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You Have Permission: Shoot Small Bucks!

Is Trophy Deer Management Ruining Deer Hunting?

Bowhunting Management Buck

Sometimes I’m just not sure. Has the rise in attention to deer management among hunters done more harm than good?

It seems like guys can’t kill a small, or average, buck without feeling the imposing disapproval of our modern hunting culture. When he does, he’ll cling to excuses about “management bucks” as a kind of balm to soothe the embarrassment.

You probably know the scene. A newer hunter is talking with some experienced ones about the buck he killed. His excitement quickly fades as he sheepishly hears the deer describes as, “descent little buck” or, “just a basket rack” or worse of all, a “cull buck.” If I hear one more young hunter talk about how their deer is, “not bad for a ____” whoever he’s hunting with is getting a punch in the throat.  ( <– sarcasm )

Call it “quality management” if you like, but what most guys mean is “trophy management”.  Deer management has a lot more to do with buck-to-doe ratios and fawn recruitment than it does the scoreable points or age structure of older bucks. It appears the DNR’s in most states are doing a great job issuing tags, bag limits, specific area permits, antler restrictions, etc. The deer heard in North America is healthier than it has been in decades. So why all the pressure on the average hunter to manage beyond that point? My guess – guys want trophies.

Before you start writing that email, or your deer-biologist quoting comment, let me be clear: I love QDMA type organizations, and support several of them. I whole-heartedly believe it’s our responsibility as hunters to manage the resource of wild game in our country. It’s not, however, every hunter’s responsibility to manage for your definition of a trophy.

Of course we need to manage our deer. Absolutely. That said, I think there is also a side effect from the rise in deer management speak that we must address. Managing the health of the heard is much different than defining another man’s trophy for him. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? And, one man’s cull buck is another man’s wall-hanger.

It’s okay. You have permission. If it’s a legal deer, and you like it, you can to shoot it. You’re allowed to be proud of it! That, is a trophy buck.

An Honest Kill is a Trophy, Period.

If you watch enough hunting shows, and read enough of our magazines, you’re bound to end up drawing boundaries around a “trophy” animal. It may be defined by a number, a scoring club, a record book, or your buddies biggest buck to date.

Great! I hope you get your trophy; several of them. Just don’t impose your number, standard, or minimum on other hunters. If it’s a legal animal, killed by a hunter who put in the hard work, it’s a trophy. Period.

I’m afraid we don’t realize the disrespect we pay to fellow hunters and the animals we love so much. The hunter who killed that small buck probably put his heart and soul into that hunt. The deer suffered violence, pain and death. How dare we not consider every kill a trophy?

I know a young man who used to hunt a lot; he was passionate about it. He got a little older, and started taking hunting trips all over the place. Fast-forward a few years and now he’d tell you he doesn’t even “bother with these little deer in Georgia.”

It breaks my heart. Sure, it’s his right. He can do what he wants. Yet, I can’t help but to cringe when I see someone, lose their love of the hunt for the love of a trophy. There is no glorying, no riding around showing off “these little deer” for some guys. Are we missing the point?

Partly, I blame them for missing the point altogether. Mostly, I blame the rest of us for allowing it.

Some Hunters Just Need to Kill Deer.

How else do we learn?

Folks taking up hunting today are smothered in our media. They are scrapping up info trying to learn and teaching themselves a lot of this stuff. Unfortunately, most resources they turn to for help are not appropriate. It comes from guys who are managing (farming) large tracts of land to increase the buck scores. Again, that’s fine and awesome. Seriously. But that is not what needs to be in the mind of a guy trying to hunt his first deer, or his first dozen for that matter.

What about a hunter who’s not trying to get footage for a TV show or hunting on his own farm? What about the guy who’s going to be lucky to see 2-3 deer this year? Or maybe the next 3 years for that matter? Is he supposed to let those 3 year olds walk? What about the 2 year olds? Let’s say we’ll all give the hunter a pass for his first buck, what then? Can he kill a small 2 year old buck for his 10th deer and expect to escape the disapproving brow of our hunting community’s pop-culture?

The Side Effects: Bad for Morale?

Did you see that picture up at the top of this page? Go ahead, scroll back up there and take a good look, I’ll wait…

Ok, did you see it? That was the first buck I killed with a bow. It’s a trophy buck. The picture is grainy because I snapped it late in the evening with my phone after dragging it out of the woods into a clearing where my truck was parked. It was already getting dark and I needed to get it skinned out and on ice before the Georgia heat damaged anything. That deer’s death would sustain my family’s life. I wanted to treat it with respect and use as much of it as possible. I remember that hunt more than other bucks I’ve killed before, and since. The pic isn’t great, because I was in a hurry, but it is a trophy.

I’m not sure if it’s  political/commercial implications, or if everyone is truly antler crazy. A hyper-management of deer has permeated into popular hunting culture and it’s effecting us. It’s rare to watch a show where hunters are after meat for the table. When you finally do see one, it’s usually filler between big-antler shots and lectures on culling the heard. When have you seen footage of a grown man smiling ear to ear holding a basket 8 like mine?

(At this point, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t point out that there is some great hunting TV like Steven Rinella’s MEAT EATER, or Randy Newburg’s FRESH TRACKS. There are guys out there doing great things, capturing the heart of the hunt and the reality of the average hunter. Hat’s off to them for making it real and helping learners to stay grounded.)   

In case you missed it earlier, let me remind you again – I’m a supporter of quality deer management. I think we need to manage our herd. All I want to address are what seem like unfortunate side effects. Let me tell you a quick story…

My Dad plays the guitar.

Not the kind of “plays the guitar” that makes you think of school recitals. Think more like:  he lived in Nashville and made a living playing guitar. He’s good.

I also learned to play the guitar growing up. Ironically, it was very hard for me to learn from him. You see, my dad was so good, it seemed impossible. I would imagine my fumbling fingers burning up the fret board, like his, and lose my heart for ever succeeding. It wasn’t until I was older and basically taught myself the fundamentals that I was able learn from him.

The point?

I’m afraid we’ve created a hunting culture that is too good. The barrier of entry is too high! We’re flooded with images of monstrous bucks, and we’re nit-picking our tactics to death. When a newcomer looks at joining our ranks, they’re at risk of feeling like I did trying to learn to play the guitar from my dad. Hopefully, they have enough resilience to wade through the muck alone, or find a level-headed mentor. But what if they don’t? What if we only have those first few opportunities to welcome them in?

Brothers, let’s lower the barrier of entry.

Here are a few things I’m committed to sharing with every hunter I have the pleasure of knowing. These ideas are not in contrast to quality deer management principles, but as a complement to them.

1. Take the pressure off.  The hunting community is known for being an open family. We welcome newcomers and look out for one another. Well as we should. So why do we put so much pressure to perform on ourselves? Any deer is a success.

2. Celebrate every kill. Hunters need to kill deer. That’s the only way we learn, grow, and become the kind of stewards who manage well. When an animal has given its life, it will be celebrated. Any 6 point buck is going to get just as much appreciation as the 160” 5 year old on camera at hunting camp.

3. Support the guys who keep it real. It’s worthy of our rally. When we find shows, sources and hunters who have their heads on straight, we have to show our support. The community at large will notice what’s working and what’s drawing a crowd.

So what do you think? Has Deer Management gone too far? Is this idea totally off base and narrow minded? What am I not considering above? Why don’t guys celebrate the ‘basket rack’ like they do a P&Y? Speak your mind below, we want to hear!

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  • Matthew Forte

    Thanks for writing this, Aaron. I hunt deer, not bucks, and I suspect most hunters are after deer. If I’m on someone’s private property, I’ll shoot whatever the landowner tells me to shoot. If I’m on public property, I’ll shoot the first deer I have a shot at. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with guys who hunt for bucks–my father’s dandy buck from this season is in the freezer.

    • Aaron Farley

      Thanks for the comment Matt! I love your approach to hunting. Trophies are all in the eyes of the beholder. We get to choose what we kill and what we don’t.. But if you’re going to kill it, respect it!

  • http://www.chasingthehunt.com/ ChasingtheHunt

    Aaron, I am glad that you wrote this article. It is great advice for new and veterans in the hunting community. It really is about respecting the game and not the points. I agree with you that there is nothing wrong with shooting a trophy, but don’t put down the kid that only got a spike. Thanks for your insight!

    • Aaron Farley

      Glad you stopped by guys! Respect certainly is the key. Thanks!

  • Matt Cooper

    Hey Aaron, I love where your heart is on this and agree completely. I am fortunate to be able to hunt on our family ranch and we make a business out of doing so. We’ve had a management/breeding program for 12 years in south texas and have to remind myself all the time of this especially when I have buddies show me game cam footage. They ask me do I shoot him or not. I tell them don’t fall into the “big brother syndrome”, which is don’t try to keep up with what your big brother has, you hunt what “you” want to hunt. I’ve had to explain to them that West TX deer are completely different than South TX deer and with their management your looking at age first and antlers second, especially if its for the love of the hunt and not business…

    • Aaron Farley

      Hey Matt, thanks so much for bringing your perspective to this discussion. I’m so glad that we have guys like you managing property to it’s fullest potential, and making a business out of doing something you love. You’re totally right, “hunt what ‘you’ want to hunt”. That’s my heartbeat. I want to see guys proud of their hard work, no matter what outcome. Thanks!

  • Al Quackenbush

    Awesome article Aaron and I am right there with you. There are some great responses to your article, too. Too many people are all about the antlers and judge you based on them alone. Even to this day, guys in CA ask me why I would shoot a doe. It’s easy. When I learned to hunt it was to eat. Plan and simple. Why do I hunt now? Because I love the hunt and I love to eat. I’ll still take a doe if the opportunity presents itself. Do I like seeing a mount on the wall? Sure, who doesn’t, but that’s not WHY I go out and do what I do. Great insight and well thought out. This one should be shared with everyone.

    • Aaron Farley

      Thanks for the feedback and kind words Al. Antlers are a great bonus, but the real prize is the hunt! Here’s to a fresh, grilled doe backstrap. 😉

  • Jerry webb

    Im all for a person learning how to hunt and i allow new hunters to take anything they see on my best ground as a guest but a permanent hunter on my properties must be a big buck hunter once you become a seasoned hunter hunting is easier if all my property had were basket bucks i would no longer have the desire to hunt and as far as meat hunting the biggest bucks most always have most meat i would never down grade a persons deer but i also would not let to many of my young deer be sacrificed to the point where it effected my hunting

    • Aaron Farley

      Jerry, thanks for the great comments! You are definitely correct about the maturation of a hunter and the deer he chooses to kill. We need more guys who encourage young and new hunters to experience all our hunting lifestyle has to offer. It sounds like you’re doing a great job managing your land for the deer you want, and encouraging others to take what they want. I love it! Thanks again for the feedback.

  • Mike Dwyer

    I wonder if some part of the problem is that too many deer hunters are not versatile hunters, meaning they only hunt deer. On top of that, most people don’t need more than 2-3 deer to take care of their families for a year. So…bow season starts in August and goes for nearly 5 months. In there you also have muzzle loader, modern gun and crossbow in most states. That is a LOT of time to kill a few deer. So it makes sense that the deer hunter would hang in there and wait for that monster buck to justify all that time in the stand. When I am duck hunting I am not thinking about trophies. I am thinking “I get to shoot 6 of these today and then another 6 tomorrow.” There’s no need to wait for a monster. If there is any bragging it’s about numbers.

    For this reason I love being a versatile hunter. I bow hunt a few times in the early fall when I’m not shooting doves or squirrels but not too much because we have early wood duck and early goose seasons. I dust off my muzzle loader for a weekend in October. Modern gun season is a span of a few weeks between fall turkey and duck season. It’s not that I don’t take deer season seriously but man, there is so much other stuff out there that I can’t imagine spending soooo much time chasing deer. And because of that, I just want to put some meat in the freezer. The fish & wildlife guys say we need to kill does. Lots of does. So I usually try to shoot one (or two) and call it a season.

    • Aaron Farley

      Hey Mike, thanks for the great comment. I think you’re onto something with the lack of variation in most hunting efforts. More hunting that determined success by numbers and meat would probably decrease the attention to scores in other areas. Your dead on with the amount of time to take a bid deer as well. At the same time, I think many guys who are limited to weekends, and have family/work/commitments to balance are still struggling to get out much during those long seasons. At the end of the day, any deer is a trophy, and if that’s a stud buck for someone, it’s impressive. It that’s a smaller buck for someone, who has less time, access, and property, it’s impressive too. Trophies are relative aren’t they?

      Thanks for the great input Mike!

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  • Tim Wavrunek

    Pretty sure this is the BEST article I’ve ever read on the topic!!! It brings a sense of great introspection and calm to this hyper-responsive world without disparaging any of our hunting brethren. In this day and age of divide and conquer we are at each others throats on way too many topics, thereby further polarizing us against one another. Way too often we are told that we have to be all in on one side or the other otherwise we’re flip floppers or don’t have a back bone, or insert any other disparaging remark here, when the reality is that the vast majority of the time, the truth and the betterment of us all lies somewhere in the middle. I’m proud to be a hunter/woodsman/fisherman/conservationist/teacher/student of nature on a daily basis……….today I’m just a little more proud. Thank you for this article!

    • Aaron Farley

      Tim, thanks man! I agree with you, we spend too much time at odds with our brothers rather than encouraging and supporting one another. I want to see my fellow outdoorsman succeed. Whether that’s by connecting on a small buck, or taking a giant, or sitting in the woods watching a sunrise and getting some much needed peace. I really appreciate your comment Tim, don’t be a stranger!

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  • Mike S

    Simply an outstanding article and I couldn’t agree with you more on this topic. Everything in the hunting world seems to focus and revolve around ‘trophy’ bucks, whether its the cover of magazines or hunting shows. I can see how the younger hunters are geared towards feeling that in order to be successful you must take bucks that are trophies by everyone else’s standards rather than their own. I’ve been bow hunting in Michigan since I could walk and I live and breath hunting year round. Years back I too got caught up obsessing on the numbers for P&Y and Booners and that’s when hunting felt like a job. After that season I got back to my roots and vowed to never get caught up again and now I feel that sheet excitement taking a deer as I did when I was first starting. You don’t have to take a bigger and better deer every single year to feel like you are a better hunter. I took a buck last fall that rack wise was much smaller than deer I’ve taken in the past but when you see my smiling face in the picture you can see I’m certainly not disappointed! Bow hunting whitetails is hard work and when you can successfully put a good shot on a deer in their bedroom you need to take it all in and be grateful for the opportunity. Do I love big bucks? You better believe it and just like all of you I dream of that big 12pt every fall. But I won’t let other hunters, TV shows or magazines make me feel badly for arrowing a buck that by their standards is ‘too small’.

    • Aaron Farley

      Thanks for the great comment Mike! I like what you’re getting at, a lot. We’ve created a hunting culture where killing monster bucks feels like winning, and winning feels like the point. I want to promote a culture where going is the point, experiencing is the reward, and there is no competition among brothers. Thanks again for the fantastic feedback!

  • Mark Kenyon

    A lot of great points here Aaron, and I agree with much that you had to say. That said, here’s my reasoning for why I (and I believe many others) personally choose to target mature deer … http://wiredtohunt.com/2014/02/14/to-climb-the-mountain-answering-the-question-of-why-i-hunt-mature-bucks/

    • Aaron Farley

      I love your response Mark! I worried that this post would be misunderstood when I published it. I am pumped that guys (you) choose to hunt mature bucks. I find myself doing that more and more these days. What burdens me is how hunting mature bucks is portrayed as what is expected for everyone but a 12 year old’s first. My hope is that our hunting culture would embrace woodsmanship, the hunt itself, and a man’s ability to best the wilderness, more than judging age classes and antler scores. At the end of the day, for deer heard health and numbers, a 2 year old buck will breed just as well as a 7 year old. We err when we blame our trophy hunting on “management”. Let’s just hunt, and everyone be glad they have brothers in the field killing deer at all, rather than lobbying to stop our freedom to do so.

      I really liked Mark’s response above guys. Make sure to click the link and read his take on the issue. He’s also recently launched a great book about his hunt for one particular deer – it’s a fantastic read. You can see it here: http://wiredtohunt.com/moments-with-six-shooter-ebook/

    • twodux

      I agree with your reasons for you targeting mature deer. But there is a big difference between you CHOOSING to target large bucks and game management policies that FORCE all hunters to target large bucks such as 4 pt or better hunting. I am OK with those kinds of hunts if they are limited in nature and not statewide for everyone. Everyone has different circumstances and the more they get to choose what kind of hunting they are comfortable with, the better. (As long as it’s good for the long term health of the herd) For example, any time it’s legal and needed to trim a herd to keep it healthy, I’m all for taking does. Doesn’t hurt my feelings in the least.

  • Jon Jackson

    GrAt arTicle!! But I Respectful Disagree. IT Boils Down.To Confidence. How Confident Are You That You Are Going To Take Deer For Meat And How Confident Are You That You WIll Kill A Trophy Buck. Most Hunters Have Confidence That They Will See Deer To Hunt For Meat..But moMost Hunters Dont Have The Confidence In Them Selves To See A Trophy Buck. And Thats Because They Dont Know How To Hunt Them. Hunters Quickly Realize That A Trophy Buck Is A DFfferent Type Of Animal And They Get Frustrated And They Shoot A Buck With Horns.. If A Big Bodied Spike Was StandIng Next To A LEthargic Trophy Buck Who Is Warn Out From The Rut… Please Show Me Hunter That Will Shoot Th SpiKe Over The Trophy? So What I Encourage Is To Make.All Hunters Knowledgable… I Just Wrote An Article On Flyfishing For Trophy Bucks On http://Www.Stagfit.com

    • Aaron Farley

      Hey Jon, thanks for the commend. I enjoyed your article on Fly Fishing for Bucks. I love where you’re coming from and think there is definitely merit in a guy’s freedom to choose what bucks he takes while hunting. The problem arises when killing a mature buck is elevated to a platform as a “better” buck or hunter. Many guys kill bigger deer because they have more time to sit in the woods. Or because they have access to better property. Not because they are superior hunters. I’d say there are men who trek through the mountains year after year, in tough terrain with limited access to big bucks who kill average deer year-after-year and are “better” hunters than some guys sitting over a 100 acre field with a 300 mag. My hope is that we respect the hunt, and the hunter, and not put so much emphasis on the trophy. I hope we can resist the urge to rank the “win” as the hunting community. The win is that we are the fraternity of hunters, and we have each other’s back. Thanks for the great input Jon.

      • Jon Jackson

        I Totally Understand!!

  • twodux

    I’d guess that part of the pressure to “score” on big bucks comes from the out of state hunts that many of us do. Who goes to Montana, or Colorado, or Texas, to shoot a spike or a doe. For one thing, out of state hunts cost money, so the thinking goes….. “I didn’t spend all this money to shoot a doe. When money becomes involved, it twists our expectations. People hunt out of state mostly with the expectation of getting a “trophy”. We want SUCCESS for our hard earned dollars. It’s the reason people pay guides and hunt on game ranches. You start to feel gypped if you don’t get some prescribed standard of an animal.

    The sportsmen’s TV shows,commercials, and hunting mags, and even
    hunting websites all reinforce
    this kind of thinking that you need to hold out for a certain standard
    of animal. But a lot of people don’t travel far to hunt. They just want
    to be out spending with their family in the woods getting some delicious
    wild meat to eat. And maybe animals of that certain standard don’t even
    exist where they hunt. A trophy is an unexpected bonus in some places. Are they supposed to feel bad because they shot a
    doe or a spike or a small forky? That is the wrong message to send to

    I like eating deer and elk and moose. Filling my freezer is my trophy. How any sets of antlers does one need on his wall? I once took a trip with a group of friends to a Texas ranch with lots of trophy deer and hogs and some exotics. Everyone tried t pressure me into only taking “trophy” sized animals. My friends were all trying to take trophies. I was looking for meat for my freezer. I took a decent whitetail buck. And then I surprised the owners by asking if I could take a doe. (they were fine with it as they cull does from the ranch ever year) Then we went hog hunting and everybody was after the biggest set of tusks. But when the ranch hands said that the big boars weren’t good for eating, I went looking for an eater sow. Got a nice 100 pounder. At the end, my friends were happy with their trophies, and I was happy with my full freezer.

    I have been lucky in my life to live in places with lots of game and fairly liberal seasons. I have taken more game than the average hunter, from towhead to spikes,does, big bucks, cow moose, bull moose, cow elk, and bull elk. The ONLY reason I’ve ever been selective with the game I take is to extend my season as I love being in the woods hunting. If you’re hunting in a place where only one animal is allowed, taking one the first morning puts a damper on your season. So if I have the time, and a reasonable expectation I will get something if I wait, I will be slightly more selective than usual.

    Lastly, when the perception of the non hunting public is that the only worth an animal has to hunters is as a trophy, hunting is doomed. Many non hunters understand hunting for food. But only a tiny minority approve of “trophy hunting”.

    • Aaron Farley

      Twodux, thanks for some GREAT input! I think you nailed the heart of the issue. I particularly like your point about hunting’s perception in the public eye as it concerns trophy hunting. I love your approach to hunting, and handle my own hunting seasons much like you do. At the end of the day, we are in error when we say things like “it’s harder to kill big bucks” as if the guys who don’t are less skilled and not as good of a hunter. Infighting has no place in the hunting community, especially in this political climate. I love that hunters have the freedom to hunt a monster buck should they choose to. What I love even more, is that hunting is accessible to the masses and a rewarding effort regardless of the game animals taken, or not. Thanks again for such good feedback!

      • twodux

        I have no problem with guys who want to pursue trophies whatever that is to them. I’m just in disagreement with people who think that’s the end all to hunting. That is elitist thinking. I also don’t mind if a state manages an area as a trophy area at certain times for more “trophy” production, as long as it doesn’t take away too much from producing enough regular animals for the masses.

        From what I’ve seen and read on management, you can manage for more abundance (and more success for hunters) or you can manage for more older, larger animals. Those two different goals don’t coincide very often. To get older animals you have to try to stockpile or save animals which is counter productive to managing for more hunter success. So a third version would be to manage for a mix of the two goals.

        You can’t stockpile animals in the wild though. There are too many variables that affect their numbers. Predators, highway deaths are a couple, along with the two biggies, habitat and winter. One bad winter can wipe out every thing you’ve been sacrificing hunter success to get. And if you save too many animals, you get to the point where the habitat won’t support the numbers you need to maintain enough older animals to get hunter success to an acceptable level. When habitat is stressed, birthrates suffer.

        The Scandinavians have it figured out pretty good for volume hunting. In their moose seasons, they try to mimic nature. In nature many young are born, but few survive for very long. Hopefully enough to replace the older animals that die in the course of things. So the Scandinavians, with their moose seasons, put the onus on taking a lot of young animals, a few mature animals mostly males, and are fairly liberal on older “trophy” sized bulls that are at the end of breeding productivity. They try to maintain a healthy stock of breeding age cows and enough prime mature bulls to have a successful mating season. So they get a good calf crop most every year and save enough to replace the older animals that are killed and harvest the rest. They don’t try to save all the young from any one season. (Like we do here in some places, emphasizing taking mostly prime breeders). When you put all the harvest effort on your best breeders, reproduction suffers. Their method goes along the same lines as your post suggested though. To have many animals for the masses to hunt, you have to be willing to take younger animals and not care so much about trophies.There is a lot of good info on the web about their management methods and philosophies. If you can’t find any, let me know and I’ll send you a link.

  • Chris Walker

    Aaron great article on a hot topic that is not discussed much! I’ve been fortunate to hunt and grow up in trophy buck country in Central IL and have witnessed exactly what you speak of. I began hunting with my dad when I was 5 and shot my first 8 point basket rack when I was 9. I’ve been fortunate enough to not miss a single deer season since 1994 and have harvested and had opportunities at several mature whitetails. For the first 8-10 years I hunted, I mostly shot the first deer that walked by and was always tickled to death to fill my tag. I didn’t want to go home empty handed and I was the only one out of my friends that really hunted so I wanted to go back and tell my hunting stories. Once I hit about 20, I started to slowly learn how to hunt mature whitetails. My hunting preparation now started months before the season, I turned into a scent freak, we quit going on nature walks in the woods, and I developed confidence and patience. It took a couple of years to get to that level, but then it started paying off and I was harvesting at least 1 mature whitetail a season. For me it was too easy to kill a young buck and I was seeking a greater challenge. I could kill a young buck out of our backyard or after sitting in a stand for 10 minutes. My mindset was let these guys go to grow up to get bigger. If I wanted or needed meat on the table, I’d shoot a doe. I really have no desire to shoot a small buck unless its deformed, old cull buck, or it is injured. That is just me and I completely understand others do not have all the hunting opportunities as I do.

    Our hunting property is like most now days, surrounded by a few wealthy guys who only hunt mature bucks and tend to be from out of state. My best friend who lives in Chicago never had anyone to teach him how to hunt or give him the opportunity. I took it upon myself to teach him how its done. After he completed his hunter safety course, I taught him how to hunt and allowed him to come with us for gun season. Now he’s harvested 2 deer and I was with him both times. He is a guest on my family’s property and we let him shoot whatever he wanted. This year we had a small 10 point chase a doe right to us, he shot the buck and I shot the doe. It was one of the most exciting hunts I’ve had in years and it was awesome to share a hunt with a close friend and to see how excited he was! That hunt was actually the highlight of my entire season this year as we were plagued by EHD and mature bucks didn’t really exist…Later that day one of our neighbors stopped by and congratulated him on his kill and I’m sure he could tell how happy Mike was. I knew this guy was being fake as can be and knew he was most likely pissed we shot a young buck. That same neighbor a few weeks later gave me shit for shooting little bucks, for allowing a friend of mine who hunts maybe 5-6 days a year if he’s lucky to shoot a deer! Some people just have lost what hunting is all about and only measure success in the form of a score.

    I hope other hunters will eventually have the opportunity to pass young bucks and to wait for mature whitetails like I do, but I’m not going to put them or their deer down that they have worked hard for. Some of the veteran hunters I hunt with still shoot the first deer that walks by and they have several giants on the wall. I don’t judge them – that’s their deer and they were successful at hunting that day! We need to all save the negativity for PETA, legislatures, and others against hunting. Not our fellow hunters.
    Happy Hunting to all!

    • Aaron Farley

      Thanks CW! Sounds like you’re the kind of friend that new hunters need. We really appreciate you sharing. I couldn’t agree more – “save the negativity for PETA, legislatures, and others against hunting. Not our fellow hunters.”

    • Mac Arnold

      Appreciated what you wrote about. Not sure why you felt like you had to justify favor for QDM a few times. Seemed like a contradiction. Maybe in preparation for the blowhards who would skewer you for “any deer is a trophy” stance. I know I feel pressure to bag the ultimate buck every year. Mostly I place this pressure on myself. Not really realistic but I still have a freezer packed with venison despite this looking like it will be the third in a row that I won’t take a buck of any caliber. And you’re right, this stuff is hurting hunting. In some of the circles I run in, it is said that living in a life filled with expectations can cause an overall unhappiness — “my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of other people (and life in general) are, the lower is my serenity. I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations.”

      • http://www.rusticman.com theRusticMan

        Thanks for the comment Mac. As for QDMA – I think it’s important we respect fellow hunters firmly. I know a few of the guys at QDMA and NDA and they are good men putting a ton of resources into research, habitat, conservation, and things like that. Most of the guys who are hardcore QDMA followers do basically amount to trophy hunters – but that’s fine. I hope they get their trophies. The issue comes when they (or we) force standards on other hunters. We should be able to celebrate any legal harvest together, as the hunting brotherhood. Just like I celebrate the accomplishments of the QDMA.

        • Mac Arnold

          Unfortunately, though, they do impose their values on us. Try to get hunting laws changed. At least in Michigan I know they tried. The camp where I hunt it’s 6-point or better. So I can handle it as well. But sometimes it’s nice to be somewhere where it’s not as restrictive. Especially if I were to take my kid out. But then we have these idiotic youth hunting seasons in September where anything goes so it’s a little bit of a head-scratcher. I say those seasons should be doe only.

    • JB

      How many of those rich trophy hunters even care about eating the meat? Every deer harvested for it’s meat is sacred whether it’s a Booner or a two year old doe and should be respected and enjoyed. To those just beginning to hunt, I stress shot placement and shot selection angles and ethics because the best meat comes from perfect clean kills.

      • CW

        Some of them care about the meat, but they are most likely to take the entire deer to a processor and leave them to do the dirty work. I take pride and enjoy butchering my own kills. I try and get all the meat off as I possibly can. I seriously enjoy eating venison and like to kill at least 3 deer a year to supplement my protein needs. I took a 150 class ten pointer on Veterans day this year. I felt a great sense of pride cooking up the backstraps for Thanksgiving at my in-laws this year. Everyone really liked it too and I think others are more open to trying venison these days.

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  • Lucas Kastner

    Deer hunting is a big part of my life i do everything to prepare for season year around scouting, shooting my bow, hanging stands and planting food plots. When i started hunting i shot plenty of does and small bucks with my bow but after a couple years of that it was no longer as difficult. So i started to hunt older smarter bucks not because i am a “trophy hunter” but because of the challenge and rush it gives me to shoot a 5 or 6 year old buck. Im sick of guys saying “i am a meat hunter” to me that means you do not have the drive to work hard to kill a mature buck or doe so you shoot the first fawn you see because your lazy. THATS RIGHT i said if you shoot a fawn and its not your first few years hunting you are simply lazy. Even on public land i would not shoot a fawn though you obviously cant manage a herd on public land why kill a deer for very little meat that has not had a chance to grow all because your to lazy to work hard and kill an adult deer. If i just shot every deer that walked by like the so called meat hunters i would be tagged out opening day of bow season so i would get only 1 day to enjoy the outdoors

    • Jay

      Your comment is ridiculous. If someone wants to shoot a deer that is legal because they want meat then they are entitled to that. No one is saying shoot a fawn, but regardless, people like you are ruining hunting. If you only hunt older smarter bucks, you’re a trophy hunter. sorry bro. If you shoot a legal deer and keep about 30-50 lbs of meat, then you’re a meat hunter. Stop judging people because they don’t follow what the plan like you want. You realize not culling smaller bucks is not healthy for the gene pool right? Those bucks are breeding now because you’re a trophy hunter.

      • steve

        Jay: Lucas said a specific age class buck and NOT antler size if you would be educated enough to understand. Hunting mature bucks does not mean you are trophy hunter. Hunting mature deer only shows that you are a likely a more experienced hunter. Then you go on about culling… (shaking my head)…

        • Jay

          What is wrong with wanting meat? Nothing. Besides a younger doe or buck tastes better anyway. People like you and Lucas have ruined deer hunting.

          • steve

            I didnt say i dont want meat..i shoot does regularly… question jay: have u ever passed on an ethical shot opportunity on a buck with a valid buck tag in your hand?

          • Jay

            Yes only because the area I was in had a 15inch antler spread rule. I shoot one deer a year for meat. Buck or doe. Whichever appears first that I can legally shoot. Then I’m done. Deer hunting bores me to tears. I’d rather turkey or squirrel hunt. But my family likes venison so I get one deer.

          • steve

            Well for us so called “trophy hunters” hunting is more than just the harvest. Its the challenge, the scouting, shed hunting, and the management of not only the herd but the habitat as well. Most so called “trophy hunters” put thousands of hours and $ into each coming season. Then we hear people complaining about the number of deer being too low and blaming the dnr for it. When in fact they are the ones pulling the trigger. Some shooting 5-7 bucks off a 40acre property year after year…. obviously that isnt you in theis case but its just annoying. As quality deer managers we strive to balance the deer herd so that ALL deer bucks and does can roll into winter in as good of shape as possible. With 100% meat hunters your hers would become very unbalanced and bucks would be so worn out coming into winter that the deer herd would suffer. Also in the north does need to drop fawns within a short window for the fawns to survive. With an unbalanced herd the does get bred over a wider range of dates which leads to fawns getting born to late. You obviously dont live and breath deer hunting like some of us but to each their own…

          • Jay

            I understand completely what you’re saying. However people get so jacked up on antlers they forget about the hunt in general. besides, if dnr says you can shoot 7 bucks on 50 acres and those people own that land what’s the problem? Besides I’m in the army and I’m in ky right now and it gets really annoying deer hunters trying to run me off public land saying it’s “their” land. honestly I just don’t like most deer or duck hunters. They think it’s their deer and their ducks.

    • Eno Shravenko

      I hunt deer because I want to eat deer meat. If you want to hunt differently that’s your business. If you want to hunt for the challenge, I hope you’re not using a compound bow or (heaven forbid) a cross bow. I hope you’re using a bent stick you cut yourself and arrows made from sticks and feathers you gathered yourself. I also hope you are not using any commercial scents, tree stands or blinds and that you’re not using anything but materials gathered in your hunting spot in your bait pile. Because if you’re doing any of those things, you’re lazy.

  • Dale Green

    Very well written. Our club is going through some of these exact issues right now. My oldest son is doing exactly what your referring to. Ten years ago when we joined this club we thought it was awesome. This stuff has been drilled into his head so long that now I think he wants out if the club except for the fact that he doesn’t want to disappoint me. He only dreams of the big bucks and racks scoring 130 to 160. He has commented lately that he would rather spend his money out west and hunt for a week for the opportunity to kill a big buck than to hunt in Georgia. This coming from a guy that spends 100 plus hours in the woods every season. He’s losing site of the fact that his love is really just being in the woods.

    Great write up!! You have pointed out some things I haven’t thought of. I agree deer management is important to help sustain a heard but we need to be careful with our actions.

    • http://www.rusticman.com theRusticMan

      I hate to hear that Dale! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and maybe he’ll tag a few next year just for the love of the hunt 😉

    • Jim Wilkes

      Crippled Old Fart here

      Are you steppen in my tracks? I have the same beliefs, but like you I would never look down on anyone for even shooting even a fawn if thats what they want. We all love to hunt and sometimes for different reasons. I can still remember listening to my GrandPa talking about his hunts. He did have a couple pretty nice deer but like a good number of us he was just trying to put some venison in the freezer and got lucky a couple of times.

      Myself I’ve never been able to get “That big one”. Two 7 pointers are my biggest deer ever taken. I missed a 10 pointer about 20 years ago when my arrow hit a weed I couldn’t see and flew over its back. I felt bad but it never stopped my zeal for being outside and enjoying the fall which is still my favorite season.

      I love wild game of all kinds. I’m just hoping my kids will keep supplying me with a little wild game, especially venison.

  • tds77

    Thank You, Rustic Man for the great article.

    I agree on those which have the time and a large tract of land to maybe manage the deer in their property to big racked deer, but leave the rest of us alone.

    I don’t really watch much TV and particularly not hunting shows, so many of them are just like the rest of the Reality TV Show craze, not REAL LIFE. And some of the huge bucks killed on many of those HORN PORN shows have been taken care of their entire life just like a prize breeding bull and a client can purchase the chance for one they like for a set price.

    Right now their is a great clamor and push for antler restrictions and lowering the buck limit per year, I hope our DNR does not get on this band wagon, what I or another may consider a scrub might just be another s 1st deer or a trophy to them. I’m so tired of hearing them scream for antler restrictions statewide any legal deer is good even if it does not make the centerfold of Whitetail Magazine.

  • Brent Walworth

    Where i hunt in michigan we all decided to let the young bucks walk. What we will do is hunt doe for meat and save the tag.for the big bucks. Now next year will be my sons first year shooting and i will let him shoot any deer he likes

  • Sicarii

    Well its not a perfect analogy, but when I go bass fishing I don’t throw back the 15″ bass simply because they aren’t 20″ bass. I hunt because I want to go deer hunting. If a small buck presents a good opportunity and I feel good about the shot I’m gonna take it. I’ll shoot a doe if I have a tag and it is a good opportunity. I like having deer in the freezer, and I like using the tags that I bought and paid for. I don’t believe every deer you shoot has to be a wallhanger. If it is your thing to wait it out and let a lot of deer walk by then go for it. But I like to shoot a deer once in a while while I’m deerhunting.

  • mattsharpley

    I have been a hunter since I was legally permitted in northern Wisconsin. I love the woods and the pursuit of all types of game. This year I was blessed to harvest a six point buck about twenty minutes before harvesting a mature doe. This was one of my most memorable hunts ever and still makes my heart flutter when I put myself in that moment. Both of these animals were trophies to me and will sustain my family through the winter as we prefer not to eat GMO filled beef and prefer the taste of game animals. These moments are not only truly exciting but spiritual to me. I would not expect my kids to pass on a deer because it wasn’t sporting a 140+ rack. We have a healthy deer population and our tags pay for state biologists to manage our herds and tell us what concerns their are snd public forums to discuss the issue. My point is that my family hunts for sustenance, not decorative bragging rights. Now I am not saying I wouldn’t love to harvest a giant but do not appreciate comments like, “you’ll never shoot a big one if you shoot small ones.” My game camera is telling me that is not the case, I just simply do not have the time to pattern, set up stands, make food plots, and keep tabs on the rut. I have three kids to feed. My six pointer is a trophy to us all day long.

  • billy balcom

    Aaron awesom article I tottaly beleive in what u said ive been hunting since I was 11 im 21 now ive been huntin f10 years and this year 2014 I just killed my first mature big 11 point before this its been if its brown its down but then I started getting into QDMA and I started letting any thing thats under a decent 8 walk but thats myself I just got my wife into it this year and shes if its brown its down and she killed her first one this year and it weighed probably 90 pounds if that but no spots so its a legal deer and my brother and cousin r the same wame brown its down but thats hunting and ill tell anyone and everyone if u want to eat GOOD tasting MEAT kill a young deer a yearling and u will have a whole new world open up in your taste buds thats how I see it

  • Happy Haxor

    “I’m afraid we don’t realize the disrespect we pay to fellow hunters and the animals we love so much. ”

    Sadly, I’m not sure that’s the case at all. I’m pretty sure that the thrill kill crowd realize and completely understand the disrespect they’re paying to those they ridicule. They also don’t consider them to be “fellow hunters”, let alone hunters at all.

    That’s part of the problem.

    They get upset if someone shoots a non-trophy buck (by their standards) because it removes one from the herd that might later become a trophy buck (by their standards) that they could shoot.

    It’s a phenominon based mostly in greed, partly in an air of superiority, with a smidgen of ignorance besides.

    On that note, I’d like to point out that nothing irks me more than a trophy hunter who doesn’t actually eat the animal or make sure it’s given to people who _will_ eat that animal.

    _If you’re not going to eat the damn thing take a camera out in the woods not a rifle or a bow._

    That deer is a living creature, and killing it just so you can see it every day on your wall isn’t a good enough reason to change that.

  • Alex Black

    Great article! I’m not a hunter myself but I have more than a passing interest in ecology and wildlife management. One small point, and I hope I’m not flamed for it, the header for your last paragraph should read “Brother and Sisters.” I only mention this because about a quarter of the deer I see in my fb feed are from my female friends that hunt. They also get trophy-fever. And frankly, I’d be happy to see my girlfriend take up hunting and bring home some venison. Hunting just isn’t my thing. I’ll stick to angling. Thanks again for the article!

  • Shortpump

    In our hunting club we went from a 5 point buck rule to a 8 point with a 15″ spread on the inside about 5 years ago. We also are allowed one free buck during the season to allow for mistakes or cull bucks that simply will never make anything, and if it’s a 9 point or bigger the width doesn’t matter. Any kids under the age of 16 get to shoot whatever they want. At first many people disagreed because they wanted to simply shoot deer, but on the flip side we went from shooting 1-2 bucks a year that someone would mount to shooting 15-20 after the third year because we are now shooting 3.5 year old bucks rather than 1.5 year olds. Everyone is all about it, and were steady drawing new members that want to shoot big bucks.

    • Biologists Rule

      Shortpump, that is fantastic that you and the members of your club are having such a rewarding experience managing for and harvesting bigger bucks. Truly, that is wonderful! However, the point of the article is not that managing for trophies is necessarily a bad thing, but that not all hunters care about antlers and shouldn’t be expected to tailor their hunting strategy to meet the needs of those who do. Obviously the members of your club have agreed on a management strategy that fits the common goal (bigger bucks), and it is great that you all can reach that goal by cooperating with one another to make it happen. But for someone who isn’t hunting on QDM land, they should be supported for enjoying the hunt, whatever their strategy or goals.

  • Matt Frank

    Amen brother, I’ve seen it all to often and unfortunately I’ve been guilty of it. I’ve been blessed to have harvested some very large “trophy” Whitetails in my 30 years of hunting, none of which hold a place in my heart heart of the many does or “smaller” bucks due to the memories attached. Who I was hunting with, where we were hunting or how we were hunting. For me the “Trophy” is in the memories, the adventure, the laughs and tears shed. It took me 25 years to figure it out, but man it’s gonna make the next 25 so much sweeter. Good hunting and God bless.

    As a side note your spot on we are fighting two forces, ourselves and big business.
    Think about all the products sold and the image associated with it is the real big bucks (sorry had to say it). It also physiological, it how we show were better then the next guy. We use those words like, nice YOUNG buck or nice LITTLE buck. Kinda back handed compliment that makes you feel superior in the “Great Hunter pecking order”. Folks it’s not a competition.

    Great article.

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  • Jason Long

    good article. I shot a buck this year as we have more bucks than does oddly. A nice 6 pointer a few years old. Wife shot a 10 as usual. We hunt for meat and the opportunity to get outdoors and feed ourselves. While trophy bucks are nice and make good Facebook pictures I don’t care how big it is, only that it’s not too young. Younger deer taste better

  • Fran

    The key is balance. Its great to put a trophy on the wall, and its great to put a doe in the freezer. Both are an accomplishment. Be joyful for the hunt and thankful to our Creator for the wild game, show some humility and respect for others while doing it, and while hearing their successful hunt stories, be glad with them that we live in a Nation where we have the freedom to do so.

  • http://www.HuntTalk.com Randy Newberg

    Interesting read and a good perspective on our motivations for hunting. A discussion I have had many times with hunters who stop and ask me questions on the topic. For me, every animal I take is to be respected, honored, and cherished; from the doe, to the younger buck/bull, to the few times a wise old bruiser finds his way to my arrow/bullet. When I see a buck/bull taken by another hunter, it is nothing but positive comments and congratulations. He/she took the animal for the purposes they found important to them; which is why they hunt. I am not going to try to fit their motivations for hunting into my personal outline, whether they hunted for meat and shot the first buck they saw, or if they passed many bucks looking for that one special buck that makes their experience more fulfilling. I think hunters could benefit from a little more tolerance and appreciation that fellow hunters hunt for their own reasons, not for reasons held by others. Each hunter is motivated by their own priorities; whatever animal they take/pass is a reflection of their personal priorities. Thanks for the discussion and laying the context in an articulate manner. Happy Hunting to all.

    • http://www.rusticman.com theRusticMan

      Thanks so much for the comment Randy! I totally agree. We each have our own reasons and goals – and it’s a beautiful thing our freedoms in this country allow! I totally agree,

      “I think hunters could benefit from a little more tolerance and appreciation that fellow hunters hunt for their own reasons, not for reasons held by others”

  • Keith

    Thanks for writing this I agree wholeheartedly.

  • MI Hunter23

    Great article. Its funny that a lot of people “trophy hunt” but end up empty handed at the end of the season. The hunting industry has imposed unrealistic expectations to most hunters. Hunters have to be realistic and hunt what there property has to offer. If your biggest buck running around is a 110″ 3 yr old and your holding out for a 180″ 12 point you might as well stay on your couch. Ive been fortunate enough to have some really good managed land to hunt, but if i didn’t i would be just like all the other hunters out there who shoot that first buck they see. Ill continue to fill my tags no matter what size bucks because of the reward of the hard work, time, and money spent to in gods beautiful creation. Its pretty sad that the thrill of the hunt and kill isn’t enough for some people anymore. Ill be a proud dad when i get to take my boy hunting and make no doubt about it hell be shooting the first 1 1/2 yr old buck he sees and i guarantee you that will be way better than any wall hanger I’ve ever shot. Good luck fellas shoot straight and god bless.

  • johnph

    Sounds to me like there is somebody(s) who have forgotten what it’s like to be hungry, perhaps they never knew. I can’t eat bone, and usually end up with more doe in the freeze than buck. The largest buck I’ve ever shot is very like the one in your picture. For a buck on Lookout Mountain, in an area where there is only natural forage (no agriculture to raise false monster bucks) he was a big buck. His skull mount adorns my work shop. First and possible only deer for this year was a doe. She’s tasty. What’s funny about this to me is that those who smirk at smaller bucks will be the first to say that a doe makes for better eating. What makes ’em think that a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 year old buck ain’t just as tender and tasty. If you ain’t hunting for food first, I think your priorities are out of order, but then it’s likely a good thing the world doesn’t run by my ideas.

  • Jim

    All I’m saying is if i hear one more person say “brown its down” I’ll puke.. Go back to your shanty and leave the fawns alone.

  • Trent

    You have the right to shoot anything you want, I get that. When i was younger I shot tons of first and second year bucks. And for young hunter especially they should get a feel for the outdoors and have fun and learn what it means to take a deer. Without having older peers looking down on them. But with that as the years past I do believe people owe it to the deer especially as experience hunters to take on a new role. If you’ve ever spent any time in the woods you know its harder to kill a mature doe then a 1st or second year buck. I mean their practically pets at that age. All I’m saying is shoot what you want, but really is it worth killing a 1st year 4pt (when you’ve killed a dozen already) just to say you shot a “buck”.

  • RS

    I’ve got nothing else to contribute. Extremely well written article sir. Thank you for drawing attention to what I believe is a growing problem in the hunting community.

  • derrick

    Its simple really, If you hang your hat on being a meat hunter shoot a doe (not a fawn, c’mon). There’s no need to shoot a yearling buck because more than likely you say “can’t eat the horns anyway”. So why kill it if the antlers are going to waste. On the other spectrum is trophy hunting, which honestly is a miss used term. Call it educated hunting or something else. So called “Trophy Hunters” have a narrow image of being judgmental and only shooting mature deer. That’s false, just watch a TV show for once. The people being called (‘Trophy Hunters”) are the ones who more than likely take care of the deer herds so we have deer to hunt. If every single person shot the first deer they saw we’d be back where we started 20 so years ago..

  • Dragonboy

    My sister and Her husband prefer shooting small points cause their meat is more tender and less gamy and they’re out to provide meat to themselves and others. I’ve never really been a fan of trophy hunting, I mean yeah the big points are impressive to look at but that shouldn’t be the point of then hunt Deer populations need managing and it can provide food for people. That should be the focus the number of points you get should just be a bonus.

  • TA

    Great article, personally I am not a great fan of QDMA. In my state 20 years ago the QDMA leaders(president & vice -pres) each owners of small properties (10 & 8 acres) which were bordered by thousands of acres of state and hunting club property. Their objective was to make everyone else hunt their way and thus game laws in this area were restricted to 4 points on one side, great people yeah right. Their motivation was greed not the betterment of hunting or hunters. Deer are not cattle if you are farming your herd then killing a large antlered buck is no challenge, if you are buying your horns there is no challenge. I’ve hunted for 44 years the last 24 almost only deer. A lot of things have changed in those 24 years most not good, hunters have been pitted against one another at every turn this is just another example. Humans have hunted for survival for thousands of years. The only reason to hunt is to provide food for yourself and your family. Brown is down is a great thing because the ONLY reason to hunt is to kill a deer. I have antlers on my wall like most hunters of deer, if trophy hunting is your thing i’m cool with it, JUST DON’T TRY TO PUSH YOUR AGENDA ON ME

    • Clint

      Have to understand time does change things. Its not the 1970’s anymore, “brown its down” is not a good thing. Its not rational to shoot a fawn, how much “meat” are you really getting to provide your family when you can throw the deer over your shoulder. If your into shooting yearling bucks then good for you, just please don’t enforce brown its down. “To each His Own”

  • Linwood Windsor

    I was meat first, rack second. the end.

  • Rvogel44

    Love the article! However as I read the comments there was a lot of talk about fawns, which has been a topic I think about a lot. In Michigan they say 35-45% of fawns are killed by coyotes or winter. So I sometimes wonder if taking a fawn is so wrong. The meat is good and a healthy breeding doe is left instead of a fawn that has a good chance of dying during the winter. Food for thought. Love to hear your thoughts.

    • Trevor33

      The big problem with shooting fawns is it creates a thing called a “Generation Gap”. Gap’s affect the deer herd as a whole. When there’s low number of fawns it results in fewer does and bucks to breed down the road. For example you mentioned leaving doe’s to breed, well once those mature doe’s dry up it leaves the next generation to keep breeding going. But if there’s a “generation gap” it will really hurt the deer population. resulting in low deer numbers in your area. Best way is to try and take deer from each level (ex: 3yr old doe, 2yr doe, 4 yr old buck etc..) Good Luck!

      • Biologists Rule

        Fortunately for all of us, deer aren’t like humans. Where women experience menopause at a certain age, white-tail does are capable of producing fawns their entire lives, including captive females that live 12, 13 years – far longer than those in the wild. So arguing that harvesting some fawns (obviously not all, but I don’t think anyone is arguing that, now would it even be possible) will produce an age gap is kind of moot.

        • Trevor33

          I Understand not every fawn is killed off, just stating the fact it can have a negative impact on the herd. Also I hate to inform you that mature doe’s do in fact dry up, not sure where you’re reading otherwise lol

          • Al Cornell

            Wait, the deer herd thrived before us, modern hunters, came along. The heaviest harvested cohort was fawns followed by old individuals. That is the only harvest system that is time tested. In arrogance we imagine that we can do better, but time will tell what happens. The strike against fawn harvest is the Bambi syndrome. Most pork on the market comes from six month old pigs for a reason — best meat. I know a guy who gets 25-30 pounds of boneless meat off Wisconsin fawns. Also, I’ve seen twin fawns in a 10 year old doe in the wild — barren does are about as common as hens’ teeth.

          • Mike G

            Comparing slaughterhouses to hunting is unrealistic. You’re taking one thing “raising animals for slaughter” which already has a negative image and comparing it to hunting where hunters are suppose to be ethical and treat animals with respect. So the comparison between butchering a piglet (not justifying it) and killing a fawn is ignorant. And if you have to justify shooting a fawn by the classic “best meat” excuse, do everyone a favor and buy some lamb from the store instead.

  • Todd Chambers

    Great topic and artfully handled. I couldn’t agree more with the idea that we need to treat new hunters (I am one) with respect. Cracking the code on hunting whitetails or wild turkeys come with a very steep learning curve for those of us who didn’t grow up with these skills being handed down to us. My first deer (regardless of antler size) will be a trophy to me. I’ll treasure the experience simply because I’ve stuck with it through several very tough seasons, determined to figure things out through trial and error. I’ll treasure it because it’s worth treasuring. My deer – my trophy – no questions.

  • Tom

    I am 41 years old and have hunted my whole life. I have never killed anything bigger than a 4 pointer. Yes I have it mounted. It is a 4 pointer with an 18 inch spread and I was 13 years old and it was my first deer ever. Over the years I have shoot at bigger deer, but I get the fever like no one you have ever seen. I see antlers and start having an epileptic seizure. I have several small spike and 4 pointers to my credit and dozens of Doe’s, but not even a 6 pointer. I am now getting my children involved in hunting and trying to teach them that every deer is a trophy is a hard thing to do. Yes I want the big monster hanging on my wall as much as the next guy, but every year I have decided to let the small ones walk, I end up getting nothing that year. I enjoy the hunt and I am trying to get the kids to realize the work that goes into it equals the rewards you get out of it. Today everything is instant gratification, no one has to work for what they get. Enjoy the hunt work for the trophy, but my trophy is my time in the woods spent with my kids…….until I can control my shaking that is.

  • Del Field

    I am now disabled and get to hunt only a few times a year. I’ve lived a good life hunting deer from the times you could only shoot a deer with horns an loved primitive weapons season when the smell of black powder was followed by looking through the smoke to see that I had finally put meat in the freezer. I taught my son the rules as they changed, but alas he fell into the BIG RACK Hunter by watching the TV shows. He even paid for an traveled out of state in search of that trophy rack.
    To his surprise, he killed his trophy rack in our honey hole, 20 minutes from home. Now that he reached that peak, my earlier teachings, that hunting was not about the rack, where about the outdoor experience. He has now become a hunter with a gun left on the shelf. I , as said above, only get to go very seldom and with great pain. But I go for the sport. I’ve had to let basket racks an spikes pass with great remorse because of the new rules. I prefer to put a buck down as I believe a doe will produce more browns. Alas I am now put to the point of mainly hunting “no horns” as so many rules make it hard to put meat in my freezer. We used to have deer meat several times each month, now our freezer is empty and I miss the days of old.
    Do I believe in deer management, yes, but only to keep the population at a good point, not just for the “RACK SCORE”. I have several basket racks an spikes mounted In my shop. These were legal deer at the time and very proud of them as the hunts each have great memories. Someone needs to rethink the current laws while remembering the true reason for hunting.

  • del field

    Sent wrong email

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  • MO

    Good read! Yes, I shot a small basket 7 this year for gun season. It was MY FIRST BUCK and I’m so incredibly proud of it!! To me he is a trophy and his plaque will be on my wall in a few weeks. We have a few groups of hunters around here in central Wisconsin drilling their idea of QDM, basicall to them nothing under 4 years is mature enough to shoot. I’ve also seen some of these guys get into heated arguments on pictures posted on social media of other local hunters’ kills this bow and gun seasons, my own of my buck included, about how no one practices QDM around here and everyone should follow their lead. If you feel the need to bring me down by telling me, “you should have let him walk” or “he would have been a nice one in 2-3 years but oh well I guess” or “that was a waste of a shot” and you seriously cant find any reason to be happy for me at all there’s something wrong with you. It’s people like that around here who make hunting not fun for people like me, who are young and still learning.

  • nearoffutt

    Trophy means nothing to me. I am getting lower cost meat. An average sized deer when dressed out is an appropriate size package of meat for my freezer. Thst provides myself and family with months of high qualityprotien when put it in the rotation of beef, chicken, turkey, and venison.

  • Billy Rabon

    This was awesome…I hunt to put meat in the freezer and far to often someone has something negative to say about taking a 6 point. I love hunting and the great outdoors and I’m going to enjoy what God has given us. God bless!

  • marcl

    I’m on board my grandson in Tennessee who is 17 killed his very first deer, hunting this year for the first time in his life. He killed a doe and is so proud, he called me at 750 that morning so excited that it’s been a week and he is still talking about it grandpa is pretty proud to cause it will be eaten and he is ready to go again. As he views it hunting has to be better than any drugs so I’m glad to see he has his head on straight. He will be hunter for life.

  • miller

    where im from we cant shoot bucks now because has to have atleast 3 on one side we have inbred deer reaching 10-15 generations of deer back and are lucky to see a 4 year old 4 point i think its gone to far when we cant take the bad genetics out but everyone wants to see big bucks in the area

  • belkin

    If someone doesn’t shoot those ragged bad racks , then they breed and you get more of them. You need also to remove the bad genetics or you don’t get the trophy bucks. It’s simple, shoot what you want, it’s your tag!

  • Coby S

    Great article, I feel the only time we run into problems is with hunters and their neighbors. It’s hard when two people share opposing viewpoints.. There’s really not much that can be done in that instance, as long as what’s being harvested is legal.. People will judge, but that’s life.

  • Jonathan

    If we only shoot large bucks with great rack aren’t we selecting against those characteristics. Perhaps in 100 years al bucks will only have small racks and 6 points because they will survive our hunting pressure to breed does. The true environmentalist will let the biggest bucks with the best racks go and only kill the lessor buck in the interest of improving the genetics of the herd.

  • 43BartC68

    The great debate continues.. What is a trophy you say ?? What is a “deer hunter” ? Now , let’s combine the two and we have a “trophy deer hunter”. I have read many comments on here and have no fingers to point at either those who participate in QDM,who have the funds to do so and the land to go with it that is closely monitored and secure, or the average joe who invests what little money he can save and the time prepare himself to go into highly pressured areas and successfully harvest a deer.
    Which leads me to my next topic, I am a “deer hunter” first and foremost. I have been fortunate enough to kill several large bucks from 165 inches down to 120 or so. It took me 11 years to harvest the 13 point and I consider myself blessed to have done so. But in the process I still remained a “deer hunter” first and do my part to participate in the conservation aspect of hunting by deliberately harvesting multiple does every year with archery gear and firearm alike. Having been hunting for my 24th year now I still get just as excited with every harvest as if it were my first season. The memories I have of each season and who I was with will ALWAYS remain in my TROPHY CASE IN MY MIND.
    I truly believe that with the advancement of technology and the constant barrage of shows that endlessly show the harvesting of large bucks the “deer hunters” like myself will have to work that much harder to show our future “deer hunters” the skills we learned before the QDM craze took hold and the emphasis shifted from using your skills as a woodsman to planting food plots , baiting, mineral sites, and focusing on how to bring them to you instead of you finding them is going to be lost as the quest for Big Daddy is now the only focus.
    As far as peoples responses to the deer I harvest every year and some are small as this is my choice, because YES, they are mighty tender and make excellent table fare, I have to remember I am a”deer hunter” first and everything else is secondary. There are far more antlerless deer in this nation than antlered, but being result oriented and reward centered as some who participate in this sport are , we begin to replace the deer hunter with the ego hunter and lose sight of the fact that there is FAR MORE to this sport than a set of antlers. Those of us like myself who do not have access what it takes to create optimal habitat for growing buckzilla, much less keeping a deer like that alive for the 5-6 years it takes to get them fully mature with the highly aggressive pressure put on them in my area here in Md is quite frankly unrealistic.
    Let’s face it, as hunters we ALL wish for the big one, I’m just as guilty as the next man or woman,but when it comes down to it my expectations for the areas I hunt are more down to earth and the “TROPHY” we get at the end of a successful hunt will mean that much more and the sting of going home empty handed may be a little less because I am a “deer hunter” first.

  • Art

    Great article. I haven’t killed a lot of deer as I got started later in life due to the fact that we had no deer when I was young. Some of my best trophy deer were small ones, a 3 point in particular stands out to this day. Those early days were the best when I was just waiting for the chance at a legal deer and was so excited just to see one because of low deer densities. Over the years I have gotten caught up in wanting to take larger bucks although I try to keep it in some real perspective. I figure with my time and money constraints that a 100 inch buck is my goal any given year and even that has caused me to eat tag soup when I didn’t have to. We should always make an effort to admire another persons’ trophy because it is a trophy in their eyes regardless of what it is, and I truly do this and believe it. I love to watch folks like Fred Eichler or Ted Nugent still get excited over whatever they get big or small.

  • Jackson

    I think you have it all wrong. If you hunt for meat, shoot a damn doe for christs sake! They’re meat is generally better anyway. Don’t shoot a young buck that has an opportunity to grow into a beautiful mature buck one day. Maybe if you’ve never killed a buck before, but once you’ve progressed into an experienced hunter let the young ones pass. It takes self control and shows that you’re serious about the sport of deer hunting

  • Keys

    It sucks when you let go a young 4 point buck so it might get bigger next year…….I let one go this year while hunting with a cross bow……I have kill many deer but was trying to get my 1st with a cross bow……like I said I let go a nice young 4 pt buck…..5 weeks later I saw a guy at the parking lot where I hunt. …ya state land…..I saw a guy 5 weeks later during muzzloader season loading his truck with that same buck….I told the guy that I had let it go so maybe it would be bigger next year. ….he said Oh he had never killed one with a muzzloader before. …..I still am not sure how I feel. ….I could of easy put it down but was hoping that we they hunters could make a difference. I hunt both private qdm areas and state land…….by the way during bow season I saw a 3 pointer also being dragged out at that same parking spot…and this year I passed up on a ton of young bucks while at least 17 mature bucks where taken just north of where r I live a few miles on the qdm private lands……

    • Keys

      It would be nice if we had another version of a hunter safety like qdm for hunters where all hunters have to take a class on qdm……or something that teaches all hunters between a year old 4 pt 100 lbs buck…..vs a 2 or 3 year old buck. ….aka a mature buck…..like 8 point 180 lb buck…….I have 3 boys……so we get at least 8 or 9 deer every year. …so killing deer is easy…..killing the deer of choice is the hard part of hunting……my one soon collects over 2500 pics of deer off 5 of his hunting cameras…..2500 pics in about 2 days per camera. ..alot of times a 16 gb card is full…..one of his location had 6 bucks that where 6 pts and 1 8 point all young bucks…..all 7 bucks made it to thanksgiving before the 8 pt got taken by a neighbor hunter. …a class would improve our deer hunting alot…..

      • Keys

        100 lbs deer doesn’t give you much meet…..compared to a 180 lbs deer…..I want quality and quantity. …..and yes a large rack won’t hurt either…….one year a few years a go we got 3 deer that had to be 4 years old……1 buck and 2 doe….all 3 went 270 lbs……2 doe where the latest I ever saw dead…..I saw one larger but passed on it so we could shoot the buck chasing it……

  • MB

    Great Article and I feel like I’ve seen both sides of this. When I was a kid I got lucky and my first deer with a gun was a big-racked 8 point. I remember not understanding when it was relayed to me that an old-timer had asked my dad “Do you think it will mess him up”? I couldn’t understand why it would mess anyone up to have that as their first deer. Within a few years, I wasn’t interested in deer hunting at all. Almost 15 years later I somehow caught the bug and wanted to get into bowhunting. It actually took me two seasons worth of hunting to get the 4 point buck I finally got this past weekend. I was more proud of that deer than the one before because it took a ton of work. Everyone’s situation is different and the key is to only take deer that you will truly be happy with. That deer is different for everyone.

  • Rooster

    Hunt Clubs who have lots of members and charge lots of money need to have goals and rules to achieve those goals. If you allow guys into your club who kill every deer that walks by to “make it worth the dues I paid” then your club is gonna suffer the consequences.. If your club land has too many deer and nobody in the club that shoots a doe then your club is gonna suffer those consequences. The Hunt Clubs have to decide on a goal. If you want to have a quality club with mature bucks then you have to have mature quality hunters as members. If you decide you want a bunch of “brown and down” hunters in your club to run up your kill numbers then fill your club with those kind of members.

  • Christine Milanowski

    Well said! I have been hunting since I was 12 and have shot some great bucks, I do have some great wall mounts! A couple years back I took a basket rack 8 pt and of course hunting buddies started saying stuff like you have bigger one then this on the wall why would you shoot something like this, I was feeling less then of myself as a hunter! I serious think that all deer are trophies. Yes its great to get that giant but its not always possible. QDM is a great practice but when you have neighbors that don’t practice QDM it’s tougher to practice specially when you only have a small piece of land! This article was well written and so true on so many points that I wish everyone could read this and learn from it! Thanks so much for putting some light to the subject!

  • Clint Rahn

    I am a school teacher. I don’t have money for trophy hunts. I pay 1500.00 a year for a 200 acre part of a 4000 acre property. I tend my 200 acres year round. I have two sons 12 and 8 who hunt with me. Any buck we get is a trophy, and I would bet 90 percent of hunters out there are just like me. This article is spot on.

  • somsai

    I’m glad some like to count inches on antlers. All deer seem small to me, I mean a big one will only last a little more than a month. Don’t get me wrong, I like deer and I eat a lot of them, but they’re just a smaller ungulate.

    I hunt does. Deer here are at a tiny fraction the density of the midwest and east plus we’ve no open areas to glass. It’s walk and stalk or nothing. If I shoot a deer early in the season it means I can work or take a break or heavens to betsy try to fill the bear tag. There have been seasons I haven’t seen one deer. Cats are thick here.

    I’m glad there are trophy hunters I only wish they wouldn’t hunt if they don’t like the meat.

  • Roll tide

    Great article! I have been blessed to be raised in a hunting family and have been in the woods since I could walk. With that said, I have had the opportunity to harvest many deer and some great bucks.

    Now that I am married with children and lease properties going through the roof I hunt only public land. Last year I harvested two “basket” rack bucks and I haven’t been more proud of a deer since I was little! While my buddies are sitting over bait stations and super sized hunting blinds with their “hit list” in hand, I was putting many miles on my boots using my tracking skills in no man’s land. I worked hard for those bucks, out smarting them on their on turf, with little time on my hands.

    I had lots of comments from other hunter like: “figured you let them walk” or “that’s a decent one, check out my trail cam pics”. With no clue the hard work and determination put into those hunts.

  • KZ

    So we trophy hunters can’t rip on your itchy finger ways but you can bad mouth trophy hunting. Same argument from all of you. Just NEED to shoot something….smh

    I shoot mature does.
    I shoot mature bucks that score 140 or better
    I plant food plots
    I create bedding areas
    I dig waterholes
    I do anything and everything to make my deer heard and property better.
    Oh, I also butcher my own deer.

    I can’t find justification to celebrate shooting a small immature deer. Trophy hunting programs make hunting 10x better. If I only saw 3 deer on my property, how is that a justification to shoot one?!?!?!? You obviously have work to do to get your property in better shape to support more deer. Sorry but this article is way off IMO.

  • Bob Vetter

    Great article and I have lived on both sides. I wont leave the “shoot small bucks” camp again. I do hunt a property with great potential and while I’m there I will look for a good deer. My days of passing everything are long gone!

  • Mark G.

    I think you are spot on! I am fortunate enough to hunt a friends place that has large deer on it and several were taken this year. I however took a doe 1st and then a 6 pt. I hunt for meat and see the rack as a bonus nothing against taking wall hangers and I wouldn’t pass up the shot at one but hunting is about the experience and the meat for me at least.

  • Jeffrey Robinson

    I’ve never commented on a forum like this. This is a great article from my perspective. A trophy is in the eyes of the hunter who kills the animal. I think everyone is getting away from managing deer herds, so to speak as the article relates. Sure, we all want to have trophy animals, but management works across the board in having venison as well. Thanks for writing this article and posting it.

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  • Curtis Ericson

    Just to clarify one thing and most of us know this QDM and trophy management are two entirely different things.