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How To Deal with the Unexpected Emotions of Killing a Target Buck

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Finally taking a target buck should be a happy moment, but for some hunters it’s a mix of emotions.

As sportsmen, we are deer hunters. We identify ourselves as the trackers, hunters, and ultimately, killers of a strong and regal forest creature. We hone our marksmanship skills so we have a better chance of harvesting a deer when it finally enters our sights. We spend a small fortune on acquiring the licenses, gear and time necessary to hunt these creatures. By all accounts, we, as deer hunters, are the predators that whitetails fear.

And yet, when we kill a deer, it’s not always euphoria or triumph that we feel. We don’t view ourselves as the hero at the end of the movie, finally putting an end to the bad guy who has terrorized the world for the preceding 120 minutes.

Sure, euphoria, triumph, adrenaline: they are all feelings that pump through our veins upon putting a fatal bullet into a monster of a buck whom we’ve been pursuing for months or even years. But there are also twinges of other feelings that animal rights activists might not expect for us to feel: regret, sadness, guilt. Perhaps even emptiness.

If you are an animal lover, it’s difficult not to feel these emotions every time you pull the trigger, even if they do, to a certain extent, contradict the very nature of your actions. If you’ve ever had a pet, ever lounged around the house with a cat or taken a dog on a hunt, ever lost an animal before you were ready to say goodbye, you may relate to the fact that every time you take the life of a deer or another creature, there is some small conflict brewing in your mind. Killing an animal, whether you are doing it for sport, to protect your land, to feed your family, or all of the above, is a bittersweet moment.

But what about when you finally bring down the buck who you’ve been hunting tirelessly for years on end? If you’ve experienced this, you know that it is among the most bittersweet moments you will probably ever face. You’ve chased this buck season after season. You’ve tracked him on camera on numerous occasions and you have notebooks filled with information about his markings, his movements, and more. You’ve seen him in the field and maybe even taken shots at him. But somehow, despite all of your best efforts, he’s eluded you thus far. He’s your version of Moby Dick, and you’ve become borderline obsessed with catching him and killing him.

However, while this buck is your ultimate hunt, you also can hardly imagine the moment where your shot is finally true, where your bullet or arrow finally makes contact, where you finally write the conclusion to your story together. He’s been a part of your hunting experiences – and your life in general – for so long that you can hardly imagine either without him. And then, as quickly as it takes to aim a rifle and pull a trigger, he can be gone. That moment, it can bring along the emptiness that you feel when you complete something you’ve been working toward for so long. When you graduate college and leave friends behind, for instance, or when you hold a family reunion you’ve been looking forward to for months. Don’t be surprised if you need to take a few weeks to rediscover a new purpose in hunting.

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How To Deal with the Unexpected Emotions of Killing a Target Buck