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Magnolia mass: by making a promising youn6 buck off-limits to hunters on the family land, doug mauldin set the stage to make Mississippi crossbow history.

One of the greatest conservation stories from the world of whitetail hunting is the untold numbers of private landowners now practicing some level of harvest restraint on young bucks. According to a recently released study, some 440 million acres--roughly 22 percent of the contiguous land area in the U.S.--are either leased for or are owned for wildlife-associated recreation. A large percentage of that area is being used by whitetail hunters who like big bucks! More and more, people are investing in land for hunting purposes.

Although there are many reasons for this trend, the most obvious are the opportunity to hunt less pressured deer and to protect young bucks into maturity. Of course, some landowners are far more serious than others are about how they manage their hunting properties.

Take, for example Cascilla, Mississippi, resident Doug Mauldin, a self-employed land speculator and trader who specializes in timber and farm land. Since purchasing their property in 1997, members of the Mauldin family have strictly managed their 1,250 acres in Tallahatchie County for the very best benefit of the deer herd.

"Once we decided to get serious about our own land and herd management, one of the first things I did was hire a good biologist and put his recommendations into practice," Doug says. "We now have about 200 acres in various-sized fields we've planted in alfalfa and clover.

"We also supplementally feed with 20 percent protein each year from January through April," Doug continues. "This helped our deer tremendously, both bucks and does. And it didn't take long before we started seeing better antler growth. We also brought our buck:doe numbers down to a 2:1 ratio. That's when things really started to take off."

But it wasn't always this way. "I've hunted whitetails in all the big-buck states at one time or another," he says. "I've also made 20 trips to Alberta for whitetalls. My friends and I have killed some great bucks during those trips, but we've never taken the type of deer those areas are known for.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

While the buck was impressive in 2014 and 2015, Doug's management strategy led him to give the deer a free pass until 2016. It paid off. Photo courtesy of Doug Mauldin

One day I thought, If I put that money into my own land each year, I could grow deer as big as they do anywhere, including Canada. It's taken a lot of work, and we have strict hands-off policy for a lot of our bucks, but it's certainly paying off."

In fact, in the past the Mauldins have lost their share of young bucks that showed great potential. Because of those losses, a strict enforcement policy was placed on all bucks. All bucks on the property are now protected unless they're deemed culls or are mature with 8 points or fewer. All 10- and 12-pointers are off-limits until they're at least 6 1/2 years old.

"It's important as a herd manager that we don't get greedy and shoot a deer before its time," Doug notes. "Every buck has an appropriate time to be taken. That means we have to know our deer herd very well. It's taken a lot of work to get our deer herd where we wanted it to be, but it's been a lot of enjoyable work."

Three years ago, Doug found a set of 6 x 6 typical sheds from a buck he figured was then 3 1/2 years old. The sheds had height, mass and width: just what the Mauldins want in a young deer. Doug immediately placed the buck on the do-not-shoot list.

The following year the sheds were once again found from the same 6x6, and it was obvious from their size that protecting this particular buck had been a great decision. He'd definitely grown. But Doug stuck to his management plan; in his mind, the buck was still too young to harvest, so he was kept on the protected list. The deer presented several opportunities for family members to take him that season, but all held to Doug's policy.

Once again, during spring 2016 the buck's sheds were found. He was now 5 1/2 and reaching the prime of life. He'd put on more mass and some spread as well. Doug knew the buck would grow some more in 2016, so he decided to add him to a different list: the one of target bucks for the upcoming season.

Trail camera photos taken in summer 2016 revealed several mature bucks were calling the Mauldin property home. Included among the photos were two of the massive buck that had given up all those shed antlers. But those were the only two photos of the buck all summer or fall. Nobody reported seeing him, either. Were it not for those two summer velvet photos, a person could easily have decided he'd left the area or had been killed by coyotes.

On Oct. 21, Doug decided to do some hunting. It was only his second time out all archery season, and he didn't have any great expectations; he was simply hoping the beautiful evening would bring him a mature doe, or, if everything worked out, maybe one of the big target-list 10-pointers.

Doug chose to try an area where several deer had consistently been feeding under a locust tree in a small clover field. There, Doug climbed into a nearby sawtooth oak and settled into a preset lock-on stand.

It wasn't long before he saw his first whitetail. The local deer were using a nearby high ridge as a bedding area. Once they left their beds in the afternoon, they'd travel through a pine plantation to a nearby creek bottom before moving out into the open clover field. Depending on exact bedding location, the journey to the field edge would be 200-300 yards.

On this particular evening the deer were moving early, and before long Doug found himself surrounded. The hunter was paying close attention to a small 8-pointer feeding on the fallen bean pods. However, that little buck appeared to be focused on something in the pines. A nearby doe and fawn seemed oblivious to the little buck's concerns as they continued eating directly under Doug's tree.

Suddenly, the young buck threw up his head and stared hard at the pines. Within seconds, a giant buck stepped out of them and into the field!

The big buck didn't stop at the edge of the field, as would be customary; instead he straight-lined it directly to the locust tree. Within seconds, he was standing within 10 yards of the trunk Doug was perched on!

There was, however, a very serious problem: the branches of the locust tree were so thick Doug couldn't get a clear shot. In fact, his view was obscured so much he couldn't even positively identify the deer. But Doug thought he was one of the target 10-pointers, and he was going to try his best to get a shot.

Incredibly, the buck fed on locust pods for close to a half-hour--the entire time staying within shooting range--but never cleared the thick branches for a shot opportunity. By this point 12 to 15 other deer had entered the field, and a handful of them were feeding near the buck. The wind was out of the north, and so long as that held, Doug wouldn't be scented. He continued to patiently wait for the appropriate time.

Suddenly, the monster buck charged toward a nearby doe and fawn, running them out from under the locust tree. He then walked back to resume feeding on the bean pods. As he did so, he crossed, quartering away, through an opening 25 yards from the waiting hunter.

That was all the opportunity Doug needed. Decades of experience took over; as if by instinct, he raised his Darton crossbow, took careful aim and released a well-placed shot. The buck ran just 50 yards before falling dead within sight.

"I hadn't taken a big buck in close to 10 years, so I was pretty excited," Doug recalls. "I thought I'd just taken one of the big 10-pointers."

But as the hunter walked up to his buck, he quickly realized this deer was something more.

"The entire time I was in the tree I really couldn't see the antlers very well, because of the branches being in the way," Doug points out. "I was pretty surprised when I walked up to him."

The huge buck lying before him was the same deer he had all the sheds from, and he was certainly a target list buck! In fact, it was probably the biggest deer on the property at the time.

And what a buck it was. The clean 6x6 typical has a total gross score of

173 2/8 inches and an official net score of 164 6/8 typical. That makes the Mauldin buck an official state-record typical by crossbow.

The most striking characteristic of the rack is its mass. Growing 42 inches of mass (an average of 5 2/8 inches per circumference) makes the points look shorter than they really are. The deer also had a live weight of 235 pounds. He was a true Southern giant.

Even as more whitetail hunters continue to flock to better-known trophy states and provinces to chase their record dreams, Mississippi hunters have been quietly making an assault on the record books. Much of that is due to the age structure of the herd. In fact, during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Mississippi reportedly had the continent's highest percentage of 3 1/2-year-old or older bucks in the harvest. That's a great testament not only to the state's management program but also to the many hunters who support herd and land management. I'm sure we'll soon be reading more stories about other great Magnolia State bucks.

BY DAN COLE
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Author:Cole, Dan
Publication:North American Whitetail
Date:Jun 1, 2017
Words:1647
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