Throwing haymakers at some idiot during a housewarming party is not something I’d recommend, especially if you already have six stitches in your punching knuckle. You’ll blow them out, get kicked out of the party, and accomplish nothing except proving why sobriety is probably the right path for you.
I had just arrowed the biggest buck of my life. It was my first traditional bow-kill, no less. I was proud of that 110-inch eight pointer, but one of my fellow bowhunters who was full of dark rum and low intellect kept talking about how I should have passed on him. It wasn’t about the deer, of course. That was just territorial pissing on his part because he thought he could get away with it. The size of my buck was just the perfect inroad.
The whole thing was a formative moment for me. My biggest buck to date was too small for someone else. It made me realize that it really is best to shoot what makes you happy and let the rest be damned. After all, you’re the only one who really cares what size buck you shoot.
Actually, scratch that. If you’re lucky, you have a spouse or a couple of buddies who are truly happy for your success. Otherwise, you’re on your own. Kill what you want and apologize to no one.
The Truth About Big Bucks After getting into the hunting industry, I lived a privileged life for a decade. Each year, I participated in a media hunt or two, and I filmed some outdoor television with top-notch outfits. Those hunts taught me that, if you have the money, big bucks are easy to kill—too easy for my taste.
Those hunts, and the glimpse into the hunting industry that came along with them, made me realize that a lot of the industry was (and still is) pushing a false narrative.
Even though the old-school voices have been somewhat muffled by the latest wave of content, the “trophy-at-all-costs” narrative stills exists. It’s absolutely pervasive in deer hunting culture. It preaches tactics and strategies built around hunting the dumbest, easiest-to-kill, mature bucks out there. It nearly deifies giant deer, while implying that killing young bucks is hunting’s greatest sin. It dismisses shooting does as nothing more than a late-season trip to Mother Nature’s grocery store or a Terminator-style mission to manage the herd.
The general hunting population, to some extent, has internalized this narrative to the point where new hunters will target trophy bucks out of the gate.
This is dangerous ground, my friends.
Set Your Own Standards I want you to do what makes you happy, and if that means it’s 150-inch bucks or bust, go nuts. I also hear from a lot of hunters who are bitter because they can’t kill what they think they are supposed to.
To them I say, “lower your standards.” Just hunt deer instead of someone else’s definition of a trophy. If you can’t stand to do that on your home turf where you’ve got trail cam images of your target bucks, then travel elsewhere. Find a state that will sell you a non-resident whitetail tag and spend a little time on public land.
This will provide a reality check. If you have four days to hunt and would be happy with just one shot opportunity, it forces some perspective into the picture. It’s also surprisingly fun, if you’re open to filling your tag no matter who walks by. Having hunted a pile of states, all on public land, I can say my most enjoyable hunts are when my buddies and I go out somewhere new with zero standards. We almost always put something in the cooler, and always feel like we’re in the game, which is often the key to enjoying your time on stand.
Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy drawing an Iowa tag and hunting the land of accessible giants, even on public. But it’s also a hell of a lot of fun to go to Oklahoma or Wisconsin and target any deer that might walk on down the trail.
This is something I re-learn every couple of years. As a lifelong headcase with an addictive personality, I can easily get sucked into the trophy obsession. I’ve gone down that road many times. Some seasons, it left me with big taxidermy bills and a lot of bragging rights. But even the best seasons left me a little empty. For some reason, I don’t enjoy only trophy hunting. In fact, I tend to hate it after a few weeks.
That’s just me. You might be different, which is just fine.
After nearly three decades of bowhunting whitetails, I’ve learned that I need to be excited to work my ass off in the woods. This often boils down to setting in-the-moment standards that are challenging but also leave the door open for success. They can’t be so out-of-sync with my situation that I’m unlikely to meet them. Life is hard enough and taking something that is supposed to be fun and making it nearly impossible isn’t fun.
Now, if shooting a “sub-par” buck and posting a grip-and-grin that generates nasty comments terrifies you, here’s a pro tip: don’t. Just don’t. And if you absolutely have to, then own that buck. If anyone gives you shit, ignore them. Folks who tell you "that would have been a good buck next year" or "I can still see milk on his lips" isn't worth your time.
Hunt for yourself. Hunt for the enjoyment it brings you, even if that means committing the ultimate deer hunting sin of shooting a young buck. Because, after all, no one really cares what you shoot. Trust me.
Feature image via Captured Creative.