Deer hunting isn't always about the harvest.
While the actual point of hunting is to actually harvest an animal and put meat in the freezer, I sometimes feel modern hunters are getting a bit shortsighted. Everyone is so focused on dropping a big buck or stuffing their freezer every year that some hunters obsess over it.
I used to be the same way, but I came to a realization in the last few years. Sometimes I enjoy seeing deer as much as hunting them. Sometimes I like just seeing deer even more, and this is why.
Deer are beautiful, fascinating creatures.
Too often, we as hunters don't take the time to appreciate how perfectly adapted and cunning deer really are. It astounding how well a deer's brown coat serves as camouflage, hiding them from prying human eyes in just about any terrain and foliage.
Then there are the antlers, which are the fastest-growing bones in the animal kingdom. It's simply amazing how fast they grow and how like snowflakes, every single one is completely unique to that animal. Each rack differs in length, mass and shape. Every buck I've seen, no matter the size, is one of a kind.
They've got some of the best hearing and the best sense of smell in the woods, making them shy and keeping their world a hidden secret. Even seeing a new behavior, like a spar between two bucks or a deer working over a scrape, can feel like a victory and a glimpse into that secret world. To this day, there are deer behaviors I've seen only in videos on the internet. So, one of my goals every year is to witness a new type of behavior I've never seen before.
I still haven't heard every type of deer call either. Their vocalizations are usually so subtle that it can be easy to miss them. I've still never heard a snort-wheeze in the wild, although I keep hoping.
I love watching for the new fawns every spring, too. Let's face it, they're adorable when they're that young.
While I've only hunted whitetail deer, I even love the differences between the different species of deer. I've always enjoyed the split tines, steel-gray coat and black facial markings of a mule deer. And, I always crack up every time I see one fleeing in that strange hopping gait.
During my short time living in Wyoming, it became something of an obsession for me to capture photos of urban deer in the area. In fact, I had one of my most memorable whitetail encounters there and I wasn't even hunting!
Whatever the type of deer, they're perfect prey animals. They're tough, able to fend off attacks from natural predators and able to withstand times of extreme drought, high water, heat and cold. They can live in almost any environment, urban or rural. Getting close to one isn't easy, though which is why every sighting is meaningful.
Deer are utterly unpredictable.
Hunting deer is a challenge. You just never knows what you're going to see while out in the deer woods. Sometimes when your expectations are high, the day turns out to be a dud. And, on the evenings where you don't expect anything, a whole parade of deer might come marching past your tree stand.
Many of the best deer hunting stories start like that. At any given moment a big buck can come busting through the woods past your stand. It always seems to happen when you least expect it and it gets your heart racing every time.
It's fun trying to anticipate how the deer will move through an area and figuring out what hunting gear will give you an edge.
I also enjoy checking trail cameras as much as I like sitting in the woods. The most exciting card pull of the year is the first one of summer. What bucks will be on camera? Is there a monster buck in the area? You never know what you're going to see and it's like Christmas in July.
I don't really NEED venison.
Don't get me wrong, I love venison. There is nothing better this time of year than a venison cheeseburger made on the grill. But I have no problem being patient.
You can call it deer management because I do want to see bigger bucks, but I also know I can survive without venison. The world hasn't ended yet, I'm not going to starve to death if I don't get it. It's nice when it's an option for meals, but the time I go without it makes me hungrier for when I do have it. And, if I do get super hungry for it, I'll try to take an antlerless deer.
Sometimes the antlerless deer hunts for a smart old doe can be just as challenging.
Strangely enough, another reason I'm now picky about what I shoot is because I think I enjoy searching for shed antlers more than actually hunting for the deer itself. After one shot, your hunt is over. But after finding one shed, the hunt is just beginning as you try to locate the other side. Matching up a set of sheds can be just as challenging as bagging a big buck.
There's also just something special about passing up an antlered deer and then picking up his antlers several months later. Then, you know he made it through firearms season and will be all the bigger next season. There's also something special about building a long history with a particular buck through sightings, trail camera photos and a collection of shed antlers through the years.
A deer-less season isn't a failure.
In short, once I accepted the fact that it was OK to go through a deer hunting season without a harvest, it took all the pressure off. I started having more fun just sitting in the woods and appreciating the deer that did go by rather than groaning about the one that didn't. Sometimes I bring my camera and just sit there and photograph the does and button bucks. Getting great shots with the camera can be a challenge in itself.
Learning to appreciate simply seeing deer has made hunting more rewarding than when I obsessed about the harvest.