By Dr. Johnnie Rosenauer
There is a situation most hunters will experience during their deer hunting times. I have been guilty of falling victim to it and have seen it happen on many different occasions. The process goes something like this. A hunter sees a buck that is an exact replica of the Hartford Insurance Elk logo and launches a bullet towards it. Whether immediately or after some searching, the animal is found and the Boone and Crockett award-winning specimen has somehow mysteriously transformed into a MUCH smaller version of what the hunter thought he was looking at. We call this ground shrinkage and it is alive and well in La Brasada, and I am pretty sure in other places as well.
Such an experience happened to one of our paying hunters recently. On that particular ranch, the two men have hunted with us for several years and are good guys. They have been patient and supportive of the management program we have in place. Our goal is the harvesting of mature bucks and an adequate number of other deer to keep the population in check on this long-time high fenced operation.
This year we have been blessed to raise up a really nice fully mature buck that is a ten-point with about a 22-inch inside spread. The more experienced of the two paying hunters and I have seen the old boy several times and agree he might grow a little bit with one more year of age but does not appear to be one either of us want to harvest.
A really pretty buck, he would be a great deer for the newer hunter. So I gave the “green light” to take him. I received a picture of a deer laying on the ground from this fellow. Assuming he did not stumble across the buck taking a nap, wise old Aggie that I am, I figured he was showing me his trophy. Many years of using trail cameras has taught me one photo can be tricky to get a fully accurate story of a particular animal. My reply text was that the buck seemed to be narrower and younger than the one we had discussed him taking.
Well that comment proved to be true. Observed on a foggy and cloudy day, the deer was two years younger, six inches narrower in spread, and 30 or more Boone and Crockett points smaller than the targeted buck. While disappointed, I was quick to acknowledge mistakes happen and it was not in my purview to start casting stones, having done the same thing more than I care to admit.
The above event made me recall the last “mistake deer” I took. It was a cloudy and gloomy evening and just before dark a profile appeared out of the thick brush along a creek bottom where a blind I usually don’t hunt much is located. The deer showed a forked brow tine one side and a kicker on the other. The 12-point was further away than I thought but more importantly was two years younger than my estimate. While a unique and beautiful specimen of his species, my thoughts often wander to what he could have been without my bad judgement interfering in his life cycle. I mounted that buck as a reminder to myself and others who see him that even a very serious and a bit talented steward can make a mistake from time to time.
If the worst thing that came out of the entire 2017-2018 hunting season on our places is one too young a deer being taken, it will be just fine. Chalk it up as a lesson learned and a reaffirmation that the phenomenon known as ground shrinkage is still alive and going strong in our little neck of the woods out in La Brasada!
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