What are trail camera photos really telling you this time of year?
Our obsession with fuzzy nubbins probably seems unusual to a non-hunter. But you can't see a buck standing on the side of the road or haunting your trail camera this time of year without wondering, How big is he going to be?
Kip Adams, Director of Education and Outreach for the Quality Deer Management Association, says late spring and early summer is by far the most difficult time of year to age a buck on the hoof.
It's tough to even make a guess right now. Their necks are skinny, their winter coats are gone, and they look thin and scruffy, he says. Really, the only reliable indicator is to compare the depth of a buck's chest to his legs. If his legs clearly look too long for his body, you're looking at a young buck.
Judging antler growth can be even trickier. Antler growth is highly dependent on nutrition, Adams says. Bucks lose 20 to 30 percent of their body weight during the fall and winter, and right now, most of what they're eating is replenishing that. I've seen bucks that looked like superstars out of the gate that never developed exceptional antlers. At the same time, I've seen bucks that seemed to suddenly explode late in the summer, during the final weeks of antler growth.
Although food plots and soybeans are coming on strong in many areas, Adams stressed the importance of early successional habitat this time of year. Forbs are by far the dominant food source in late spring and early summer, he says. Deer are eating the native vegetation growing in old fields and clear cut edges more than anything else right now. One of the very worst things a hunter can do this time of year is jump on his tractor and mow those thick fields down.
So, now that I've said all of that, let's return to the photo of the buck above. As I mentioned in my post last week, this camera was set on the corner of a brand new food plot on a farm I've never hunted, and this photo was taken the evening of May 26.
I've never seen this buck before, to my knowledge. I have no "history" with him, and as such, have not yet given him a dumb name.
But I think he's in a spot where I can keep an eye on him, watch him grow, and get regular photos of him. And assuming that I can, I want to post those photos throughout the summer, right here on Brow Tines and Backstrap.
My guess? This buck is 3 1/2 and will grow into a 120- to 130-class 8-pointer. But, as Kip said, it's only my guess at this point. How big do you think he'll be? Leave me a comment below and let me know.