Trophy Bucks and the Challenging Dilemma
Trophy whitetails! The mere mention of the subject attracts a lot of attention, especially in the last few years now, rather than mortgaging the house for an Alaskan hunt, many sportsmen direct their energy and money toward a quality whitetail deer hunt. And while most Americans pursue the elusive whitetail in their local areas, this ability is but a dream for many because of urban sprawl.
Urban sprawl has become quite a phenomenon during the past fifty years as thousands of Americans fled the farms in search of employment. Cities grew and housing developments sprang up in every metropolitan area. In the process, most of the valuable wildlife habitat I gave way to a thing called progress. With this progress came an array of laws and regulations. Heavily-settled areas became off-limits to hunters. Initially, this presented little loss to deer hunters because few of these areas contained any deer when urbanization increased in the 1970s. but, as the whitetail’s population grew during the last fifteen years, deer started moving back into these areas.
Unlike any of the other deer family members, the whitetail can thrive in man’s backyard. Whether it’s St. Louis, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Buffalo, New York, the whitetail makes its presence felt. It’s this presence that has many people in these areas wondering what to do with the deer. Deer populations are on the increase because there is no hunting and the habitat is adequate. One such area is in and around the Town of Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo, New York In November, Buffalo News’ outdoor columnist, Michael Levy, got Buffalo area hunters’ adrenalin going by reporting that an Amherst resident had possibly claimed a new state record for a whitetail. Levy went on to write that Ted Frasier didn’t kill the buck while hunting but rather with his 1980 Pontiac Phoenix.
Being involved with the New York State Big Buck Club, I decided to check into the kill. What I learned of the buck and the area is worth sharing. The buck wasn’t large enough to become a new state record, but was certainly a trophy animal in every sense of the word. The big eighteen-pointer, aged at three and a half years, weighed approximately 260 pounds on the hoof and scored 183-7/8 in the Boone and Crockett non-typical category. Frasier hit the buck while driving along the Millersport Highway, in the Town of Amherst, Interestingly, the night before, Art Blackman, of Buffalo, was driving along the same highway and hit and killed a beautiful fourteen-point buck with his van. The buck Blackman hit, dressed out at 205 pounds and scored more than 130 in Boone and Crockett’s typical category. Ironically, Black man never saw the deer as it ran into the side of his van, inflicting $2,000 damage. At first, it would appear Frasier’s and Blackman’s stories were unrelated. But, because both deer were killed in the Town of Amherst, it makes them part of a growing di-lemma.
Throughout this area, road-kills are becoming commonplace during the autumn months in the absence of a method to manage the deer population. Though the Town of Amherst seems to be where the majority of the road-kills occur, fringes of the towns surrounding Amherst, which is northeast of Buffalo, experience the same problem. This entire area, which contains 180 square miles of land, is off-limits to any form of deer hunting. Within this area you will find thirty square miles of prime deer habitat and therein lies the key ingredient behind all the road-kills.
The area consists of several good-sized commercial farms and much abandoned land which is reverting to brush and woodlots Though no one knows exactly how many deer are being killed by cars, the main thoroughfare in the area, Millersport Highway, has the most, According to Michael Levy, seventy-two deer were hit along Millersport Highway between January 1 and November 1, 1985. Then, when the rut was in full swing, the deer-car collisions took another jump. Big Buck Club officials reported that more than 150 deer were killed by cars in this area during 1985. The actual number probably was much higher because there were many more reports of motorists hitting deer but never finding them.
Sportsmen’s groups, as well as New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation are trying to address the growing problem, but it hasn’t been easy. One group, SCOPE—the Shooter’s Committee on Political Education—urged that some form of deer hunting be allowed in the Amherst area. Wildlife biologist, Jim Snyder, of Buffalo says, “The best method of managing the deer in that area would be with a firearms season—but that would never fly.”
He went on to say that the deer population is now at a point where deer cause considerable damage to shrubs in residential areas. Also, the commercial farms in the area, though small in number, are being impacted. Because of this situation, he hopes to see an archery season in the Amherst area by the fall of 1987. However, Snyder felt that for a bow season to take place, the public would have to be educated on what the deer are doing to the habitat. He said he gets calls from people complaining that deer are destroying the ornamental shrubs around their homes, but don’t want the deer hurt because they are “pretty.”
He has also heard the usual complaints about bow hunting in general. Because Amherst is an affluent area, getting a hunting season may be a little tougher than might be expected, but Snyder is confident that when all the facts are presented, legislation will be passed to allow a bow season. From a research standpoint, this chunk of white-tailed deer habitat, in the shadow of one of America’s largest cities, is providing some interesting insights. The white-tails’ ability to adapt to man’s presence is obvious, but what really makes it interesting is the genetics being demonstrated through antler growth. Right now, the deer habitat in this area is excellent. This, coupled with the bucks being able to reach their prime age, is producing some outstanding antler mass. Though the area does experience some heavy snowfalls during December and January, it hasn’t appeared to hurt the herd too much.
As the deer population increases, however, it will most certainly take its toll. But for now, the true magnificence of the whitetail is visible. Many avid deer hunters have gone into this area after the bucks drop their antlers to look for sheds. What they are finding is truly outstanding. The accompanying photo of Merritt Compton, official Pope & Young Measurer, shows four road-killed bucks from Amherst. All four were killed in the last couple of years. Bow hunters, who hunt the fringe of this area, reap the rewards of hunting next to a closed area. During the 1984 bow season, Jeff Morris of took the new record New York State archery buck not far from Amherst. Morris’ buck scored 175 in the Boone & Crockett typical category. On the one hand, it is nice to see this “gene pool” being created, but on the other hand, it’s a shame to see such a valued resource being managed by only Henry Ford’s invention. Right now, the deer in this area are prime animals, but without proper management, this could change rapidly. Hopefully, emotions will not overrule sound game management. And if sound management prevails, the thrill and challenge of hunting whitetails will return to this area after being gone for a generation.