Experience is the best teacher for hunting and killing mature bucks
By Alex Killman | PUBLISHED January 2nd, 2022
Big bucks are awesome. They just are. For a deer hunter, they truly are what dreams are made of. But they can sometimes make us do some dumb things. Now, I’m not talking about sleeping a total of 12 hours over a 3-day period, or going into debt for the latest gear, or even cramming a 160-pound animal into the trunk of a ’97 Civic. I’m talking about doing something that completely overshadows - and ruins - many seasons every year. It’s especially true for newer hunters. I’m talking about “holding out for a big one.”
The Big Buck Craze
The industry as a whole has caused so many new hunters to grab on so tightly to the notion that the only hunt worth having is one that ends with a 150” grip-and-grin. And we’re all guilty of helping market that belief through buck shaming and “would’ve been a good one next year” comments. Because of this, new hunters are coming onto the scene with one goal and one goal only - to put down a buck that’ll catapult them into influencer status over night. Now, I’m not saying we’ve created this problem purposefully. We all have to remember that the hunting industry is a big business. And big bucks sell. But the consequences of the obsession over that “product” has set a lot of hunters up for failure. It’s great to have lofty goals in the deer woods. It’s what drives us to get better and better every year. However, when the value of a hunt is measured by the size of the antlers in-hand, 99% of the time we spend in the woods becomes absolutely worthless, and we begin to become increasingly frustrated and burnt out. What does burnout, coupled with endless failure, do to a new hunter? It makes them an ex-hunter - something we all know isn’t beneficial to reversing the decline of the hunter population.
The Untold Stories
Every one of the “Greats” that we love listening to today, from Tony Peterson and Beau Martonik to Andy May and the guys from The Hunting Public, all started out as beginners just trying to understand deer behavior enough to put one on the ground. Not a Booner. Just a deer. Even Cameron Hanes, one of the most famous hunters in the world once said that he would have been surprised to even hit a deer in his first season hunting. Think about that for a second. Cameron Hanes missed so many deer that he would have been surprised to hit one. What do you think his hunting career would have looked like had he started out with the mentality of big buck or bust? For one, it would have probably taken him many years to even see one, and then he’d have missed. The same goes for all the hunters who actually do post 150” grip-and-grins year after year. They understood the need for hunting deer, understanding their behavior, going through the process, fighting off Buck Fever - even with does. They weren’t coming up in a time when hunting was so diluted by the Big Buck Craze. They got their reps in, and every hunt counted for something.
The Real Value of a Hunt
There’s something to learn from every single hunt, and there is value in it. Even when you climb a tree and see nothing all morning, you learn something. For starters, you learn that the deer didn’t do what you thought they would. If you paid attention, you learned how the wind moved through the landscape, regardless of what your weather app said. You learned that your entry and exit were good. Or maybe after bumping deer, you learned it was bad. You learned that all that sign you were setting up on was middle-of-the-night sign, or that sometimes, deer just do different things from day-to-day for one reason or another. There are so many lessons to be learned on every hunt that are absolutely crucial to maturing as a deer hunter. And there’s a direct correlation between the maturity of a deer hunter and the maturity of the deer they’re able to harvest. Learning through experience is the only way to mature as a hunter. Thus, it’s the only path to harvesting a mature deer. But head-knowledge is only part of the process. The other part is the physical act of putting deer on the ground.
Get In The Reps
Getting to the point where a legal deer is standing in range is only half the battle. The other half is all the steps necessary to walking up and putting a tag on it. Knowing when to stand, or when to draw, or when to raise your gun, or when to pause in the middle of it - that’s knowledge you can only get through experience and repetition. And then, of course, there’s Buck Fever, even on does. It’s being inside that 10-second moment of truth that cannot be replicated, no matter how much we practice. It has to be a lived experience. With all that said, if we were to all start our hunting careers “holding out for a big one,” how do you think we’d handle the moment when it was time to take action? More than likely, a clean miss, a wounded animal, or a bobbing white tail flashing through the trees. That’s why it’s so important for us more experienced hunters to encourage newer hunters to go through the entirety of the hunter’s life cycle, starting with just harvesting legal deer. And we also need to be realistic about where we are as well. If we’ve only harvested two does and a forky, we probably don’t need to talk - or hunt - like we’re Dan Infalt. We need the reps too. It’s good for us, and it’s even better for newer hunters to see that it’s “ok” to harvest small bucks and does.
Now, this last part is specifically for newer hunters. And I know that “newer hunters” is a relative term, so I’ll let you be the judge of where your skillset lies, regardless of your years of hunting. The absolute worst thing you can do on your journey to becoming a more skilled hunter is pass on smaller bucks or does that are legal. If you get legal deer in front of you, going through your shot process is the best practice you’ll ever have for harvesting a big buck one day. It cannot be replicated any other way. And if you consistently pass on does and small bucks as a new hunter, odds are you won’t get it done when you finally get a wide spread and tall tines in front of you. It’s just the reality of inexperience. Every single Major League Baseball player learned how to throw a ball before ever being able to make it curve. It’s the fragile reality of being human. We have to work up to being good at any new skill. And you have to be good at hunting to kill a mature buck. So newbies, never pass. Get the experience, soak it in, ask questions, and celebrate every single animal you ever harvest. We’ll be right there celebrating with you. You’ll be better off for it, and if you do ever decide to raise the caliber of animals you hunt, you’ll be ready.