By Eddie McFarland
-- I paid my dues by putting in as much time as any one man could or any wife would allow but failed to punch a tag on a buck.
My freezer stayed full of delicious venison, I made certain of that, but like many hunters out there, whether we like to admit or not, we aren't looking to use up an antlered deer tag just to fill the freezer. Putting a doe or two in my freezer and my friends' or neighbors' freezers accomplishes a couple of objectives for me, other than the obvious act of feeding my family.
First, I farm and have too many deer on my property, so crop damage is high, which translates to lower yields, which translates to less money in my pocket. Second, I am obsessed with big-racked bucks and managing the doe population certainly increases my chances of taking a trophy buck off of my property.
Regardless, if it is opening day or the last day of season, every time I sit in a tree I categorize the bucks I see. I carefully analyze their potential or lack of, trying to accurately answer a few not so simple questions: How old are they? Do they have the proper genetics to grow a true trophy rack? Should they be culled out of the heard completely?
Of course, there is a great deal of uncertainty involved. You can't always make an accurate age estimate on the hoof; any number of factors could affect the following year's antler growth; and sometimes you just never can tell. I have logged beautiful young bucks and then never see them again. And I've spent a year or two watching other bucks develop.
For every attention-getting buck that develops into a shooter over the course of a year or two, there are three or more bucks that I have no prior knowledge of: The roaming-rutter, the late-season food-follower, and the mystery shed-shedder. In some instances, with a little homework, you can make a connection to a buck from two or three years back. Other times, for whatever reason, they are there at a time they just don't belong.
One such instance occurred for me a couple years ago. A huge buck spent a great deal of time in a small area about a mile from my farm. It was seen, hunted, and videoed by several hunters, but never by me. Having seen video and pictures, and detailed first-hand accounts, I was quite familiar with this buck without ever personally laying eyes on it in the wild. To my delight and dismay, one evening in stand the buck showed up on my farm, but only came within about 70 yards.
If the right buck never offers a shot, look forward to the next year with even more and bigger bucks. The right buck to put a tag on does not always mean a wall-hanger either. A majority of deer hunters never have the opportunity to take a trophy deer.
A good friend of mine recently reminded me, "You are out there to kill a deer and if a buck comes along, regardless of its score, you should absolutely shoot him." He is right, it boils down to this, a big deer is a big deer no matter what it scores. Don't fall into a trap of obsessing with antler scores.
Expect to kill a big buck but it is okay if you do not. Although you have to be committed to allowing bucks to reach maturity on your property, you cannot forget why you are out there.
Most of us do not travel from state to state or ranch to ranch and shoot monster bucks. Not all bucks will grow record-book racks. Most do not and never will no matter how many years you let them go. If the buck you decide to take is a mature buck and makes you happy that is all that counts.