BuckTracker: Learning From Old Bucks

Last week in Field Notes, Dave Hurteau linked a story about the discovery of "TD" a triple-drop tine whitetail buck found dead about 30 miles from my home. The buck, which was scored at 181", was 8-1/2 years old.

TD was something of a local legend. Naturally, part of that fame was due to the buck's large, non-typical antlers. But then there is this; old bucks not only pour on antler growth, but mystique. Especially in areas where they are hunted hard, which would certainly describe Houston County, Minnesota. TD didn't live in a sanctuary; he was a "target deer" for plenty of folks…all of which he beat handily.

Truly old bucks are exceedingly rare. When we find one, we should learn from them. Here are some facts TD proved about old bucks:

* Their antlers tend to get funkier with age: TD had a single drop tine as a 3-1/2 year old. He grew another two years later. Later he threw in a third, just for good measure. This older-equals-funkier phenomenon is well-known and explains why killing a huge typical buck is one of the toughest deals going.

* They can have split personalities: During summer, TD was as visible as a dairy cow. He fed in food plots and farm fields, often allowing people to photograph him from the comfort of their vehicles. Such a deer should be a patsy, especially when MN has an early archery opener when many bucks are still in their summer patterns. However…

* They know the drill: Matt Semling (who owned the farm where TD was found dead) felt he had TD pegged last September. Then he went out to pull his trail cameras a week before the archery season. Semling credits that step in reminding TD that hunting season was near. No less than 20 hunters pursued TD over the course of the fall. None even came close.

* They lead tough lives: As TD proved, hunters are not the only cause of death for deer. Predators, vehicles, long (cold) winters, poachers, accidents…all are lined up, ready to take a shot at whitetails. Deer run a gauntlet from fawn drop through fatality…which makes stories like TD's so compelling.

So how bout you? Any stories of old, wise deer you'd care to share?