. Most years we only harvest 2-3 bucks on 2500 acres. They have always been some of our best bucks. On that 2500 acres we generally never had more than 1-2 bucks that were at or above 170. I am just throwing out numbers, but if there are 30 deer per square mile on my farm which is probably close to right, then 85 % of the bucks that are breeding are throwing genes that did not produce a 170. Again, the doe is a wildcard, but you can rest assured the average score of the bucks on my farm has declined in 20 years.


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WTNUT

5 year old buck +
Just because younger bucks are doing most of the breeding in no way means inferior bucks are doing the breeding. B&C bucks are young bucks at some point in their life - and the genetic material they pass at 1.5 yr old is the same genetic material they pass as a 5.5 yr old. Conversely, just because a buck is 5.5 yrs old does not mean he is carrying quality genetic material.

I agree with you entirely. They were all young at one time, but if you are never harvesting the 4 year old 125 inch bucks, they are doing a lot more breeding and in 20 years how many generations are we talking about - a lot.


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Bill

Administrator
WT, I think you should consider what we do. A real nice 8, 9 sometimes 10 that’s mature is on the hit list. Never going “booner” and you have to have something to hunt. We tend to leave bucks that show early potential go longer.

sometimes never to be seen again...but sometimes we get lucky and they stick around.
 

Bill

Administrator
I’ve got a Y buck I’d love to put on the ground.

0320A8D9-351C-4FA7-8BB5-A63D2F0D1EEC.jpeg
 

Catscratch

5 year old buck +
Why do you think we are going in the wrong direction? Some of what I am concerned about can be corrected as you described, but I don’t think all of it can be.


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I think your question is rather complex and two fold.

First, I think you have done everything humanly possible to produce big bucks on a consistent basis and have not gotten the results you wish.
Second, I think you miss the days gone by of family get together's for rifle season.

The first factor I do not have a "real" answer for you. I suspect that (as I earlier alluded to) that deer management is similar to ground management. Conventional wisdom is till, plant, spray, fertilize, insecticide, harvest, then till again. In reality the practices results in land that is laid open to exposure through tillage, harsh for microbiology, not interactive through monocrops, and poisoned to kill anything that could take advantage of filling in the voids left through this process . Soil is left without armor and living components for much of the year to erode and not process minerals. To grow anything in this system inputs MUST be applied and specialized genetic manipulation is needed. It is a rather bland approach and produces a lot of the same. Humans are great at producing homogeneous products; fields of plants that are exactly the same, herds of angus cattle that are exactly the same, additions of duplexes that are exactly the same, etc. Nothing extraordinary comes from this except for the knowledge that your lab might get hip dysplasia or your visla might be hyperactive. Deer management is currently similar. The selling point from all the experts is not to trust nature and natural selection, but to manipulate everything you can; reduce predation, grow non-native plants and trees to attract and supplement, and to select who survives through human parameters. When you watch a football or basketball game with the strongest and fittest of the planet how many of those guys became what they are due to genetics only? How many of them got there through hard work and competition... lots of hard work combined with the genetics for it to pay off and the fear of someone else taking their spot? How old was Jordan before his genius was realized? Would he have ever been "him" if his test had been at maturity (16ish)? I sometimes wonder if it isn't best to let the yotes pick off a few of the weakest every year. Wonder if huge competition for breeding rights is beneficial. Wonder if natural selection and genetic drift doesn't do wonders for producing the occasional 1%'r on the bell curve?

Second - Horn porn! Nobody wants people (which honestly equates to family and friends) out there shooting with the "it's brown it's down" mentality after all that habitat and nutritional work we've done. They might just shoot the genetic anomaly that we've all been waiting our whole lives for before his true antlers are expressed. We justify not having all the cousins and uncles over to hunt because of the investment we've made and the idea that they may screw it up. I understand this! I do it myself to some extent. With that said I think random harvest and survival of the fittest (natures standards not ours) may be the best way to get a 1 percent'r.

Take everything I've said with a grain of salt. I'm kind of rambling and have had more than 1 barely pop tonight.
 

S.T.Fanatic

5 year old buck +
And, you received your degree in wildlife biology from where? With all due respect, it is not “impossible” to change the genetic makeup of a free ranging group of whitetails. I don’t believe in “culling”, but high grading is not culling. I do agree that 50 percent of the genes come from the doe, and there is no way to know what she is carrying genetically. However, very few and I mean very few bucks within a three mile radius (an area that will hold most bucks 85% of the time) are ever going to reach 170 inches. In my case, we have harvested far too few bucks over the years. Most years we only harvest 2-3 bucks on 2500 acres. They have always been some of our best bucks. On that 2500 acres we generally never had more than 1-2 bucks that were at or above 170. I am just throwing out numbers, but if there are 30 deer per square mile on my farm which is probably close to right, then 85 % of the bucks that are breeding are throwing genes that did not produce a 170. Again, the doe is a wildcard, but you can rest assured the average score of the bucks on my farm has declined in 20 years.


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Same place Dr. Fauci got his from.

Kidding aside, are only the college educated types with their degree hanging on their office wall from so and so university capable of thinking, experimenting, studying, and whatnot all?

They might be onto something but in a free range environment it just isn’t realistic to harvest enough of the genetically superior deer to make a difference. I did not say impossible I said un realistic.

Farmers have been doing deep tillage in my area for two hundred years and the bushel/acre keeps increasing. Will it collapse at some point? Perhaps. The world was supposed to be over by 2012 or some shit from man made global warming according to highly educated types but here we are.

I don’t claim to know everything but I can say with absolute certainty that we have never had as many big bucks as we do now and it is because of mandatory APR’s which allowed bucks to age long enough to express their genetic potential. There are still plenty of young bucks being harvested but there are by far and away more bigger bucks being shot every year.

Not saying you are wrong or it isn’t happening in your general area. There just can’t be a one size fits all scenario for every area.


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