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Serving: Central

Deer programs paying huge dividends

In spite of unseasonably cold weather, it appears that the traditional Mid-South Christmas deer hunts were hugely successful for almost everyone.

My family's hunt took place without me, but in spite of that tremendous disadvantage, they had a very fine hunt. Fourteen-year-old grandson Andy bagged his second buck of the year, a nine-pointer that was good enough to be taken to a taxidermist. Grandson Kenneth took his second buck of the year, another eight-pointer. And, for the most part, our guests bagged does that we are anxious to keep in balance. Son Mabry has not yet seen a buck that he cares to shoot, but according to all of them, the bucks are so plentiful that almost any reasonably good hunter can bring one down.

I am still amazed at the transformation that has taken place in deer hunting these past 40 or more years. Back in the "bad old days" that we thought were so wonderful, we just about ruined deer hunting over most of the habitat - especially in the Delta.

When I seriously began hunting deer right after World War II, goods bucks still were available because there had been little pressure on them. For a few years we brought in decent bucks without much trouble.

Along in the 1960s and after, buck kills began to greatly outnumber doe kills. Herds on the lands I hunted became so out of balance that it was virtually impossible to kill a decent deer. At the time, I was hunting regularly on Beulah Island (Arkansas) and the Burke Club (Mississippi). All of the land was behind the main levee of the Mississippi River.

Back then we were chasing deer with hounds, and for most of the early years, the doe was sacred. Buck kills were very high. In some years we took as many as 120 bucks from the Burke/Rescue lands that had less than 7,000 acres. Hunting with dogs made it possible - sooner or later - to jump and run almost every male deer on the property.

After a while, all we had were does and one-and-a-half-year-old bucks that were running out of room to live. I recall one morning when I sat on a stand on Beulah Island and counted almost 100 deer pass by and not one antler in the lot. Once that morning a drove of 36 does and fawns walked by almost in single file. Lots of hunters still worshipped the doe. It took quite a few years for them to change.

Then a few thoughtful hunters and biologists got up enough nerve to propose what is generally known as a quality buck program. It was relatively simple: drastically limit the buck kill and kill at least as many does as bucks (often twice as many does were killed). The goal was to bring the buck/doe ratio into some semblance of balance.

Even when the program began to work, many hunters still could not bring themselves to kill a doe. It had been ingrained into their consciences that killing a doe was a sin. We had to bring up a generation of hunters who were not limited by such thinking.

Something else that has happened on many clubs is the value of careful food plotting, giving herds the best food supply they have ever had. On the Burke property, caretaker Leon Kennedy has provided an abundance and variety of foodstuff, including milo, wheat, soybeans and a couple of clover varieties that deer absolutely love. The result is a high-quality deer. Everything we kill is very fat and in top condition. There apparently has been a good effect on antler growth, too. We are seeing the finest racks that we have seen in many years.

I hope these fine conditions continue. It is a real treat to drive down our woods roads and see four or five really nice bucks, the likes of which we have not seen in years.

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