Steve Bartylla talks Expectations

Steve Bartylla talks Expectations

Steve Bartylla


We’re going to talk about reasonable expectations today. One of the problems with hunting in general, deer management and habitat improvement most definitely included, is that it’s become a business. Now, that’s great for me, as your support over the many years has empowered me to make a middle class living playing in the deer woods, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. The problem starts with people like me and companies overhyping themselves, their methods and/or their products.

Steve Bartylla talks Expectations
Steve Bartylla talks Expectations

Posted by Steve Bartylla on Wednesday, December 28, 2016

When I first started giving seminars, 25ish years back, I had a midlevel “expert” take me under his wing. I will never forget him telling me, “We are in the business of selling dreams to hunters. It doesn’t matter if the dream comes true or is even attainable. What matters is that they believe and buy the dream.” I made a conscious decision at that point to be always be sure that I sell reality instead of dreams, but have noticed over the years that I’m in a small minority and that he belonged to the overwhelming majority.

Steve Bartylla talks Expectations

This is an issue on all sorts of levels. One of the biggest ways is that approach of selling dreams as reality has convinced a lot of great hunters and/or managers that they are somehow inferior to these “experts” and hunting celebrities when it comes to their own knowledge and abilities. I’ll spare the details, but nothing could be further from the truth. I know a lot of good-great killers that are in the public eye, but all the very best true HUNTERS I know aren’t making a living in this industry. As I posted to someone here the other day, I promise all of you would kill great bucks if you hunted the same grounds I do for 50ish% of each season. Sure, I purposefully hunt public and small, real world properties the other half, but the 50% hunting utopia is flat out easy, and it’s dang hard not to look smart on those grounds.

The other big issue, as it finally applies to today’s TOD, is that selling dreams makes for extremely unrealistic management goals. No matter what anyone says, unless you are going to put up a high fence, there is nothing you or anyone can do to make it so a buck never leaves your ground, unless you have a truly ridiculously large property or a high fence. The largest property to date I’ve managed has been 4000 contiguous acres. That’s not large for out west or down south, but it is for the upper Midwest. Even on 4000, I expected to lose right around 20% of the bucks we didn’t kill each year to neighbors. On the 80 and 120 acre pieces I’m currently managing, I expect 50-60% of the 2.5+ year old bucks we/they pass or don’t get a shot at to be taken out by neighbors each year.

Steve Bartylla talks Expectations

You will NEVER hear me preaching to others what they should or shouldn’t shoot. I personally find that repulsive, particularly coming from someone that has been managing at least 1 piece of ground that goes over 1500 acres for each of the last 25ish years (the properties that size have changed, but I’ve always been managing 1 between 1500-4000 acres since the beginning). It’s up to each of us to decide what best fits their goals on their ground. What anyone else thinks of the bucks we legally and ethically shoot on our properties is white noise and of no concern. If that’s killing a legal spike, sincerely, more power to you! My advice always is and always will be, shoot what’s both legal and makes you happy, regardless of its age. If it’s not legal or won’t make you happy, don’t shoot it. It’s really that simple.

That said, make those decisions based on reality, not dreams. If you own an average 40 that you’ve made improvements to, you generally aren’t going to lose every buck you pass. I’ve yet to manage a property where I couldn’t get an average of 40-60% of the bucks I/clients pass another year older. (you’ll have some years that are worse, some that are better, but that’s my average over the long run) I’ve also never been able to get an average of more than 60% another year on properties ranging from 40-120.

For most of my clients with grounds in that size range, all we’re doing is managing for 3.5 year old bucks. If it’s a 110″ 3.5 yr old 8 that looks like it will be lucky to add 10 more inches over its life or a 150″ 3.5 year old 12 that screams giant next year, if he’s 3.5 and the client sees it, they’re going to do their best to kill it, period. If it’s younger it gets a free pass from us. As a side note, that’s the same goal I have on public grounds or those “meh” real world properties I hunt, regardless of the state or province.

It’s on the 500 acre plus sized grounds where one gets more options. On those, I’m almost always managing to get the most promising bucks to either 4.5 or 5.5 (depending on clients’ goals), while taking out the low enders starting at 3.5. Ultimately, it’s a choice each must make for ourselves, but that’s what I’ve personally found as being realistic.

When making those choices, always remember that it’s a risk to pass a buck. The footage at the bottom is of a 4.5 year old gross Booner I passed on two separate sits (I was in the tree and grabbed the camera when he came in, leaving my Mathews hanging. Talk about gift wrapped!) a couple years back. Having watched him grow up from 1.5-4.5, he vanished a week after I got the footage, never to be seen again. Side note: the first time I saw him that season, he actually bedded down in the Antler King Trophy Clover 25 yards in front of the same stand, but I didn’t bring my vid cam.

There are no guarantees in most any of this. Short of a high fence, there is no property design, product or silver bullet that I’m aware of that will keep bucks on your ground 24/7/365. Even if we could, bucks still die of disease, injuries, fighting, other predators and so on. All we are doing is as many little things as we can to stack the odds of deer spending a disproportionate amount of time on our ground. The more we do that, the more the odds tick up of him either making it another year or us killing him ourselves. Within reason, the more we do the more those odds tick up, and that’s a really big deal, but we’re always going to lose free range deer we don’t want to to neighbors, even if we control 4000 acres of ground. That’s reality.

Whatever choice you make is fine, so long as it’s legal, ethical and makes you happy. Just make it based on reality, not fantasy or phony dreams offered in the bargain bin at a steal of a price.