I spend a lot of time each year putting together my hunting season schedule. I understand that my situation is different than most since I am a professional hunter and this is what I do for a living. However I still do one thing each and every hunt that I have done for years. Before I enter the woods with my chosen weapon in hand I have already thought about, and decided in my mind what caliber of buck I would be happy shooting. I highly recommend that you do the same thing. Even if you are not a professional hunter. In fact especially if you are not a professional hunter. Let me explain.
As a deer hunter you will go through a number of phases throughout your – let’s call it – hunting career. There’s the beginner stage where you ‘just want to shoot one’. There’s the ‘I just want to shoot a good one’ phase. And that may evolve into the ‘I really want to shoot a big one’ phase. Every person is at a different phase. That’s just the way it works. Knowing which phase you are in will help you move onto the next phase. Knowing what kind of buck you want before the hunt will help you do that. In a nutshell knowing what kind of buck you want just may be the difference for you when that moment of truth appears and that animal is standing out in front of you – in firing range.
I spent a particularly long time in the first phase. I did this because I was a really lousy hunter and lacked the knowledge to move on up ’so to speak’. Once I got into the next phase of shooting a buck on a fairly regular basis getting to the next phase was my most difficult jump. I just couldn’t pass up small, immature bucks. I just couldn’t. It was a frustrating time for me. In a way it was even more frustrating that the 15 years I hunted and only shot one spike buck.
My wife Darlene, help set me straight and get me on the right path. One evening during the summer we were getting ready for supper and the conversation got off onto deer hunting of all things.
“I am going to shoot a big buck this fall,” was my remark to her.
She was working on making a salad and without even looking up she said, “Well if you are then you’ll first have to stop shooting those little ones.”
And that was it. I changed the subject and we finished making supper. I really wanted to get 1⁄2 mad about what she said, but in my heart I knew it was the truth. So over the next few months I looked at a lot of magazine articles with pictures of deer and I picked one out like the one I really wanted to put my tag on.
I kept it within reason. It was a nice 8 pointer with about a 16 inch spread. As inches go I would say it was probably about a 125 – 130 inch buck. You know it was a pretty nice deer.
Once I picked the class of deer, off and on, I would draw a little sketch of the buck. When setting around watching TV or something I’d have a note pad and I’d just doodle a little drawing of my buck. I did this over and over again. I didn’t make a big deal out of it but I wanted that photo, that image imbedded in my mind before I took to the woods bow hunting October 1.
Here’s when it paid off. It was the 4th day of the season. It was fairly early in the morning. I heard the buck coming before I saw him. That’s always a bit nerve racking and unsettling for me. I heard him and glancing over my shoulder I then saw him at about 60 yards. He appeared to be heading right towards my tree stand location.
The closer he got. The more nervous I got. I knew he was actually going to walk right under me. I set my feet. I squared up my shoulders, lifting my bow into a good shooting position. Everything was good and I was ready for the shot. The problem is he didn’t fit the class description of the buck I had been drawing all summer or the picture I had picked out of the magazine. He was an 8 pointer alright. But his tines were really short. I imagine the spread on his rack was about 12 inches. He had very little mass. My ankles were bigger around than his neck. Simply put, he was a young buck. He was the kind of buck I had been shooting the past few years. Actually he was a little better than most bucks I’d been shooting.
So I told myself that: ‘Hey this buck is better than any buck you shot last year. You better get him. It will be your best bow kill ever. Wow. What a great day this is going to be! Shoot him and go home with an 8 point buck.’And while this was all happening in a hurry luckily for me the buck got out in front of me and he started browsing around and give me a little more time to think about it.
I actually drew on him and at 15 yards put my first site pin behind his shoulder. This was going to be a sure thing. But as I looked at him, I kept seeing all those sketches of the buck I really wanted. He just didn’t match up. He just wasn’t the one. Not today. So I let down and I watch the buck drift off out of my life.
I want you to know that really hurt! I mean it hurt to the bone. I got that sick feeling down inside just as if I had shot and missed him. I couldn’t believe how rotten it made me feel. I felt rotten the rest of the day and all the way home. I walked into the house, told Darlene what happened and I began another rant about how stupid I was for passing that nice buck up. I went on and on and on and on. Finally my good wife put her hand up, as if to say shut up, and she spoke these words of wisdom.
“It sounds to me like you did the right thing. If you can’t stand the pressure then don’t do it. Go ahead and keep shooting little bucks. I just don’t want to hear about it.”
And that did it. I thought to myself she’s right. I really want to shoot a bigger buck. I know that was not a big buck. He was a good buck for me at the time, but he was not a big buck. Period. So I got over it and went on.
I went that entire season without killing any buck. I passed several other small bucks along the way and I actually felt good about it. I don’t think, I know it made me a better hunter. I started changing my hunting tactics completely from just seeing deer to trying to find more mature bucks. My buddies were still killing the first bucks they would see. I’d go over and congratulate them and help them skin their bucks out ect. I never let it phase me one bit. I was seeing more deer and more bucks than ever because I was honing my skills as a deer hunter.
It wasn’t until the next year during rifle season that I finally knocked down the buck I’d been drawing out for over a year. He wasn’t a giant buck but he was my first 130 incher. It was a good feeling. It wouldn’t have happened had I not already have made up my mind before the hunt what kind of buck I wanted. I had to visualize it and see that buck first in order to make that happen. It’s a practice I still do to this day.
Leap frog gin’ ahead a few years after that. I was in a camp in Saskatchewan, Canada with about 20 other guys. One fellow in particular really like to brag about all the big bucks he had shot. Oh he was excited to get to hunt in Saskatchewan and he was going to shoot another monster buck.
He had already shot big ones in Kansas and Texas and he was headed to Illinois after this hunt.
He just got on my nerves a bit. He got on every body else’s nerves as well. He wasn’t a bad person just a little bit of a blow hard.
About the 4th day of that hunt in he came after his morning’s hunt with a very small buck. You have to keep in mind where we were. We were in Saskatchewan, Canada – home to some of the biggest whitetail bucks on the planet. This was a real trophy hunt as well, with a real opportunity at a true giant buck.
I actually felt sorry for the guy. I wasn’t real sure he even knew what he had done. I walked over to him and his 100 inch buck – I mean a very young small 8 pointer. And I said to him, “Is that the kind of buck you come all the way up here to hunt?”
“Well it’s my hunt I’ll shoot whatever buck I want,” he barked back.
“I understand that sir. What I meant to say is, I really don’t think this is the kind of buck you came up here to hunt? I have found that before every hunt if I draw out the kind of buck I really want, it will help me not shoot bucks that I really don’t want to shoot. It’s your hunt and congratulations on your buck. But if this is not the buck you wanted maybe next time you should envision and already know what kind you really want before you go hunting.”
I know it really wasn’t any of my business. In the end I really was just trying to help. He had another hunt in Illinois the next week. Why make the same mistake again.
By the way I didn’t shoot a buck on that trip. I too had spent a lot of money and two weeks of my time up there. But I knew the kind of buck I was after and it wasn’t a tiny 8 pointer with a 12 inch spread. The truth is that’s the trip where a first time local hunter shot a buck I was hunting right out from underneath my nose behind my stand. The buck had 30” main beams and double drop tines a foot long. That buck scored over 230 Boone & Crockett points. That’s why you go to Saskatchewan. You go to hunt whitetail bucks from the highest class possible.
I think everyone should always shoot the buck you want. It’s your hunt. It’s your experience. However why not get the most out of that experience, especially when you are wanting to shooting a bigger deer?
To this day there are some hunts where my vision or what kind of buck I’m after is just not that big. I may only have a day or two to hunt. I may be hunting in a high pressure area where there just aren’t many mature bucks. I may be hunting with a young person. There are always different standards and variables attached to each hunt, each day. But regardless I always have a particular size buck in my mind that I will be satisfied with and I stick to it. Knowing what I’m after (the caliber of buck) ahead of time makes all the difference in the world when that moment of truth comes and that animal is standing there in front of you. It will make a difference for you too.
Good deer hunting to you my friend!
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