The hunter who only shoots big bucks based on inches of bone growing on the deer's head and looks down on those who are lesser hunters is much of what is wrong with the image of deer hunting today.
As has been said many times, deer hunting is much more than the size of the rack.
My mother used to joke that dad and I were going out to be next to God and nature when we left to go deer hunting. Success as a deer hunter did not come in the way of harvest until I had spent six years in the woods next to God and nature. I guess those early years may have influenced how I look at deer hunting today.
I've seen my share of success since those early years with my dad. I've been lucky enough to have hunted in several states and even Canada, hunted with a host of great people, seen things in the woods I'll never forget and some of my most deep heartfelt prayers came while sitting in the deer woods.
My biggest deer to date is a 10-point I shot last year. I'm told it would score around 120 Pope and Young. I've not had the deer scored nor did I have it mounted. Instead I had a simple skull mount made. That's good enough for me.
The last 20 years have been good to the deer hunter. Whitetail deer population numbers have increased. There are plenty of deer to harvest and the bag limits have been very generous. Over the last 20 years or so, I've been able to keep enough venison in my freezer to feed myself most of the year.
Besides the great steaks and roasts, I've learned to make sausage, bologna, jerky and such. Venison is a staple in my diet.
During those years, I have shot many 4- and 6-point bucks. Which looking back now, I realize most of them where year-and-a-half old bucks. A few years ago, my hunting partner and I discussed the shooting of does, small bucks and older bucks. We came to a conclusion that we attempt to follow. But as is always the case, there are exceptions.
We began to wonder why we continued to shoot young bucks and only a few does. As I've described above, I would not consider myself a trophy hunter, and in fact I am not too fond of the term or what it implies. What we came to conclude is that we should be shooting more does and less small bucks. To that end we adopted a general rule of shooting does or bucks with 8 points or more.
This mind set gives us plenty of opportunity to fulfill our hunter's desire to complete the hunt with a harvest as well as providing meat for our freezers. At the same time, we have learned to let the smaller, younger bucks walk by our stands and live another day to grow.
I am not going to say that shooting a large buck does not have some added feeling of success to the hunt. From the beginning of hunting, hunters have always strived to kill the oldest and largest of a species. This I cannot deny.
But at the same time, to exclusively chase and only aim to harvest bragging sized bucks, the hunter is missing out on the primal and heart of the hunt; and that is to be successful in the harvest of game.
This is where the killing of does fulfills the first aspect of the hunt, while the holding out for a larger buck fulfills the second aspect of the hunt. For us this mind set has worked well.
The exceptions come when traveling for a hunt. A friend who would normally shoot most anything that comes in range when deer hunting here in Carroll County, will hold out for and only shoot old mature bucks when in Kansas deer hunting.
A young or new hunter should be able to shoot any deer they wish without any reservation within the regulations. As their experiences grow, so will their understanding of the deer woods.
The cooler mornings of fall have arrived and with them the draw to be in the woods, hunting. Most importantly, the success of a deer hunt is not based on the number of inches a buck carries on his head. Success of a deer hunt is not based on the harvest of a deer.
Ultimately, the success lies in the experience.
Author David Peterson in his book "A Hunter's Heart" wrote an outstanding description of why one hunts and I think it best describes my feelings as well.
"Why do I hunt? It's a lot to think about, and I think about it a lot. I hunt to acknowledge my evolutionary roots, millennia deep, as a predatory omnivore. To participate actively in the bedrock workings of nature. For the atavistic challenge of doing it well with an absolute minimum of technological assistance. To learn the lessons, about nature and myself, that only hunting can teach. To accept personal responsibility for at least some of the deaths that nourish my life. For the glimpse it offers into a wildness we can hardly imagine. Because it provides the closest thing I've known to a spiritual experience. I hunt because it enriches my life and because I can't help myself ... because I have a hunter's heart."