Is Pressure to Kill a Mature Buck Tainting Your Season?

Some of the most incredible whitetail-woods moments don’t end with a mature buck on the ground.

Is Pressure to Kill a Mature Buck Tainting Your Season?

Mature bucks are great, and harvesting a heavy, wide-racked brute is even better, but it’s not everything. Pressure to kill a monster every year can steal your joy if you’re not careful.

When the arrow cut through 50 yards of November air and drove into the giant buck, he reared up like a mule and then bolted into a thorny, impenetrable thicket. Soon, all went silent. I knew when I’d released the arrow that he’d be my largest buck to date, and the short 20-yard recovery confirmed it. It was an epic moment in my bowhunting career, but honestly not the most special.

Many hunters measure success in inches of antler. To each their own, but I’m not falling for this lofty measurement medium any longer. If you own and manage prime whitetail real estate where you can let a 160-inch 4-year-old buck blow into a 180-plus-inch 5-year-old buck, go for it; I would, too.

Measuring success in inches is unrealistic for most folks. But, it’s easy to fall for. Have you tuned in to a hunting channel lately? They make killing giant bucks look easy. I’ve gotten swept into that mindset, and it feels as if you’ve somehow failed if you don’t annually kill a monster buck. It’s OK to dream, but if you hunt pressured ground and expect to annually tap out a bruiser, you’ll most likely fall short.

To that end, let’s check our egos and look at how to more accurately measure success.

Slow Down

In the years when I became a “giant-buck hunter,” my mind got so wrapped around nailing a big buck that I missed important details that truly constitute a successful season. It hurts to know those moments are gone forever, and I didn’t enjoy them for all they were. All I could seem to focus on were the Facebook posts of friends who’d killed giants. “I’m next,” I’d often tell my wife.

That idiocy is in the rearview mirror now. I’ve slowed down. And I find that seasons guided by enjoying the simple things are so much more fulfilling.

Want to add some excitement to your next deer hunt? Forget about antlers and pursue a doe.
Want to add some excitement to your next deer hunt? Forget about antlers and pursue a doe.

Get Back to the Basics

So, what are the simple things I’m referring to, and how can they possibly be more fulfilling than a giant buck at the end of a blood trail? Let me illustrate with a few stories.

In 2011, I made a trip to South Dakota for a doe-only bowhunt late in January. Yep, I drove 11 hours to bowhunt a doe. What made the trip so special was that my grandpa joined me.

After a couple of attempts on public ground, we spotted a few round bales on private land that were being munched by deer. We stopped at the nearest home and asked the landowner if I could hunt near the bales. He agreed.

That afternoon, we crafted a blind amongst some bales 15 yards from the ones being eaten on. I got settled in about 2 hours before we expected the first deer to appear; my grandpa behind me and looking over my shoulder.

On cue, we spotted a group of deer 500 yards away coming toward us at a fast clip. In just a few minutes the deer were 15 yards away. I was about to draw back when a UPS truck whizzed by, which spooked the deer away. Minutes later they returned to the bale, and I double-lunged one of the does. Not only was it a thrilling eye-level encounter, but my grandpa got to watch it all unfold.  It was the first bow-kill he’d ever witnessed.

On another occasion, I flew to Rapid City, South Dakota, to attend a media bowhunt with an outfitter. I had high expectations going into the hunt, but when the outfitter instructed me to obtain two doe tags, I knew I needed to just have fun and not get hellbent on killing a big buck.

The first morning of the hunt was greeted by bone-chilling temperatures, and by 9 a.m., I hadn’t seen a deer. I was about to text the outfitter to come pick me up when a group of two does and two fawns meandered down a 30-yard trail. I made a perfect shot on one of the does and watched her fall within sight. I couldn’t stop shaking for 20 minutes. It was so reinvigorating to just take the pressure off and kill a doe after exclusively buck hunting for the previous few years.

One more event that brought unbelievable satisfaction was hunting with my wife in Kansas for more than 40 hours last fall. We saw young buck after young buck, and while I would’ve normally encouraged her to shoot one since it’d be her first deer, we knew the outfitter had a firm 140-inch minimum — a good practice when managing property for mature bucks, but not conducive for a newer hunter.

On the final day on the hunt, one of the guides learned that my wife had never killed a deer. He told her to shoot any buck she liked and that there would be no penalty fee involved.

I don’t want to spill the beans too much since a story on this hunt will run in a future issue of Bowhunting World, but let’s just say that all of the hours we spent on stand boiled down to the last hour of the last day when she killed a nice 7-pointer. I was shaking so hard that my wife — who’d just made a great shot — had to ask me a few times if I was going to be OK. It seems strange, but I’ve never shaken that badly after taking a deer of my own. That was an unbelievably fulfilling hunt.

Little Things Make Big Differences

Despite the incredible experiences of the previous three stories I shared, success doesn’t even require a kill to be made. Let me explain.

One September while bowhunting deer in South Dakota, I had does and fawns right beneath my platform. I could hear them breathing and see their eyes twitch. It was incredible. I took numerous photographs. And since that hunt, I make it a point to photograph deer I’m not interested in harvesting when they’re near my stand. I genuinely have a blast watching deer. I often tell my wife that I’d still be a deer watcher and photographer even if I wasn’t a hunter. They simply fascinate me.

Of course, deer sightings don’t necessarily make a hunt successful, either. We must stop and smell the roses. Rainbows, sunsets, fall colors and river water trickling over rocks — among many more things — are all things we must not overlook, or we’ll miss so many of the things our Creator made for us to enjoy.

To avoid bowhunting burnout, step back and appreciate what every day has to offer.
To avoid bowhunting burnout, step back and appreciate what every day has to offer.

Moments, Not Antler

It’s hard to ignore the desire to kill big, high-scoring bucks. I can’t do it. But, there’s a difference between making that a goal and being downright set on it to the point of burnout. If you choose the latter, you’ll miss some of the most incredible memories and moments. And once they’re gone, you don’t get them back. So, enjoy the simple things.

Images by Darron McDougal


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