Big whitetail bucks are a lot like big bass. There are hunters who claim they don’t care about the big ones, but none of those people seems disappointed when Lady Luck taps them on the shoulder.
You can talk about the good ol’ days of hunting all you want. Where white-tailed deer are concerned, these are the good ol’ days.
In Washington State, the past 20 years also have seen major increases in the number of black bear and moose trophies entered.
The growth of trophy quality hunting experiences is obvious by the heft of the Boone and Crockett Club’s latest Records of North American Big Game. It tips the scales at 6.6 pounds.
“The Book,” as it’s called, includes nearly 28,000 trophies in 38 different categories ranked according to their all-time scores. It makes a good research guide for anyone interested in trophy hunting, whether it’s whitetails or walrus.
The oft-debated and sometimes scorned B&C scoring system was devised as a means of documenting North American big game and ultimately stressing the need for conservation.
Teddy Roosevelt and other B&C founders were convinced the continent’s magnificent animals, which were being killed by market hunters much as the buffalo were slaughtered, would soon become extinct.
More than a century later, wouldn’t the founders be pleasantly surprised?
Of the 28 North American species recognized by B&C, only the jaguar is no longer hunted. In Mexico and South America, a dwindling jaguar population is still hunted by cattlemen protecting livestock. Because of habitat issues, the polar bear will probably be the next species taken off the sport hunting table.
More than 25 percent of the listings in The Book’s 13th edition, which covers 2004-2009, are for white-tailed deer.
In general, B&C “typical” whitetail entries are more common than “non-typicals.” A typical usually has 10 points or less growing upright from the beams. A non-typical buck is normally a big typical with extra points, but it could also be a true oddity that’s difficult for anyone but an expert to score.
For the decade of the 1970s, there were 386 total typical whitetail bucks entered in B&C. Entries in the 1980s jumped to 655 and almost doubled in the 90s to 1,144. From 2000 through 2009, typical B&C entries more than doubled to 2,495.
What happened? Deer hunters stopped shooting the first legal buck they saw and began shopping around. In 1973, Texas deer biologists Al Brothers and Murphy Ray wrote a book called “Producing Quality Whitetails” that started a management revolution on private lands where deer could virtually be “ranched.”
Instead of judging a buck’s antler size to determine if it was trophy-quality, hunters learned to judge the deer’s body and facial characteristics to determine if the deer was old enough to kill.
Hobby ranchers, especially in the South, bought land for hunting rather than livestock. They learned to beat cyclical droughts by feeding deer so the animals were never stressed. They allowed bucks to live until they were fully grown, about six or seven years.
Ranch owners who scratched out a living raising livestock found a big market for big bucks. When Brothers and Ray wrote the book, Texas hunters were entering about three to seven B&C bucks each season. Thirty years ago, hunters used to say that B&C bucks were one in a million, but they weren’t that rare, even then. These days, the odds are better. About 400,000 bucks are shot annually by Texas hunters and 10 or more qualify for B&C.
Also about 30 years ago, B&C whitetails were so scarce and so elusive that hunters of the day had a saying: “I don’t care how much money you’ve got, you can’t buy a B&C buck.”
That’s before people with real money got interested.
Since 2004, the Friedkin family of Houston has entered 25 animals in B&C records, 17 of them whitetails. T. Dan Friedkin, chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, has accounted for seven record-book Texas deer in the last seven years. That’s not the most. Rene Barrientos, an attorney with offices in San Antonio and Laredo, has eight B&C whitetails since 2005.
In deer hunting B.C. (before corn), big bucks existed and were seldom glimpsed. Baited with corn, which is legal in Texas and accepted by B&C, big bucks are still more elusive than younger deer, but few really big ones die of old age.
For every Texas buck that B&C will accept, there may be 10 (possibly more) that don’t count because they’re confined behind a high fence and raised like livestock to grow big horns.
Nevertheless, the biggest whitetail bucks tend to come from the Midwest, where deer grow huge bodies and antlers to match.
The Texas record typical, shot in 1963, ranks 38th in B&C records. Seven bucks with higher scores have been entered since 2000, five from the Midwest and two from Saskatchewan.
Since 2000, 16 non-typicals ranking in the top 100 were entered from the Midwest.
S-R Outdoors editor Rich Landers contributed to this story.