Trophy Hunting Is a Journey That Most Deer Hunters Go On
To be a trophy hunter you must understand the deer. More importantly, however, you must gain a true understanding of yourself. This article takes you through the stages of trophy hunting, and the information will enable you to stay the course until success is achieved.
I love the story another friend of mine recently related to me. He had shot a dandy buck, then proceeded to follow the blood trail to his prize. Upon finding the buck, he said out loud to himself, Oh, my gosh! I've found someone else's deer! Well, he hadn't really found someone else's deer; it was the one he had shot with ground shrinkage figured in.
That story could be told by just about everyone who has trophy hunted for any length of time. I can assure you similar cases have happened to me throughout the years. Some mistakes made while trophy hunting border on being downright depressing, while others are truly funny if you have the right outlook about hunting. In the following paragraphs I will relate to you what stages you will go through while working your way up the trophy hunting ladder, and what you can do to succeed at the fastest pace possible.
The Beginning Trophy Hunter
Youthful hunters have blazing energy, but no experience. Most hunters approaching, or in, middle age, still have their health, plus a vast store of hunting knowledge to draw from. Those deer hunters past 50 have a tremendous amount of whitetail knowledge, but a declining body. The entry numbers into the whitetail record books show how these groups are affected by their age and deer hunting experience.
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In the Pope & Young archery book records, approximately 3 percent of entries come from hunters 20 years of age, or younger. Eighteen percent of entries come from the 20 to 29 age group, while archers from 30 to 39 years old are the most successful, accounting for 38% of all book entries. Those aged 40 to 49 comes in at a still good 27 percent, 50 to 59 is 12 percent, and some 60 and up bow benders still hang tough, contributing 2 percent of book entries. As you can see, there really are ages and stages in the whitetail trophy hunting game.
Let's go back to the young, energetic deer hunter who lacks experience. At their age they have taken a few whitetails, maybe even a buck or two. They have also seen pictures of giant bucks other hunters have tagged, watched the deer videos packed full of giant bucks, and possibly made a sighting or two of nice deer themselves. They would love to have just one brute come by their tree stand so they could at least have a crack at him. They are inspired. And to be one who enjoys trophy hunting, you do have to be inspired.
Inspiration will usually keep you in the woods, and fortune may even smile favorably on your hunts at times. Oftentimes a new trophy hunter will hold out for a big buck for two or three years, then out of frustration hammer a yearling or 2 1/2-year-old buck when it comes by. This happens because he's not tagging any bucks at all, while his buddies are bringing in yearling bucks. The hunter lost whatever recognition he ever had in deer hunting, and shooting a small buck enables him to recover it to some degree.
Many people new to trophy hunting drop back into this shooting younger antlered deer category and remain there for the rest of their lives. There's absolutely nothing wrong with doing this, of course, if this makes you happy. If you're not happy, however, then you need to take the next step, realizing it takes considerable knowledge to taste more than sporadic trophy hunting success. This may mean you go a year or two without a deer like I did when I first started trophy hunting.
Learn About the Game
When starting to accumulate knowledge, it's important to realize how you, personally, best retain information. If you have a gift for remembering what you read, then by all means you should be gleaning all of the technical hunting articles now found in numerous deer hunting magazines. And I want to encourage you to be extremely critical of what you read. If you feel what an author is writing doesn't add up, then make a commitment to prove his hunting methods wrong when you are in the field. If they are bad advice, you'll uncover this fact. If the method does work, then you've learned something.
This is how I did it when I started out, and I learned what information to ignore fairly quickly. You'll also discover the writers who have excellent in-depth information on a consistent basis. Read what they have to say over several times, even keep the articles in a file. As you progress in your hunting skills over the years, reread these articles from time to time. You'll find gaining deer hunting experience will help you to understand points you couldn't comprehend before.
Besides magazines, there are many deer hunting books now on the market. I've not reviewed many of them, but I'm sure there are a few good ones on the market on trophy whitetail hunting. Hunting and archery shows often offer you an opportunity to scan them over before purchase.
If you feel you learn well from hearing information and visually seeing it, then seminars from hunting experts may be of interest to you. Each expert usually covers his particular strength, and may have a slide show to illustrate key points. These seminars can be an asset to you since they cover a broad range of tactics. Again outdoor hunting shows are the place to find well-known seminar speakers.
Putting Knowledge to Work
Trophy hunting is more than gaining knowledge about the pursued; it's also gaining an understanding of the pursuer — one's self.
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Let's go back to the start of my article to start picking out some of these mistakes, using my young friend who was hunting the saddles as an example. As I noted, he was one sharp young guy who caught on to understanding how to read topographical maps very quickly. He also had a basic understanding of why saddles, or low spots in ridgelines, were good because they funneled down deer to a small travel corridor. He grasped how wind directions changed in the hills to a lesser degree.
Putting what knowledge he had to work, my young friend made a hunt in one of the saddles I had picked out on the topo map. The wind was favorable his first archery hunt and he almost tasted success. Being fired up, he was ready to go back for more. This is where trophy hunting becomes difficult. You have a great spot, trophy whitetails are there, and you have a day off to hunt. In the early stages of trophy hunting you may bust right back in there regardless of the wind direction, knowing you'll kill the monster.
Sorry, you just made a mistake. If the wind isn't used properly the mature buck picks you off before you ever see him. His sign is still there, including big rubs and scrapes, but the more you carelessly hunt the area, the more he knows about you. Deer movement seems to disappear as time passes, as my friend so sadly found out. Actually the deer are still moving, just not where you have your treestand.
Judging a Buck
As a trophy hunter you need to study deer racks until you have a fairly good idea of what each buck will score. This comes with experience. Start out by remembering this: When looking at the side of a deer, one tine up, it's a 6-point, two tines up, it's an 8-point, three tines up, it's a 10-point, and so on. This basic evaluation gets you started, then you learn to estimate tine length, mass, main beam length, and spread rather quickly.
Interestingly, even after you have standards in place, and can score deer fairly well on the hoof, shooting a lower scoring deer than your standards still can occur. Fatigue is the primary reason for this. It's happened to me a couple of times, both on 3 1/2 year old bucks that were mature, but on the low scoring side. Your mind knows what size deer you desire, but your bone-tired body is crying out for rest. Yes, trophy hunting is a true mind game, as you will find out.
Trophy hunting is no easy task. It's hard. But it's rewarding.
Editor's Note: This was originally published on August 26, 2008.
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