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8 Ways to Determine If a Deer is Worth Shooting

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Here are eight things to keep in mind before deciding to pull the trigger.

Deer hunting, while it involves weeks or months (or even years) of preparation, always comes down to one split-second decision; to shoot, or not to shoot?TS-CalmHunt-Email

Not all deer are created equal, and while there's nothing that compares to the thrill of a successful hunt, there's also nothing that stings worse than harvesting a deer you shouldn't. The question is, then, how do you decide if a deer is worth shooting?

Here's a list of eight things that will help you decide if a deer is worth shooting. While some of them are decisions you should make before you ever leave your vehicle, several are questions you should ask yourself in the heat of the moment.

We hope that this helps you make the right decision.

1. Is it legal to shoot this deer?

No matter what you hunt or where you hunt it, you should always keep local laws and regulations in mind. There is no faster way to destroy our hope for future outdoor opportunities than by ignoring current laws, so please don't disregard signs and rules!

Image via

2. What are my long-term goals for this property?

If you're one of the lucky few who hunts private property, we hope that you and your partners have long-term goals for your piece of ground. A simple "If it's brown it's down" policy may sound fun (and help with over-population) short-term, but it can also erode the long-term potential of your hunting property.

If you live in an area where there's a large percentage of young bucks, for example, your goal may be to let bucks reach five years old or older. If your area has a healthy percentage of mature deer (lucky you), maybe shooting deer at four years old would be acceptable.

Whatever your goals for your hunting ground are, make sure that shooting the deer you're drawn on won't work against you.

3. What are my goals for this hunt?

It may be a good idea to decide, before you ever settle in, what you hope to accomplish while in the field. If your goal is to mainly observe deer movement, then do just that. There's no need to force a bad shot or risk bumping deer if you're merely trying to understand their patterns. If your goal is to get meat for the freezer, for example, there's no need to wait for a particular deer. Simply take the first available shot.

If, however, your goal is a mature buck, then decide before you even arrive that you won't give in to the temptation to shoot anything else.

4. Am I acting in desperation?

Before you even draw the string or settle the crosshairs on a deer, ask yourself: "Would shooting this deer be an act of desperation?" We've all been there; after an entire season (or string of seasons) where nothing has gone your way, an opportunity finally presents itself. It may not be a deer you would normally consider shooting, but it's better than no deer, right?

WRONG! While getting a shot off can certainly feel good after a long, hard season, taking a deer solely from desperation will end in regret every time. Take a second, breathe, and ask yourself, "If this was opening day, would I take this shot?" If the answer is "No," then you should probably pass.

You'll thank us later.

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5. Will shooting this deer have an negative impact on this property or on other hunters?

This question goes hand in hand with deciding what your long-term goals for your property are. Not all deer are created equal, and some need to be left alive.

This question also applies to us public land hunters. While any buck taken from public land is a success story, could letting that buck that just walked under your stand grow another year give you and all the hunters who share that land a higher-quality hunting experience? While you should never pass a good buck solely because someone else might want it more, if you let smaller deer walk then the quality of hunting in your area will surely go up.

6. Am I setting a good example for other hunters to follow?

Hunting is not only a solo sport, it can also become a community event. Nothing brings people together quite like a deer harvest, and it's in these moments that we all learn from each other.

Before you pull the trigger, ask yourself: "Will shooting this deer be a positive example for others to follow, or will it encourage bad hunting habits?" Are you an example of why patience is a virtue, or are you teaching those around you to be reckless and irresponsible?

Image via Mlive

7. Will I be embarrassed to show this deer to other hunters?

As any deer hunter will tell you, part of the fun of deer hunting is trying to one-up your friends. There's no better way to become a better hunter than to hang out with other hunters and to learn from each other.

If you want to shoot a particular deer but you know you'll be made fun of for doing so, maybe that's a good sign that you should pass.

Or it could mean that your friends are jerks.

8. Can I make the shot?

Every hunter should strive to make a clean, quick, ethical kill shot...or a clean miss. This is one area where compromise is never okay; you can either make the shot, or you can't.

It shouldn't matter if it's the buck of a lifetime, you should never shoot outside your skill level.

Just because those T.V. hunters can make 50-yard archery shots in a strong crosswind doesn't mean you can.

Image courtesy of
Outside the Beltway

While we hope that all of you have a safe and successful deer season, not all deer are created equal. No matter what's in front of your stand or blind, don't forget to take a breath, think it through, and make a wise decision.

Good luck!

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8 Ways to Determine If a Deer is Worth Shooting