Mr. Dominator

Year after year, this hunter refused to pull the trigger on a monster buck, opting instead to shoot it with cameras. What he learned astonished him.

Have you ever harvested a fine buck and then started thinking that it would have been nice if he had bred all the does in the woods? And did you speculate on what he might have looked like in another year or two if given more time to mature?

Maybe you wished you had a little more ability and experience to more accurately judge the size of the rack before you pulled the trigger.

Have you ever heard someone else make these statements after bagging a nice buck?

Having hunted on a private farm for a few years, I have had the opportunity to see and record the results on film after waiting another year or two on several bucks.

Photographing these magnificent animals over several years has allowed the bucks to reach their full potential as well as ensure a future generation of nice bucks.

When the season is over, hunting for the sheds becomes a delightful treasure hunt. Finding the shed to a good buck you have been photographing completes the circle of the experience. Once you have the shed in hand, you can compare it with the photographs and more accurately judge the size of the antlers and approximate the deer’s Boone and Crockett score.

The known length of a point on a shed can be used as a proportional unit of length on the photograph to compare with points on the other beam and the spread.

Generally on a typical style rack, both beams and points will be very similar and close enough to determine an approximate B&C score.

During the last two deer seasons, I had several nice bucks frequenting the agriculture field I hunt, and was able to determine that one of them was the same 8-point buck due to his unique style rack that was high but not real wide.

In the 2002-03 season, I was able to estimate from the photographs that he would score about 140 points B&C. He appeared to be a 5 1/2-year-old weighing at least 200 pounds.

Since my goal was to harvest a bigger buck than this, I let him walk and photographed him whenever he presented himself. After measuring his shed that I found, I realized my initial estimation of his rack was close. I was glad I let him walk, and he managed to stay out of everyone’s crosshairs.

When I saw the same buck during the 2003-04 season, I was ecstatic. Automatic film advance cameras can eat up a lot of film, and this buck caused me to go through a bunch of film and video cassettes. I should have named him Mr. Photogenic because he always put on a spectacular show, but he was also living up to his first name, Mr. Dominator.

He had the same style of high narrow rack very similar in appearance to the year before but a little heavier. When you saw this deer, you were more impressed by the height of his rack than the spread.

At times his long heavy body appeared to dwarf his antlers. I estimated his score from the photographs to be around 150 points B&C.

At the start of the season, this deer appeared to weigh at least 240 pounds, not bad for an 8-point but still not up to my goal.

When the season was over, I spent a lot of time looking for his shed to no avail. Then one day while bushhogging on the farm, I found it by accident — Wow! I wish I were this lucky with the lottery.

Now that I had another year’s shed in hand, both could be measured and compared to each other and to the photographs. Comparing the longest point length of 11 ½ inches with the photo of the buck looking straight into the camera, I could now estimate the inside spread width at approximately 17 ½ inches. The height of the rack above his head was about 17 inches. No wonder all the other bucks gave him so much room.

Comparing the measurements of the two sheds with the photos and approximating the B&C score gives me some knowledge of just how much this buck improved by allowing him to walk another year.

Curiosity is now settled, and in a year’s time this buck increased about 5 inches in score. This does not seem like a whole lot, but then a 150-point B&C 8-point is a nice trophy, and best of all he is still out there.

The photographs and videos I have of him working the field have been the best hunting experience I have had in 40 years of hunting. This buck could instill fright and flight in the other bucks with just a slight tilt of his rack. On more than one occasion, he sent bucks on their way so fast they would sometimes stumble on themselves trying to leave.

I have been amazed that I was able to see all of this deer activity and capture it on film just by letting a deer walk.

Many hunters have realized the fact that to harvest trophy bucks you have to help grow them yourself, mainly by exercising a little self discipline and trigger control. All hunters in a club must share the same goals if you want to harvest trophy bucks. Many of the clubs in our area are practicing some type of restriction on antler size and the results are showing.

We are also seeing young bucks that share Ol’ Dominator’s antler genes and show a lot of promise for a nice trophy buck.

Photographing deer while hunting may not be for everyone, but it can be an exciting alternative while allowing a nice buck to gain a little age to reach trophy status.

Camcorders and digital cameras on the market today are easier to use than ever, and can take amazing photographs in extremely low-light conditions. Some camcorders have night shot modes that will allow you to see in the dark and take astounding videos on moonlit nights.

As for Mr. Dominator, he is still out there, and I gained a little more experience in judging the size of antlers on the hoof. I can hardly wait to see what he will look like this year.

Maybe he will be a 10-point. Maybe I will get an early preview of him in velvet with my trail camera. Maybe I will let him walk another year and have a ball photographing him again.