By Braden Arp
-- What is the true measure of a trophy whitetail? This is a question I have asked myself for years. Is it measured by a scoring system? Could it be the dominant nature of the animal that was harvested? I believe, as do many others, that the answer is in the eye of the beholder. A trophy deer doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be world class.
Sure, I think every outdoorsman would jump at the opportunity to hunt on a world-class operation that offers a chance at a record book buck. However, the fact of the matter is, that is just not the reality for most of us. Yet, I still find outdoorsmen that end up frustrated and distraught because their trophy class bucks don't measure up to the world-class standard.
A fellow hunter told me he would not pull the trigger on anything less than a 140-class buck. My response to that was, "Wow, you must not shoot much."
The fact of the matter is, if we only hunt to take a world-class animal, we will likely burn out long before the satisfaction of a trophy harvest comes.
Don't get me wrong. I believe heavily in management programs and am very much involved in the program we have in place for our lease. I also believe that if you let the bucks grow your hunting grounds should produce mature animals, in which the odds will increase drastically for taking a trophy deer. The fact of the matter is a lot of hunters are harvesting mature whitetails that don't have the gene pool to reach a world-class standard. Being from north Georgia, I can attest to that. I think it is common that most if not all deer hunters would choose to harvest a 4 1/2-year-old buck over a 2 1/2-year old-buck. However, I have hunted several areas that produced 8-point bucks at 4 1/2 years old.
I harvested a really nice 9-pointer a few years ago during archery season that was a true trophy in every sense of the term. A friend of mine looked at the buck's rack and said, as you have all heard, "That would have been a great deer next year." In my eyes, it was a great deer for this year. I put in many hours scouting and preparing to take this mature whitetail.
I was fortunate enough to hunt with Fred Law at Enon Plantation in Union Springs, Ala., some years back. As we were unpacking and getting introduced to the staff and my personal saviors, the cooks, I asked Fred, "Have you harvested any 140-150-class deer here?"
He said, "Sure. We have taken some really nice bucks, but I want to tell you how we run our operation here. You are paying for the experience of a lifetime, not a world-class mount. If you are fortunate to harvest a trophy deer, I want it to simply put the icing on the cake."
Instantly, my idea of a true trophy was changed. You see, Fred understood something that I had yet to learn. There was something to be said for the opportunity to be relieved of the everyday nine-to-five, take a breath of fresh air and hunt such an awesome creature.
Let's face it, time is of a higher priority now than it used to be. Don't simply judge your trophy by the numbers. Judge the class of a buck by the total hunting experience. Ten years down the road, that is what you will remember most.