By Bill Howard
Several years ago, I was bowhunting for deer with a hunt I had won at the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh. It was what you would call semi-guided, meaning you were shown the boundaries of the land, the stand locations, and were given room and board for a few nights. If you were fortunate enough to take a deer, they would help retrieve the downed animal and quarter and store it in a freezer for you throughout the duration of the hunt.
There were rules, however. You could take as many doe as you wanted. You could only take a buck if it had either eight points, the rack was wider than the ears, or the animal was injured severely.
The buck rule was to help in harvesting larger, more mature, bucks on the hunt.
This is similar to what many states, hunt clubs and other guide services do to encourage the growth of larger, more mature, bucks.
Now to go in depth a little more — trophy hunters, especially those who spend big money on hunts, will scour data to find the places that offer the best odds of taking a large deer, even a record-book-size deer. This also goes for people looking to find land to set up a guide service, as they want those hunters with the big bucks to spend money with them for, well, big bucks.
If you are looking for a record-book deer, such as a Boone and Crockett or Pope and Young, the place to go is those record books. They will list not only the states, but the counties where the deer are taken and, from there, you can data mine how many record-book deer were taken in certain counties.
Whether a guide service touts record-book deer on its land or not, if there has never been a deer recorded in the record books from that county, the odds of taking a record-book deer there is very slim. However, if you have a county that has hundreds of record-book-sized deer, then the odds have increased greatly for taking your own.
This is why you will see many hunters set aside a week each year to hunt places in Ohio, Iowa or Kentucky, and usually in just a handful of counties in those states. That is because the big deer are not only taken there, but there is a robust bloodline, proper food and mineral growth, and proper deer-management practices in place that are conducive of large, mature bucks.
North Carolina isn’t known for large deer. We have an overabundance of deer and very liberal hunting practices to try and keep the state’s herd at a manageable number. It used to be where if you were hunting in North Carolina, you looked for counties that had deer. The population was very low, and just taking a deer was considered an accomplishment.
Of course, that has changed now. The state is overrun with deer. Take a drive around midnight, even in the city limits of whatever city you want to pick, and if you look hard enough, you can find a deer.
There is no longer a worry about where you can take a deer. The question how is how big of a deer will you be able to take. While the state does produce a few large deer that can make record books each year, it still pales in comparison to other states, and even some counties in other states.
So, in this whole research and date mining thing that has become the way of any and all things, perhaps it would be worthwhile for North Carolina to implement a different strategy when reporting a deer harvest. Instead of reporting the county and whether the deer was antlered or not, maybe we should have to report how many points the deer has. It is an easy thing to count, even if you were fortunate enough to take a non-typical 33-point deer with drop tines and three branches.
Sure, you may have hunters that then target the counties harder that report the largest deer, but it should also lessen the pressure on the counties that historically produce an average of six points and allow them to grow past 2½ years old.
Maybe then, as things balance out, North Carolina can become a destination for whitetail deer just as it is with black bear.