Every hunting season, many land managers, owners and hunters debate whether or not they should harvest yearling spike bucks. It is an age old debate in deer camps across the country.
To Shoot Or Not To Shoot A Spike
So what is the answer? The answer is yes, and no. The truth of the matter is that there are times when the harvest of spikes is beneficial to a deer herd, and times when it is damaging. Each tract of land has its own management needs and determining factors of when and why to harvest spike bucks.
I may be speaking for myself here, but when many hunters go to the stand, they are looking for a “wall hanger” type of buck, not a spike. However, more times than not, it’s a spike that shows itself first and the hunter gets disappointed. Then comes the internal debate: “should I shoot the spike and take his genetics out of the herd?”
Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. A bounty of spikes is considered to be a problem, but that isn’t always the case.
I will venture to say that most hunters practice “see spike, shoot spike,” as they believe they are genetically inferior animals. That is invalid.
See Spike, Shoot Spike?
Steve Nelle, a Natural Resource Specialist and Wildlife Biologist, once analyzed 15 years of records from a central Texas ranch that was practicing “see spike, shoot spike.” They were harvesting every spike they saw. After analyzing these records, he determined that the buck size was not increasing because they were reducing the number of bucks moving into older age classes.
There are a lot of factors that determine whether a buck will be a spike, 4, 6 or 8 pointer as a yearling, and older in life. These factors include rainfall, habitat, nutrition, carrying capacity, and competition. Let’s dive into these factors to determine whether or not you should shoot the next spike you see next deer season.
Rain Is A Good Thing
To me, the most influential ingredient in spike development (or lack thereof) is rainfall. Rainfall ties every other factor together. If your land is experiencing a drought, it would be a poor decision to take a spike.
Depending on the severity of the drought, the deer herd population could decrease naturally and throw your age structure and sex ratio into shambles. You’re going to want the spikes to mature into older age classes to see what they become.
If you have an encouraging amount of rainfall, shooting spikes could be beneficial. The high rainfall creates a domino effect of good habitat and nutrition, which will lead to buck growth and less population attrition.
Habitat And Nutrition Are Key
Habitat and nutrition fall into the same category for me. If your deer herd doesn’t have good habitat and nutrition, survival is going to be difficult, as will antler growth. Poor habitat and/or nutrition is going to lead to poor antler growth and more spikes. Again, it would be a poor decision to harvest a spike during this time.
There is no way to tell what the potential of a spike is when the property he is living on will not let him get to his full size each year. When your property does have good habitat and nutrition, there is going to be less die off, and bucks are going to be able to reach their potential for that year. You will then be able to determine if you should take spikes or not. Improving the habitat and nutrition on the land is critical.
Carrying Capacity: Herd Numbers And Ratios
Carrying capacity is the next important factor in determining whether or not to shoot a yearling spike. Here are some questions for you to answer.
Do you have too many young bucks in your herd or do you have a shortage?
Can your property handle the amount of deer you have?
Do you have a poor sex ratio?
If you have a surplus of young bucks, I encourage the harvest of spikes. The spikes will take up essential food for the other young bucks. Let the young bucks have that food; they may have a greater potential of becoming your dream buck.
FYI, a deer eats around 2 tons of food per year. If you have a shortage of bucks, do not shoot spikes — or at least not every spike! Again, it is crucial for these bucks to graduate into older age classes to see what they will become.
Competition: A Buck’s Fight To Survive
The last factor to cover is competition. When I say competition, I mean the deer having to compete with livestock and other wild game for food– not to mention just finding a way to stay alive! In the end, the goal of all wild animals is to reproduce and live to see tomorrow.
Most ranches in Texas have cattle that will compete with whitetail for food. Some even have sheep, goats or exotic animals. All of those other animals take away important food and nutrients from deer. The less nutrients a yearling buck is getting, the greater chance he has to be a spike.
Predation is a factor as well. The more predators on the property – such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions – the higher the predation rate on fawns will be. With a higher predation rate, there is a greater need for each spike buck to mature into the next age class.
Did I Mention Rain?
Do you see how rainfall is the catalyst to it all? Once again, I believe rain is the most important factor when it comes to spike management and deer management as a whole. Unfortunately, we cannot control mother nature but the more rain a property gets, the better.
Higher rainfall totals throughout the year provide growth of vegetation, which equates to thicker habitat for living, survival and higher nutritional values. Nutrition is a yearlong need for a whitetail deer, but the more nutritional value a yearling receives from February to September, the better.
With that said, what is almost always overlooked by hunters is the fact that a buck’s antler potential also comes from the mother’s gene pool. If the mother doe is stressed and has poor nutrition throughout her pregnancy, the buck offspring she produces will have smaller antlers than if she had great nutrition throughout the pregnancy.
Maybe you don’t have time to manage your hunting property. Maybe you’re just hunting for meat and antler size doesn’t matter to you. That’s great! That’s the beauty of hunting.
You can manage how you want to manage, and hunt how you want to hunt (as long as you follow laws). However, if you do manage your herd, the next time you see a spike and have the mental debate on whether to shoot it or not, think about the the variety of factors that effect that deer and your herd.
At the time of writing this article, I have been shooting bows for about 14 years. I remember the first time I heard someone mention aiming drills because they were “panicking” when they would shoot their bow. I thought they were crazy. Boy, did I ever find out that my time with target panic was coming.
So, What Is Target Panic?
Target panic is basically being afraid of missing the target, thus causing an anxiety of sorts.
It wasn’t until the Summer of 2018 that I found myself having a problem with target panic. I first noticed it at one of the Total Archery Challenges. My shot process would fall apart every time that I would draw and try to take aim at one of the 3-D targets.
As I fought through the rest of the summer, I forced myself into thinking I could just ignore it, shoot more, and it would get better. I did this nonsense all the way through late fall.
I somehow managed to harvest an elk in early September, with one of the best shots I’ve ever made. Looking back it was a miracle or just luck. That’s the only way to explain it with all the struggles I was having. After elk season, I didn’t shoot much for a few weeks until I was getting ready for archery whitetail season.
This is when things got worse.
From Bad To Worse… To Missing Completely
While shooting one day at a 3D deer target, I started missing completely at 40 yards. I was only hitting the deer every two or three shots! Needless to say, my issue was getting expensive very quickly, at the loss of several Easton Full Metal Jackets. From an archery standpoint, I was pretty much falling apart. I knew then that I had a big problem.
Obviously, everyone reacts differently, but the following is the detail on what happened to me.
Itchy Index Finger…
As I was going through my shot process, I would knock an arrow, attach my release to the D-loop, draw the bow and find my anchor.
After this is where I was a complete mess.
When I would go to acquire the target in my peep, my heart would begin to race, my mind would scramble, and the second that my pin would reach the desired spot on the target, my index finger would have a mind of its own and just yank the trigger.
Basically, I was shooting my bow the same way you would shoot at clay pigeons with a shotgun.
Those who have been in archery for any length of time know that, with all that movement, it was impossible for me to have any type of grouping. I was anticipating the shot so badly, that I simply could not be accurate.
So, If you cannot simply draw your bow, acquire and hold on your target, then squeeze your trigger without anticipating the shot, I am willing to say that you have some sort of target panic.
How I Cured It
First things first… you have to ADMIT you have a problem. When I finally came to terms with the fact that I was experiencing target panic, I began calling around to a few of my friends that have been shooting for years. I got several different answers. I also watched YouTube, read articles, Googled information, and tried a pile of other things.
Now, I’m not saying everything that I tried and learned didn’t work. For the most part, it was all great info. But, I wasn’t getting any better. Finally, once I got sick enough of not being able to hit the broad side of a barn, I got in touch with a local pro named Gregg Copeland.
Gregg is a phenomenal coach, who I had met at a few indoor, Vegas-style shoots. He had me to meet him at the local bow shop that had an indoor range, so he could see how bad things really were.
Thankfully, I don’t get my feelings hurt very easily, because my shooting was downright laughable. I also enjoy joking around and Gregg knew that.
After my first 3 shots he told me that he would let me shoot at him at 40 yards and not worry a bit. This is all the more funny if you’ve ever seen Gregg… he’s 6’3”, 350lbs!
“First things first,” Gregg said. “We start with aiming drills.”
Target Acquisition Drill
He placed me 10 feet from the target. He then had me knock an arrow, draw the bow, and hold the pin on the target until I started wavering. I would then let down, rest for a minute, and repeat. I would say that we did this 20 to 30 times. By the end of the aiming drills, I was able to at least aim without completely losing my cool. A huge sign of progress already! Aiming was something I hadn’t been able to do in months!
Tension Release Drills
Next, Greeg had me tighten the tension on my bow release to as stiff as it would go. This forced me to squeeze the trigger until the shot went off, so I that I could no longer “punch” the trigger, as I had been doing.
Now, keep in mind, we never moved back any from the aiming drills. We were still only 10 feet away from the target.
We went through the release drills a good 20 to 30 times. By the end of those, I was able to make decent shots at 10 feet. At that point, Gregg could have told me to stand on my head and I would have done it, because the sequence he had me doing was working!
I was taking each piece of advice like it was gold, and to me it was.
He wanted to see how I would do if we stepped back to 15 yards. Sure enough, in that short time, I was able to repeat what he had taught me and hit right where I was aiming.
After the lesson we shook hands and he left me with instructions of what to do once I got home. Gregg told me to go and set up at ten feet from a target and practice aiming drills every day before I shot a single arrow. He also forbid me to shoot a single shot past 15 yards until I was able to make perfect shots at that distance. I did these exact drills for at least a month.
So, Does It Work?
Following Gregg’s instructions, I rarely missed a single day of shooting. After about a month of nothing but the daily drills, the anxiety finally subsided and I was able to enjoy shooting my bow once again.
I am now able to shoot pie plate groups out past 80 yards. I am not saying I am currently the best that I have ever been, but I am well on my way.
One of the things that I took from shooting with Gregg was how much importance he put on the shot process.
He told me multiple times, “without a shot process, you have no shot.” He said, “without all the right ingredients, you can’t cook what you desire, so you sure ain’t going to shoot what you desire with out the exact process every time.”
Look at it this way, if you are struggling with target panic, with the right methods, and hard work, you are only 3,000 to 6,000 shots away from it being “fixed”, and yes, it is fixable.
Five Steps To Fix Your Target Panic
Follow these steps to begin to fix your target panic:
Hold your pin on the target until you start to waver let down rest 15 to 30 seconds and repeat. Do this at least 30 to 50 times a day before you release a single arrow.
Go Through Your Shot Process
Know how to, grip, draw, anchor, aim, and squeeze the trigger. This is your shot process… master it.
Shoot with in 15 yards of the target and don’t go any farther for at least 2 to 3 weeks.
Once you can go through the shot process and not experience any anxiety, then start with 20 yards and work your way back.
Go Back and repeat steps 1 through 3.
Now, I try and do things that might trigger target panic. For instance, I will shoot at a 3-D deer out to 70 yards, extremely quartered away. I also have a basket ball size target that I will try and shoot at farther distances as well.
By doing these things, I am simply just trying to make myself uncomfortable. This way, I can remember my shot process, regardless of the situation, and still make the shot smooth and clean.
You do the same things at 20 yards as you would at 80 yards, you just have to convince your brain of that. Through this process, I have learned so much about archery and have experienced a whole new love for shooting my bow.
So, having target panic wasn’t so bad after all. I guess you could say there was a silver lining. I have 100% come through target panic as a better archer. Come September, the Elk better be on their “A” game, because I will be on mine.
Deer season is nearing a close and I’ve only let one arrow fly all season. One. And, it was to kill a coyote that came by my stand on an early season hunt. Mission accomplished there, but the deer are what really get my heart pumping.
Since I bow hunt all season long, by this time of year, I usually have tagged a whitetail and filled the freezer. But, this season has been different than most. I’ve had quite a few career-related changes that have limited the amount of times I’ve been able to get in the woods.
So, how do I feel about this?
Well, honestly, by this time of the season, I begin to get a little bit of an itchy release finger, especially if I haven’t taken a deer yet. So, during a season like this one, I really began thinking about what defines a successful hunting season.
Maturity In Hunting
It’s a thrill to get to take a mature buck and maybe even take home a set of monster antlers. But, it’s also something that doesn’t come easily, especially when hunting at close range.
I’ve learned over the years that if you want to be in the action when the rut comes, it’s often wise to have been hunting the does all season long. Where do they feed? Where are they bedding? And, where are their travel corridors in between? Knowing the answers to these questions requires not only logging some time in the stand, but also being patient enough not to start slinging arrows at every deer you see. Bottom line… maturity is required in hunting as well as in life.
Even with the challenges this year that have limited my time in the woods, I have been able to hunt a handful of times. And, I’ve gotten to observe quite a few deer and had the opportunity to shoot many of them. But I didn’t draw.
As I’ve gotten older, I also see the value in learning all that I can about my craft. Much of that learning comes from hunting with friends and other seasoned hunters. Everyone has their own strategies and methods for taking whitetail and other wild game. Many hunters might try to prove that their methodology is superior. I simply enjoy the fellowship and sharing of information. I set out to know more every hunting season than I did the year before. This is possible whether I shoot a deer or not. There is always something to observe and learn. And that’s one of the things I love about this way of life.
Life tends to move at a breakneck speed. Technology is not only allowing the flow of information move more quickly, it’s allowing us to get more done in a shorter period of time… which means we pile more and more things on our plates. Which means we move along even faster. I think you see the pattern here.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I look to the skyline from my tree stand and realize that it’s been months since I’ve even looked up and around me to observe the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Life gets crazy and I get wrapped up in finishing the next ‘to-do” on my list. It’s during moments in the stand, that I often realize that I have focused much of my time on trivial things. Hunting gives me the chance to hopefully get away from all of these distractions for a short time. Sure, I may have my phone with me to capture the occasional wildlife video, but it sure is nice to not be tied to the computer that I’m currently typing this article on!
I’m thankful for moments in the woods where I can enjoy the incredible attributes of nature that God gave us to show us that there is a magnificent Creator.
I hope you are getting a chance to read this in a quiet place. But, chances are, you are cramming this information in as you do other things at the same time. It’s amazing how many distractions technology creates. Getting into that perfect tree stand location not only gives me the opportunity to test my hunting skills, but it also allows me to test my listening skills.
In the quiet of the woods, there are many sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, maybe there are things that God has been trying to tell me and teach me. What are the things He has been trying to teach me that I have drowned out with the noise of work, family and other duties?
Hunting gives me the chance to evaluate how well I have been listening to the One who gave His life and gives me reason to live. It gives me a chance to listen loudly in the quiet of the landscape. For that, I am truly thankful.
So, it’s not just about the kill or the size of the quarry. Hopefully, I can improve my hunting skills, but also be able to slow down and listen to the what the Lord wants of my life. Now, that is a good definition of hunting success.