When you’re on a whitetail hunt and you’re looking for that perfect trophy whitetail deer, what should you look for? What qualifies as a trophy whitetail deer? This is an important and highly debated question. Here at X Factor, we have a lot of experience with World Record Whitetails, so the next time you’re planning your hunt, here are some of the things to keep in mind when scoping out your next trophy buck.
While going by size is the most traditional method of determining if you’ve got a trophy whitetail deer, the improved breeding and nutrition for deer on well-managed hunting preserves and ranches has resulted in different standards and expectations. Trophy deer hunts on these high-fence properties yield monster bucks that would most likely be impossible to find in the wild.
Size is a classic and kind of old-school way of determining whether or not you’ve got a trophy deer. The important qualifier has always been how many points the deer has. Back in the old days, the number of points on the antlers mattered more than anything else. Experienced hunters today look at a buck’s antlers and take into account mass, symmetry, and tine length (forks on the antlers) rather than just focusing on points. Of course, a 10 or 12 pointer is always a goal, primarily if the buck is mature.
Hunters have learned that it takes at least five or six years for a buck to grow to its full antler and growth potential, so many choose to pass on younger deer and wait to reap those rewards years later with a massive buck.
But that brings us to the keyword for trophy whitetails: MATURITY.
For many hunters, a trophy whitetail deer is defined by age. This is for a couple reasons.
For one, a young buck (say, two or three years old) with a 8 or 10 point rack has the potential to mature into an older buck with high-scoring 10 or 12 point antlers, long tines, and heavy main beam. So, if you think about it, many of the reasons people consider larger deer to be trophies is because they have been given the time to mature and develop.
Additionally, an old buck is much harder to hunt than a young one. These bucks are still around because they have learned the skills to avoid hunters. Killing an old buck is much more of a challenge and therefore much more of a trophy.
The older the deer, the more cunning and better at evading predator, and thus, the harder to hunt. The older deer are survivors who have outlived most other whitetails. They search their surroundings, test the wind, and even look up in the trees for possible predators. Successfully hunting a deer with that much awareness definitely makes it a trophy.
It’s very important to recognize the age of a deer in order to assess its trophy quality.
Fawns—Obviously, a baby deer is the least challenging animal to hunt, so the main task is to not confuse a fawn and a young doe.
1.5- to 2.5-Year-Olds—Most harvested whitetail deer are in this age range. These deer are great for meat, but no experienced hunter would classify one as a trophy. Young bucks are usually slim and have smaller shoulders and necks than older deer.
3.5- to 4.5-Year-Olds– A mature whitetail buck is thicker and might even have a bit more of a belly than its younger counterpart. Their chests have filled out, they are active breeders, but they still have not quite reached their prime in terms of antler size and body weight. This age range can certainly be a trophy whitetail deer, but probably more likely with a blow rather than a firearm.
5.5- to 6.5-Year-Olds—This is a mature whitetail in its prime. They are at the height of their weight, antler size, strength, and cunning. These are animals that know how to survive and are extremely challenging to hunt. Without a doubt, these are trophy whitetail deer.
Elderly Deer—These are deer 7.5 years old and older. While they are the absolute most difficult deer to hunt, they are past their prime in many ways. They are losing their strength, they are starting to physically age, and their antlers are completely done developing. Most hunters will never have the opportunity to hunt one of these deer, and while their size might not qualify as a trophy, the challenge and status of harvesting such a rare animal certainly qualifies it as a trophy whitetail.
Age as a qualifier for whitetail deer trophy status is all about acknowledging the caliber of the animal you are hunting. An animal that has eluded hunters and any natural predator for all that time presents a challenge for any hunter. Successfully harvesting one of these deer is a major accomplishment.
Some hunters define a trophy deer by the size of the buck, others consider the inches of the antler, and still others base a whitetail’s trophy status on the deer’s age. But some people look deeper and consider the experience of the hunt itself, regardless of the size or appearance of the animal.
A trophy whitetail might be one that you had to work really hard for, or one that tested your skills as a hunter. It might be the deer that was most challenging, or perhaps that buck that alluded you time and time again.
Many hunters feel that looking at the size of the animal alone does a disservice to the sport and the hunter. A trophy is about the experience and the accomplishment, not the antlers alone.
If you’re an experienced hunter, you’ve probably successfully killed several whitetail deer. But what stands out about them? Sure, you probably remember the biggest deer, and you are surely very proud of that kill. But what about the first successful whitetail deer hunt with a bow? What about the first successful hunt in a new or extremely challenging terrain? What about that whitetail deer hunt with some good friends? What about the first hunt you ever went on? At that moment, did you care about the size or age of the deer, or just the fact that you had finally hunted an animal?
The best answer to the question of what qualifies as a trophy whitetail deer is: it depends.
A trophy whitetail deer is about personal experience and judgment. It depends on you, your experience as a hunter, and the goals and limits you have in selecting or harvesting your target. If you’re ready to bag your next trophy whitetail buck, give us a holler and we’ll set you up on your next epic hunt.