Shoot or Pass - Hunt for the Memories
So many times we watch hunting shows where the TV personalities are talking about "shooters" and typically pass on bucks that are less than 4 years old. Watching these shows is a great way to gain a better understanding of how to properly age a deer, practice herd and deer management. This is great and should be practice more often, especially when you are hunting on private land where you have the luxury of hundreds (if not thousands) of acres to work with. The more land you have, the better you can practice proper management and not worry about the deer you are managing going to your neighbor's property where they practice the old motto of "if its brown its down." I will get into proper deer management and the patience behind it in another article, but what about when you do not have this luxury and either own a very small portion of land or even hunting public land. You can disagree with me, but here are scenarios and thoughts about whether to shoot or not.
Youth hunters: Do not pressure your kids into shooting the "big one" or having them pass on deer cause they are too small. I think that youth hunters (especially if it is their first deer) take whatever they want; the main focus here is not what size deer they shoot, but that they get to shoot a deer, experience the excitement and have fun.
Trophy Hunters: If you do not mind the idea of eating your tag at the end of the season, then you will want to wait for a "shooter" regardless if you are on public land or not. Learn how to properly age deer and take one that is a mature deer.
Meat hunters: So obviously the best option here for the people that hunt strictly for meat is to take a mature doe and leave the buck be. But once again, you are hunting public land and being picky over the deer you see may not help you fill your freezer. So what if you see a buck...I say if it is early season, let it go, but if you are sitting the last day and a fork walks by, then by all means, do what you need to do in order to put food on your table. I know I may get a lot of backlash from my last statement by some hunters who will have the mind set of (but it is the end of the season, you can let that deer go and it will be bigger next year...). Yes, that is true, but if at the end of the day your goal is to have venison in your slow cooker for months to come, then this may be your only opportunity outside of tag soup.
There are also some other criteria to consider. For example last year I was hunting on a private 60 acre property in Wisconsin, I was pretty set on either shooting a big buck or a mature doe since I had a bonus antlerless tag. The owner said I can shoot whatever I wanted because and he did not care because he tried deer management but no matter how hard he tried, his acreage was not large enough to hold the deer and his neighbors have shot a lot of deer he let go in hopes they would be back next year even bigger, but obviously that never happened. So I drove 3 hour with my two children who were 6 & 7 years old at the time. I took their bows with us and when I was not in the stand, we were outside shooting our bows, playing in the woods, or collecting acorns. They cannot wait for the day they can hunt and have yet to see a harvested deer. Well, it was the last day, I was going out for the morning hunt and as soon as I was done, we were heading back home. Well, time was up, and as I was getting down from my stand, I decided to take a VERY slow walk back and hope that I could walk up on something. Well, I did; I walked up on a very nice sized spike buck (about 2/2.5 years old). Being how I am in farm country in middle Wisconsin, it was a nice size deer for its age. I told myself that I was not going to shoot a non-mature buck, but when the opportunity came, knowing it was time to go, I was not going to make it back to this area to hunt again, I really did not see much activity, and I needed meat on the table...even though all those things were in my head, I was not going to shoot, but then one thing made me take it. The fact that my children were there with me and every time I came to the cabin, the asked me if I got something. I really wanted to shoot this deer all of a sudden for the experience I would have with my children. I took the shot, when back to the cabin, told them I got a deer, told them the story, and then let them come tracking it with me. Now this is not a deer I am going to go around and gloat about, but I will gloat about the extremely memorable experience I had with my children and the excitement they had hearing the story, tracking the deer, and finally harvesting it.
So I do believe in doing your best to properly manage deer, but on public land it can be tougher. Many states just need to enforce and antler restriction (once again, I will eventually write and article about this topic as well), but until then the decision to pass or shoot on non-mature deer will always be debated.
There are both sides to passing or shooting, however, I think most of us hunt for the experiences and memories. So I think you should do whatever will bring you the most happiness, best experiences, and long lasting memories. For me, taking this spike buck with my children present is probably more exciting thing I could have done. So a better way to think about things is not to necessary hunt for meat or a trophy, but hunt for long lasting memories.