Growing up in the Northeast, the term “cull” or “management” buck was not in my vocabulary, nor did I ever hear it mentioned. If you harvested a buck; it didn’t matter whether it was a 3-inch spike or solid 8-point. It wasn’t until my first year of graduate school, at Mississippi State University, that I heard term used commonly.
A “cull” or “management” buck is one that is of inferior genetics or does not meet the standards of what an average deer should be in that herd, at a certain age. For some hunters it is a daily term, but for others they will never use it. Many indicate that it’s common when managing for better quality deer. But recently, it has been a topic of discussion if a “cull/management” buck really exists or if it is simply an excuse to avoid peer criticism.
Why It’s Such a Hot Topic
Although there are some hunters that communicate and educate effectively, there are just as many putting out bad information to the general deer hunting community. In the last few years, it’s startling the number of people that show me their cull-buck photographs.
To kick this off, we need to lay the foundation for culling a buck out of the herd. It’s hard to put your finger on the exact time frame or location in which it started, and really this isn’t laying blame, but culling of bucks was likely initiated in Texas. Now before you start the high-fence rant, Texas has done a lot of great things over the last few decades to progress deer management. In fact, many of the practices serious deer managers perform on their property today – in terms of herd management – probably originated in Texas.
But the history is not really what we need to harp on; it’s what is happening today.
I’m going to start the debate by saying that I believe – 100 percent – that cull or management bucks exist. I’ll even take it one step further and say that they even exists in high-pressured, deer hunting states like Pennsylvania.
Can I get anymore bold? Sure; I think they even exist on public lands in these areas.
Now before you start saying that I’m full of it, hear me out. Most of the cull or management bucks labeled are subjective, meaning it’s not a true black-or-white decision. That’s not what bothers me. What gets my blood on fire is the simple labeling of a buck as a cull or management because of the fear of peer criticism that the hunter expects to follow if they do not “cover their (you know what).” Blame it on anything you want, but the bottom line is we need to stop making excuses for harvesting an animal that many would have be thrilled to harvest.
Why They DO Exist in Deer Herds
Yes, I said it. Cull or management bucks exist in almost every deer herd out there today. However, far too often the term is used when it is nowhere close to being accurate, in my opinion. The context, in which I believe it does exist, is when a deer truly is derived from inferior genetics. We will never alter the herd genetics through culling, contrary to what most believe. However, through years of target specific pressure, we can make certain lines/traits more prominent.
A perfect example is antler-point restrictions (APRs). Though APRs have done wonders for many states in helping to recruit bucks into older age classes, it also has protected what may be the lower quality bucks and subjected higher quality bucks to harvest within the same age class. Let’s take the 4-point to a side APR that many states use as an example.
This is a great way to get a large percentage of the 1 ½-year-old bucks to 2 ½. However, the bucks that are vulnerable to harvest include the potentially better quality 1 ½-year-old, 7-plus-point bucks, leaving the 1 ½-year-olds with 6 or less points to move into the next classes. Though there has not been a whole lot of definitive research, some studies suggest the overall antler size of older-aged bucks harvested in post-APRs, is smaller than bucks harvested during pre-APRs. Many hunters in states with APRs are seeing some very large 4- to 6-pointers, where historically they have not.
That’s a little biased though, since most deer failed to live past 1 ½ years old, so there were fewer older bucks to reach those bigger antler sizes. So take that with a grain of salt.
I also believe that for some privately-owned, intense, free-range properties there are deer that would be accurately labeled a cull or management buck. This isn’t because they are labeling a buck as being genetically inferior; it may be a mature 8-point. However, it is labeled a management buck because there are deer with better potential competing for resources with that buck. By removing him from the herd, bucks with greater potential are allowed to have access to more resources, such as food, space, does, etc.
with that being said, one of these two is more factual-based than the other.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And for many, there is nothing better than a big, mature 8-point. Where things can get out of line is the irresponsible, tossing around of the terms, mainly as an excuse, rather than a fact.
Nothing More Than an Excuse
Not a day goes by on social media during deer season that I don’t see a post about someone shooting a cull or management buck, when in fact they have killed a great deer. As I said before, growing up in Pennsylvania, the terms were never mentioned. Even today, there aren’t many hunters that use those terms, it’s just not in the culture.
In my career, I have labeled a lot of deer as management bucks. I don’t use the term “cull” all that often as it sounds too degrading. Most management bucks have been labeled such because they don’t meet the landowner’s expectations and/or there are deer with more potential that would benefit from the extra resources. Once a deer reaches maturity – usually 4 ½ or 5 ½ depending on the property and area – I label it a “trophy.” It can’t be a management deer once it’s reached that age class, in my opinion. It’s more than the antlers at that point. You now have to outsmart a deer that has ducked arrows and outrun predators for many years.
So when I see great, mature bucks being harvested and labeled as culls or management deer, I sometimes get worked up. Just because a buck isn’t a monster doesn’t mean we have to hide behind calling him a cull. If that’s the case, don’t shoot him. Let someone who would truly appreciate a deer like that harvest him, like a kid.
This type of labeling and masking contributes to giving hunting a bad name to the non-hunting public. I remember the days of shooting any buck and you were praised. Now, we live in a community of critics and experts who always have to add their “two cents” about your harvest.
I praise all of you who give congratulations to those successful hunters whether it’s a doe, spike or Booner. To me they are all trophies, and I am grateful to be able to harvest any deer. I just might not choose to harvest every deer I have an opportunity at. Call me picky and I can live with that.
I want to shoot a stud of a buck just as much as the next hunter, but when I shoot one, it’s a trophy regardless of what is on its head, end of story. I am blessed to have the opportunity to harvest an animal I wrap so much of my life around. And to be honest, a freezer full of venison is better than a taxidermy bill any day of the week.
The tradition of deer hunting in many areas lives on, but it has definitely taken some blows. In the end, the only person whose opinion of your harvest that matters is YOU!