VA abby's first buckAccording to the just released 2016 Whitetail Report from the QDMA, 34% of the bucks harvested across America during the 2013/14 season were 3.5 years old or older. That is the highest number on record for older bucks in the national harvest.

The trend of hunters holding off and passing younger bucks continues. In 1989, 62% of the annual buck harvest was yearling (1.5 year old) males; that number has dropped to 33% of yearlings in the overall harvest today.

But back to the older bucks in the recent harvest data. I assume that the vast majority of that 34% were 3.5 years old on the money. I bet less than 5% of the bucks were 4, 5 or 6 years old.

While spikes and 2.5-year-old bucks are easy to size up, the 3.5 year olds, which are mature but not fully mature, present a dilemma. Most of the 8- and 10-point racks are framed up well and looking good, but they are typically a bit on thin-antlered side.

Everybody talks a good game about judging a buck by body size, not his rack, but with a fit, muscling-up 3.5 year old that is not so easy. It’s tough for most hunters (even the so-called “experts”) to tell a 3-year-old buck from a 4 year old.

Of course you should shoot a 4- or 5-year-old buck if you see one, but what about a 3 year old? Depends. As a rule I believe the vast majority of whitetail hunters, who hunt either on public land or on private land where other people hunt and pressure the deer, should be very happy to shoot a 3.5-year-old buck. That’s a trophy on most lands.

For the far lesser number of you who have access to more tightly controlled private land where establishing a more intensive deer management program is feasible, you hold off on the 3 year olds. I have hunted on a few places (not many) where any buck less than 5 years old is off limits, unless it’s a poor-racked cull. That’s okay, but it’s not practical for the vast majority of hunters across America.

And even on lands like these, there is nothing wrong with shooting a 3 year old once in a while. Maybe a hunter is having a hard season, or a hard time in his life; if shooting a 3-year-old buck helps, do it. And on these lands many people make a “mistake” and shoot a 3-year-old buck they thought was a 4 year old. So what?

Anytime and anywhere and on any type of hunting ground, a young or brand-new hunter should shoot a 3.5-year-old deer and be happy. Abby in the picture above was proud of her first-ever buck she shot in Virginia last December, and I was proud of her for doing it.

Thoughts? Did you shoot a 3 year-old buck last season?