What constitutes a 'trophy buck'

Brownwood Bulletin
Although only a six point, Luke was very happy to harvest this mature mule deer buck a couple years ago. It supplied some excellent meat, had reached its full potential in antler development and will forever be remembered as the highlight of a great hunt in beautiful mountain country.
Luke Clayton

After almost 60 years of ‘taking to the whitetail woods’, I think I am qualified to at least take a stab at answering the question, ‘what is a trophy buck?’ This question might sound simple, especially to those of you that have just begun your whitetail hunting career but take if from me, it’s a question that has kept deer hunters awake at night.

To possibly help answer this complex question, I will give an account of my deer hunting career which has when the full circle through the years.

I began hunting deer at the age of 11 in the northern part of Red River county, where I was raised. That was back well before the deer ‘boon years’, in the early sixties and seventies. Back then for most deer hunters of the region, any legal buck was considered a trophy. That is way before the punch line of age, genetics and diet became the mantra of deer hunters from Canada to south Texas. These are the three ‘musts’ used to described what it takes for a male whitetail deer to attain ‘trophy’ status.

I can remember back in those days, points were used to describe a trophy buck, ie. an eight pointer was bigger and better than a six pointer, disregarding factors such as mass, antler bean length or tine length. If you killed a 10 pointer back in those days, you had taken a mighty big buck, even if it’s Boone and Crockett score might have added up to a whopping 100 inches!  In those days, only a handful of ‘book’ whitetails scoring 172 BC points were taken in Texas each year and most of those from sprawling south Texas ranches where native vegetation supplied the minerals necessary for producing heavy antlers and genetics were the best in the state.

I went through a period when I was caught up in numbers. If I had a 140 BC  buck mounted, I wanted a 150 and I devoted the time to try to harvest him. In the early eighties, high fenced ranches became common and heavy antlered bucks became the norm. No longer did a 150 BC buck create the excitement of a decade or so before. Through genetics, high protein feed and allowing deer to achieve their potential, high scoring whitetails became more common. Nowadays  on managed whitetail property, a 130 inch buck is often considered a ‘management’ deer. Many 1.5 year old bucks today on managed ranches have racks of this size, and bigger.  Back when I first began hunting, I would venture to guess in Red River county and across much of the state, only a very few such animals were taken each season.

It’s important to keep in mind that even today, where 150 inch bucks are widely available on ranches all across the state, not all deer hunters have the same goal when releasing an arrow or squeezing the trigger nor do they have the same opportunities, depending upon where they hunt.  A hunt on a big low fenced ranch a few years ago is a good case in point. I was guiding a veteran hunter that was vice president of a large gun manufacturing company. Several writers were present as well as one of the top wildlife biologists in the country. My newfound friend and I were told of an area of the ranch that a ‘pretty’ ten point buck was frequenting. He had been seen by a young man that was also serving as a guide who was making comments such as ‘he needs another year to grow’ spread around camp.  I spoke with the ranch owner and even consulted my biologist buddy about possibly hunting that area with my new friend and hopefully trying to harvest the buck. With the ‘go ahead’ from the owner we spent a couple days in pursuit of this buck and on the last day of the hunt, my client made a good shot and took the buck. He was heavy or antler, and scored in the mid 130’s. My friend from back east was thrilled with his buck, the largest he had taken in his lengthy career. He had hunted the world for all sorts of big game but did most of his whitetail hunting around him home on the east coast. 

Back at camp, the young guide made the mistake of, in front of the entire camp, saying something like, “Yeah, we passed that young buck up several times, he is probably only 3.5 years old, needed a couple more years.” He later received a good education on guide etiquette and manners. My point is, this buck was most definitely a trophy for my client and I’m sure the mount still is a highlight to his den wall. When it comes to hunting bucks, it’s all about personal choice.

These days, I am often invited to hunt well managed ranches where the opportunity of taking a buck of a lifetime exists. Before the hunt, I tell the owner/manager that if I had my choice, I would shoot an 8 years old fork horn buck with 24 inch main means, on his way down. A mature old buck such as this will suffice for the article I will write and I will consider it a trophy, especially when taken with one of my big bore air rifles or bow. Sometimes,  I am instructed to shoot ‘the biggest  buck that comes by’ and I will gladly do so but it doesn’t take a high scoring buck any longer to fill the bill for me.

If you are a veteran deer hunter, you already know what constitutes a trophy in your eyes. But if you are just getting started, don’t get caught up in the ‘numbers’ game.  Learning to enjoy your time around camp with the hopes of filling your buck tag is what deer hunting is all about. It takes some of us longer than others to figure this out.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org