The Secrets to Growing Mega Bucks
Will Sudden Impact grow the biggest set of antlers ever? He's already sporting some incredible mass and is off to a great start.
What if you had a secret? the knowledge or technology to grow the biggest whitetail antlers in the world? Would you make that information public or would you keep it confidential? Would you just freely give this precious information or would you hold out for capital? Luckily the people that possess this information are truly nice people and they’re willing to share. And it may not necessarily be a secret, it may just be hard work and common sense…well, maybe a little secret too.
Last season the Flees family, owners of Wilderness Whitetails in Central Wisconsin, grew a set of antlers on their buck named Sudden Impact that absolutely boggles the mind. As a two year old this magnificent buck blows away anything prior with a score of 406 5/8! Yes, you read that right… over 400 inches of antler. To give you some perspective, that’s a decent score on an elk!
I have to tell you a little bit how this came to be; through a mutual friend, Dr. Grant Woods, I had heard of the Flees Family about eight years ago. Dr. Woods would tell of a kindly family living in the big woods of Wisconsin that were growing the absolute biggest antlered whitetail on God’s green earth! From time to time he would mention the Flees family and Shorty Flees and I had exchanged emails on several occasions.
In a somewhat controlled environment, where the deer get the best in nutrition and are able to live old enough to express their potential then genetics mean more and more. In the wild the factors of age and nutrition are probably the most important when it comes to antler size. Here is another one of the Flees’ bucks named "Big Guy."
Then one day two years ago I was putting on a whitetail management seminar at a local retailer in Stevens Point, Wisconsin ‐but get this, the "Wisconsin Badgers" were playing the “Davidson Wildcats” in the "Sweet Sixteen" that night so only seven people attended the seminar. Luckily, one of those people was Shorty Flees. We talked for a while and since have become friends. I can talk with Shorty about hunting, whitetail and wildlife management for hours on end.
Wilderness Whitetails all started in 1977. Carol Flees, the backbone of this operation, reminds me of my mother; right down to the bandana style scarf she ties on before she goes out to tend the herd. She grew up on a farm, she loves hunting, the land and the animals, and she gives back as much love as she takes. You would not believe the care that their whitetail herd receives. Carol actually cuts up "truck loads" of apples by hand to feed to her whitetail. The enclosures they have are large and pristine. One of the keys to growing huge antlers is low stress - and these animals have it about as good as it gets.
Her son’s Shorty and Greg are a "chip off the block." They love the outdoors, are true outdoorsmen who enjoy hunting whitetail in the wild as much as they enjoy raising whitetail for a business. And as some fail to comprehend, they fully understand the difference between the two, one’s a business the other a fun, family-time activity.
This assignment has been a pure pleasure for me. I immensely enjoy visiting with Shorty - I ask him questions about herd management, genetics and whitetail behavior and Shorty asks me questions about planting food plots, nutrition and hunting mature bucks in the wild. I have learned so much from Shorty, things that make me a much better land manager and whitetail hunter - and we continue to learn from each other.
The assignment arose from the idea that Bobby Cole, the CEO of BioLogic, and I, had about showing our customers the amazing spectacle of antler growth over one of our websites. The first person that I thought of was Shorty and Wilderness Whitetails, but at that time Sudden Impact wasn’t even a thought. From that time, because of the kindness of the Flees family, this has turned into a once in a lifetime opportunity to view an unprecedented, manifestation of magnificence.
How can this benefit you as a property manager and hunter? You may think not at all because these deer are in an enclosure - I adamantly disagree. As long as you understand there is a difference, (Please read my rant in the FAQ section) I think there is a never-ending source of information that can make my whitetail hunting better. The data that you can collect in one year in an enclosure like this would take you a decade to collect in the wild. And there are some things you simply couldn't learn in the wild, but rightly so there are some things you simply can’t learn from deer in an enclosure.
Sudden Impact blows away the antler score of any other two year old buck at 406 5/8.
One of the first questions that I asked Shorty was out of the three components that go into creating a monster buck, "age, genetics and nutrition," which is the most important? Shorty answered, "When you get to this point (bucks over 300 inches) it becomes more and more about genetics. But in the wild, the age and nutrition parts are probably more valuable." He continued, "Here, (Wilderness Whitetails) they receive the best in nutrition and are allowed to grow to their prime, so genetics is the most fluctuating determinant in antler size. On my hunting properties in the wild, I would say that age and nutrition are the most important. You want a buck to make it to four or five and you want to give him a consistent diet of 16% protein or better."
I was in the company of both Shorty and Carol when I asked the question of "which parent, the male or the female, had the most influence over antler size." Without looking at each other, or collaborating, as soon as my question was over they both uttered in unison “the doe.” I think this is possibly where the "secret" part of the formula comes into play. Most of the bloodlines that are producing these monster bucks are theirs. They don’t "line-breed," however, they will often "out-cross," to prevent inbreeding. They have brought in other does in the past but they haven’t brought an animal into their place since the mid 1990's. They will from time to time bring in a straw of semen.
Their secret is that they are experts at stacking and combining certain genetic traits and meticulous at keeping records. Shorty said, "The problem is, you can't look at a doe and tell whether she is going to be a producer. You have to keep records so that you can keep track of what they are producing."
Another detail that they believe plays a big role in antler size is stress, or I should say "the lack of stress." Shorty said that after a buck breeds ten to twelve does he becomes stressed and will likely produce antlers under his potential because of it. So using this to my benefit, I want to make sure that I keep my buck to doe ratio as close to even as possible.
Shorty said, "In our part of the country as soon as they're done with the rut it's into our winter. So they really can't add weight, they just try to maintain. At that point even with access to the best nutrition in the world they will just maintain. So if you run the deer down and they loose 30% of their body weight, that's what they go into winter with. Then they come into spring stressed. Down south they can handle more, but because of our conditions and cold temperatures during the winter, paying attention to stress is very important."
They eat significantly less during the winter - it seems as if their metabolism slows down. Shorty Believes that the photo-period then triggers their pineal gland and tells them to start eating more in the spring. It may also be because the doe is entering her third trimester at that time also, and she will need more nutrition. He added, "They eat well through the summer and early in the fall, but once the bucks hit the rut they just "shut off." Some will completely stop eating for a time. A pen of bucks may reduce their food intake over 95% when the rut comes along. They will still drink water, but their food intake almost drops to nothing."
So using this to my advantage as a hunter; concentrating on a water source or food plot that's attracting some "hot" does during the few days before peak breeding is probably my best tactic at that time. However, mature bucks can be vulnerable at food sources for the remainder of the season.
I asked Shorty what his favorite BioLogic blend is and he belted out "Clover Plus" before I finished the question. I echo that sentiment. Shorty has Clover Plus planted in almost all of his enclosures, along with several other BioLogic Blends. He says, "Whitetail are browsers, I just make sure that what they're browsing on is the best nutrition possible. Not only do I want a food that's high in protein, but it has to be digestible. I work up half of each pen every year and plant it. So in two years the entire pen gets a new planting. Clover Plus is my favorite, actually my "herd's favorite," but in the fall they also like the brassicas (Maximum)." I would also like people to understand that we could plant anything that we want and we choose BioLogic, and we have been planting it for the past ten years.”
Greg's children Michael and Katie, and Shorty's son Peyton (pictured here) all love being around the deer and helping out on the farm.
When asked about the difference in how Shorty manages his breeder pens, hunting enclosures or wild hunting properties, he says, "Actually, "herd health" is my biggest concern in all three places. In the hunting preserves and on my own hunting properties, I do plant a few small "hunting plots," but the main focus is to overwhelm them with quality forage. I plant a wider "variety" on the preserves and on my hunting ground because I want to make sure that they have good nutrition the year around. On the "outside" brassicas and winter nutrition plays a bigger role." I think that this would be a good example for more land managers to follow.
For herd number management in the preserves and on his own wild property Shorty relies heavily on trail cameras to provide him with the information necessary to get close to a mature buck. He also uses the cameras to watch the buck to doe ratio and density carefully. Proper doe harvest is of the utmost importance.
Shorty says "I try to base harvest numbers off of the health of the herd." This is another detail that private land managers also need to pay closer attention to. Make your own management decisions off of what your herd is telling you. Unfortunately, our various states' D.N.R.s cannot micro-manage your property. You need to take it upon yourself to manage your property with "your specific" management goals in mind.
When I first had the idea of writing this piece, I thought it would be a pure question and answer, because most certainly to grow a whitetail that big you would have to possess a secret ‐and wow, my article will be the way that "this secret" is revealed to the world! Fact is anybody could do this - the Flees family is just a prime example of fantastic entrepreneurs who possess common sense, experience, and education and they are magnificent at follow through, keeping records and hard work ethic. And more so "they love what they do!" Carol said, "We all started this for the love of the animal and would continue to raise deer even if there wasn't a market in venison or antlers." There's very little chance that the Flees family just got lucky, I would expect "more to come" for generations.