By Stephanie Mallory
The time has never been better to take a trophy buck in a Southern state.
Times are changing for the Southern deer hunter. As a general rule, hunters don’t take to change well, but these changes are putting a big smile across many Southern hunters’ faces. In short, Southern hunters are bagging bigger bucks than ever before.
Everyone knows that Northern deer typically grow larger than those in the South for several reasons. Northern deer need a large body mass to withstand colder temperatures. They also have access to more and better food sources, such as corn and soybeans. And while you’ll still find more big deer up North than you will in the South, big Southern deer with antlers rivaling those commonly found in the North have been making news during the past few years.
Why are Southern hunters taking larger deer?
For one, quality deer management has garnered greater focus in recent years. From the 1950s until only very recently, does were considered sacred cows in the South. Although the belief that shooting does results in less bucks still lingers in some areas of the South, overall, the attitude has changed. Herd management through reducing doe populations has resulted in more older-age-class bucks being harvested in recent years.
Southern hunters have also begun investing more time on food plots, mineral licks and other means of increasing deer nutrition. This results in larger deer. In addition, they’re letting younger bucks walk. More and more Southern states are managing deer herds for older-age-class bucks. For example, hunters in Alabama used to be able to legally harvest bucks with only two inches of antler showing. Today, many Alabama WMA’s have rules requiring that bucks have at least three points on one side to be legally taken.
The agricultural landscape of the South is changing as well. Many years ago, corn, soybeans and other row crops were abundant throughout the South, but the crop of choice eventually changed to pine in an effort to keep up with the nation’s paper demand. But, as society has become more paperless, row crops such as soybeans and corn have begun making a comeback in the South, which resulted in more food and bigger deer.
Although some Southern deer may be growing antlers to rival those in some Northern states, the hunting conditions are still quite different in the South.
The biggest difference is certainly the weather. It can get hot down South—real hot. In fact, an early season deer hunt in the Deep South can be brutal as far as temperatures are concerned. Bow season in some parts of the South begins early. For example, bow seasons in South Carolina start in August, a time when temperatures can still hover in the upper 90s. This not only results in sweaty, miserable hunters, but human scent becomes more problematic. Deer are also less likely to move in hot weather, which can result in frustrated hunters.
Thick foliage is also a big issue in the South. Underbrush remains thick throughout much of the year, which not only makes it more difficult to spot deer, but easier to spook them as well.
Bugs, such as mosquitoes, chiggers and ticks also present a greater problem during the early deer season. Products such as Thermacells and tick-repelling clothing are essential during early season. And you can’t forget venomous snakes, which especially like to hang out in swampy, wet places during warm-weather conditions.
Although conditions can be tough for the Southern hunter, if he sticks it out and braves the heat, bugs and snakes, his chances for taking a big buck are greater now than they’ve ever been.