Finding Joy (Again) in Whitetail Hunting

Pursuing mature bucks is great, but sometimes getting back to the basics of whitetail hunting and targeting any deer is welcomed.

Finding Joy (Again) in Whitetail Hunting

Like many of you, I love pursuing mature whitetail bucks. I think about it 365 days a year. But sometimes this pursuit can become a grind, and while I still enjoy it, at times it’s healthy to step back, take a breath, and remember what hunting was like when we stepped into the forest many years ago with our first deer hunting license.

Because I have two teenage sons who enjoy hunting, I get to take this “step back” each fall. You see, neither of my boys is a trophy deer hunter. When we head into the forest, they want to get a deer. Any deer. Period. 

Sure, if a doe steps into a food plot and she’s with a fawn, they’ll try to harvest the doe. Likewise, if a doe stepped into a clearing with a buck, they’d aim for the buck. Neither of them has had a shot at a mature buck yet, and I’m happy about it. I’d rather they keep filling their tags with does, fawns and small-antlered bucks for several years to come. If they are anything like their dad, they’ll become fascinated with antlers — the bigger the better — and then deer hunting will be different. Not better, not worse, just different. 

I love going into the field with them knowing that any deer we see is fair game. There’s no debate about “whether it’s a shooter.” Like my dad taught me 42 years ago when I first joined him in the whitetail woods, “brown is down.”

A bit of mentoring advice: My kids take only close-range shots, even though they hunt with bolt-action rifles resting on a tripod. To date, the longest shot either of them has made on a whitetail — and they’ve killed several each — is 75 yards. Most shots have been less than 50 yards. Closer is better.

The author and his son Elliott are all smiles after Elliott shot a doe (top photo) on opening day of Wisconsin’s 2019 firearms deer season.
The author and his son Elliott are all smiles after Elliott shot a doe (top photo) on opening day of Wisconsin’s 2019 firearms deer season.

This fall, I encourage you to find time to spend in the woods with a young or beginning deer hunter, where any legal whitetail is a shooter. Yes, it’s great to tag a big buck, but true joy is seen in the eyes of a beginning hunter when he or she finds any deer at the end of a short blood trail.

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