What Makes A Skilled Deer Hunter?

Where the whitetail is king, it’s much easier to ignore the perceptions of the antis and the non-hunters. But we shouldn’t be so naïve as to think that trophy hunting for deer is doing us any favors, either.

by Tony Peterson


Tasting ‘real-world’ hunting success might not lead to fame or fortune, but will likely deliver far greater rewards.

good_hunters_lead_600If the recent flare-up over Walter Palmer’s infamous lion incident tells us anything, it’s that pure trophy hunting is ugly to the masses. This is really no surprise, especially when it comes to “megafauna” such as lions and elephants. Here in the lower tax brackets, where the whitetail is king, it’s much easier to ignore the perceptions of the antis and the non-hunters. But we shouldn’t be so naïve as to think that trophy hunting for deer is doing us any favors, either.

It’s a rare day that I meet someone who is a deer hunter solely to collect large sets of antlers, but it’s not as rare as it once was. This is where things get a bit tricky for me, because I love the fact that we are able to hunt for any reason we desire. If it’s inches of bone that matters to you, so be it. Whether decorating your mantel is the sole reason for the hunt or not, who am I to deem your motives good or bad? Still, there is a point when I start to care about my fellow hunters’ motivations. My personal tipping point occurs when the non-hunting public is exposed to reasoning that sours its opinion of hunters in general.

Perhaps one of the toughest tasks for any hunter is to explain to someone why he or she hunts. Or why he or she loves to hunt. Most of us have multiple reasons. One is likely that feeling deep inside of us that begs us to do more than merely watch nature run its course. If you’re like me, there is a primal need to act—to participate in the entire process—an almost mystical, nearly magnetic draw. For many of us this powerful feeling is undeniable; it’s also plenty fulfilling to indulge.

good-hunters-spike-600 History has proven that the nonhunting public will approve of what we do, as long as we eat what we kill. Are you projecting a positive hunting image?

The non-hunting public—those pesky folks who weigh heavily on our available hunt opportunities and, ultimately, will decide our fate as hunters—may never understand our need to hunt. And that’s okay, I believe, as long as they accept us for what most of us are: average people who love to hunt and enjoy the spoils of our success that include, first and foremost, the meat.

It’s become increasingly clear that the key to our overall societal acceptance lies in eating what we kill. When we choose to do away with this time-honored hunt tradition—in lieu of the singular goal of seeking trophy heads for our walls—all of us lose. It’s really that simple.

I’m always telling fellow hunters that there are about three people in their lives who truly care about the size of the deer they kill. Everyone else is merely pretending. Because of this sobering fact, it’s best to kill what makes you happy. If that animal is a 43-inch six-pointer, shoot it. If something larger is what you’re looking for, fine. But be realistic about your expectations.

There is a lot of pressure these days to “compete” in the deer world, but the most-common litmus test used to see if your latest buck “measures up” is bunk. Outdoor television, arguably the worst thing to happen to hunters overall, is great at showing bucks that were grown to be killed. Most shows are full of hunters who didn’t burn a calorie to kill a big deer, or any other critter for that matter. I know this because I’ve been there and done that. Several times. And tasting “success” has never been difficult.

who-cares-600 The reality of hunting is very few people actually care about the size of deer you kill. Because of that, it’s best to hunt for what makes you happy. If that is a young buck, fawn or whatever, go for it. You’ll have more fun hunting to your own standards than someone else’s.

To me, TV hunting would be fine if we were honest about one major point: That an awful lot of it exists simply for entertainment—and that, most of the time, the “hero hosts” haven’t done a thing to be successful other than making the shot. Of course, this is not how much of the viewing audience sees things. Today, we have scads of hunters throughout the country who speak in terms of “young 125-inchers,” or “decent 140s-type bucks.” Are you kidding me? Most hunters will never get a chance at a true 140-inch buck over an entire season. And when (or if) they do, the odds are stacked heavily in the deer’s favor.

GoodHunters-YoungBuck2-600 You can’t kill trophy bucks if none exist on the properties you hunt. The best hunters make the most of their situation, and hold themselves to the highest ethical standards.

Big bucks are awesome, but so are little bucks. Does and fawns aren’t bad either. When it comes right down to it, several fine meals of lean, protein-rich venison, for many of us, is plenty enough reason to squeeze a trigger or let an arrow fly. My message here is simple: Hunt for each one of your very own reasons. You’ll be much happier for the effort, and as a whole, we as hunters will be better off for years to come because of it. If one of your reasons is to obtain an eye-popping trophy, fine. I understand the feeling completely; I love mature bucks as much as anyone. But if their headgear is your sole motivation, please keep that info to yourself, or at least within your inner circle of close hunting friends.

I’d be willing to bet the average hunter hailing from truly hard-hunted states like Pennsylvania or North Carolina could out-hunt most other hunters in the country. I know that’s a broad-stroke statement, but having hunted a ton of public land over the years, I can safely say that hunting pressure is what makes hunting the most difficult.

Hunting pressure is the reason why so much of the deer hunting information you see on television is almost totally absurd. Most offending footage of which I speak comes from tightly controlled properties where the local bucks don’t risk death, or danger of most any sort, until they are at least 5.5 years old. So it’s no wonder they are on their feet during most all hours of the day. Does showing game activity and/or hunting techniques in places like that really help you? I think not.

kabobs-ven-600 A love of venison is a great way to keep the masses on our side, just as espousing pure trophy hunting is a way to turn them away. All of us need to choose wisely.

To me, the best hunters are those who make the most of their specific situation. If you’re a “weekend warrior” in a hard-hunted area, killing any deer consistently is probably the mark of a good hunter. If you’ve got 1,000 acres all to yourself in southern Iowa, I’m not likely to be impressed unless you consistently kill Booners. Because you should.

good-hunters-tagging-buck-600 The measure of a good hunter rarely boils down to inches of antler. Many skilled hunters must haunt heavily pressured public lands, where “huge” bucks are scarce.

Somewhere between the two examples above is where most of us fall. If you fit in this group, your mission this fall should be simple. Hunt the deer that challenge you, the specimens that get your heart racing. Most importantly, aim for the deer that make you happy. Through it all, compare yourself not to television hunters, but to those who have truly earned your respect. People you’ve met with a reputation for ethical behavior first, and consistent success second. Emulate those hunters, and you’ll do the entire lot of us a huge favor. And for that, I say thank you in advance.



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