A deer hunter watching a food plot saw a lone deer enter the open ground to feed. Obviously not an antlered buck, he thought, but is it a doe? He recalled the advice he had often heard: lone antlerless deer in the fall are often button bucks. Wait for other deer to appear and offer a size comparison.
It wasn’t long before he had what he needed. A second antlerless deer appeared. Both deer were the same size. Two does, he thought. When the first one fell, the other deer skittered away but stopped and looked around in confusion, giving the hunter time to line up his sights again. The hunter spent that evening skinning two button bucks.
I heard this true story recently, and it brought to mind other stories and experiences related to this QDM issue: how to handle button buck harvest. Can you prevent button buck harvest? Should you punish button buck shooters? Many leaders of QDM hunting groups, including landowners, club presidents and other decision makers, choose to let the fear of punishment act as the prevention, and they set fines or other consequences that are wisely avoided. This is actually not the most efficient way to prevent button buck harvest—but it is a good way to prevent doe harvest.
Once I was among a group of adult deer hunters serving as “guides” on a youth hunt on private property. The landowner asked that all youth hunters observe the property’s normal buck-harvest guidelines. Shortly before everyone left the rendezvous to head out for the first morning’s hunt, the property owner called all of the guides together. We were asked to encourage the youths to help with the doe harvest. However, we were told, if any youth hunter killed a button buck, their guide would be fined $500. Everyone laughed — except the property owner. He was serious. I left the rendezvous silently hoping that my hunter and I would not see any antlerless deer that day. When $500 is on the line, meeting doe harvest goals is unimportant in the big scheme! Fines are definitely a deterrent when it comes to button buck harvest, but hunters reduce their risk by being too cautious about doe harvest. The result is that many clubs don’t fulfill their doe-harvest goals before hunting season is over.
Instead of instilling fright and doubt, QDM leaders should work to instill confidence and skill in judging the sex and age of antlerless deer. This educational effort is a perfect example of another cornerstone of QDM: hunter management.
How do you do this? There are many good educational materials available, like QDMA’s poster on identifying antlerless deer and several books on field judging. Make these materials available to group members. Video cameras can be another tool. Collect footage anytime you see groups of does and fawns in the woods, then review the scenes back at camp and discuss, as a group, the clues that help sort mature does from fawns.
Despite hunter education, when there’s a doe-harvest goal to be met, mistakes will be made. Should there be consequences? Perhaps. Just as you teach hunters to look carefully before “judging” a deer, use your own judgment in doling out consequences. If the hunter in question is always the first person to fulfill his or her share of the doe harvest, or is a responsible, supportive member in other ways, severe fines for their first button buck are likely to cause hard feelings. The best consequences serve as a subtle “punishment” without allowing the situation to seem too serious.
For example, require the button-buck slayer to cook and serve the meal that night and clean up afterward, which can bring some humor into the evening as the other club members relax by the fire. Save the harsher consequences for a hunter who repeatedly brings button bucks to camp. In some cases, this is no longer an honest mistake but reflects a lack of concern for group goals and a lack of willingness to become educated on ways to avoid the situation. Again, use your judgment.
In the big picture, a button buck at the skinning shed is not an omen of doom for your QDM program. The QDMA recommends that button bucks constitute less than 10 percent of your antlerless harvest, so a few button bucks is a non-issue in most circumstances, as long as broader QDM goals are being met. This is a great example of how each cornerstone of QDM is important. In this case, hunter management can help your group be more effective at herd management.
About the Author: Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of QDMA's Quality Whitetails magazine and director of communications.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2010.