Marc Dulaney’s buck, killed with a crossbow on the second day of the archery season, was one of those rare ones where the story behind its growth far exceeds that of the kill scene.
Even for the archer, who raves about the successful management at Ward Lake Hunting Club in Coahoma County that produced this 19-pointer with a 18 7/8-inch inside spread that green scores 187 3/8 inches.
“It’s a pretty nice deal to kill a buck that you have followed all the way through his transition to maturity,” said Dulaney, who shot the deer Oct. 2 on club property between the Mississippi River and the main levee. “It proves that if you can get everybody on board with the management program, from habitat to population, you can produce trophy animals.”
Biologist Chris McDonald, the assistant chief of wildlife for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and consultant for the club, first reported the story to Mississippi Sportsman.
“The story goes back five or six years, when we first got pictures of the buck on trail cams,” said McDonald. “This is truly a wildlife management success story, beginning to end.”
It could serve as a textbook case of quality management practices.
According to McDonald, the club approached him unhappy about their trophy buck production despite what he called medium-level management of their deer herd. With the quality of genetics available, they were shooting young bucks.
“They were high-grading bucks on the property,” McDonald said. “They were harvesting the best quality young bucks and letting lower quality bucks grow to maturity. After 10 or 15 years of doing this, antler size decreased on the property. The club was not allowing the best young bucks reach their potential.”
“When we first got pictures of that buck, when I think he was 1½ years old, 2½ at the most, he had 13 points,” McDonald said. “He was already close to what they had been shooting.”
That’s some strong genetics.
“To reverse the high-grading effect, the first recommendation was for the club to stop harvesting quality young bucks,” McDonald said. “We told them to shoot only does and management bucks for three years. Pre-season camera surveys were used to identify bucks to harvest and bucks to protect. The fact that the club let this buck go until he reached maturity is a testament to their commitment to quality management.”
It wasn’t an easy sale, at least to start.
“We had to get all the members on board, and that’s not always easy,” Dulaney said. “But after we did and they started seeing what was happening and the increase of big bucks, they bought into it.
“We’d been watching this buck for so long, and had so many pictures that we all knew who he was. When Chris told us this year that it was time to kill this buck, that he had reach his potential, it was the first time we considered shooting him.”
It didn’t take long, either — just two days.
“We’d been watching this buck for so many years, I pretty much knew where he was living, what he was doing and where he was moving, and it wasn’t very far,” Dulaney said. “He had a very tight core area that he never left, and I’m talking about a quarter mile at the most. I knew where I needed to be and I hunted that stand.”
There was a near miss on opening day, when Dulaney said the buck came out behind him and never came closer than 80 yards.
On the second day, the buck came out in the morning hunt in the same place Dulaney had last seen him leaving the day before.
“He was behind me and almost directly downwind, and the wind was ridiculous, probably 15 to 25 miles per hour out of the north,” he said. “I was at least 30 to 35 feet up and lock-on stand so I think that pushed my scent above him.
“There was one time that he stopped at about 70 yards and stuck his nose up where he may have gotten a whiff of something, but he put his head back down and walked right to me. I guess once he got closer my scent was blowing over him, because he came to within 30 yards broadside. That’s when I shot him.”
Dulaney’s not sure what happened to the bolt after it left the crossbow but it didn’t hit where he had the crosshairs of the scope.
“It hit him pretty far back, and he bolted,” he said. “But he stopped about 50 yards and started walking away. I could tell he was hurting but he kept on going.”
After a couple of hours, Dulaney returned to the scene with help and they trailed the buck to a thicket. A second bolt was put through the vitals, and after another 100-yard run to another thicket, Dulaney ended the chase with a shot to the heart.
“What it means most to me is that what we’ve done over the past few years has worked,” Dulaney said. “I know for sure he’d have never lived past his third year because that’s when he was really wide and had the longest tines. This year, he exploded in mass and added a lot of antler points, too.”
McDonald said he knew the potential of the club’s habitat. In 2010, it produced a 180-inch buck almost identical to Dulaney’s in shape and size.
“No doubt about it, they were related,” the biologist said.
Asked why he chose this year to green-light the shot, McDonald quickly had an answer.
“We had achieved their goal; we had let those quality bucks walk until they matured,” McDonald said. “After the camera survey, I identified the mature bucks and he was the best of those.”
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