I have heard both sides of the argument. “You can’t eat the antlers, so what do they matter?” and “You can’t get big bucks by shooting the little ones.” I think I have actually said both before, and absolutely believe in each statement. Let me explain. I am not a meat hunter. If I was, I would kill any deer that walked within range, regardless of age or sex, what difference would it make. I would not consider myself a trophy hunter per say either, because I do not wait all season for a “booner” to walk in before releasing an arrow or pulling the trigger. I consider myself a combination of both.
My family and I rely heavily on the wild game that I manage to harvest each year. Whitetail deer, wild turkey, and various small game provide great table fare that saves us from purchasing meats such as beef. My expenses to hunt these animals can be very high. Fuel prices continue to rise, out-of-state licenses are not cheap, and yearly gear purchases add up to a costly obsession with the sport of hunting. But a good deer harvest can quickly offset these expenses. I typically harvest 3-4 deer a year that works out to a couple of hundred pounds of meat in the freezer that will feed us all year.
Some have used the expense as the reasoning behind shooting whatever they see in the field. They don’t want to go home empty-handed and spend the money with nothing to show for it. I disagree with this reasoning because of the whitetail doe. The female deer or doe, is the perfect source of venison and they are abundant. In most areas of the country, the buck to doe ratio is way out of proportion with what game managers consider to be the best conditions of 3 does or less to 1 buck. Therefore, doe harvests are encouraged, in my opinion mandatory, leaving no need to shoot young/small bucks.
Trophy hunters too use this reasoning for their argument. Why spend a few thousand dollars to go on a hunting trip to big buck country to shoot does. Well, your commitment to land/game management will be appreciated by your guide/outfitter and lead to more or better opportunities in the future, and you will come away with meat for the freezer where if you waited for a 150 class buck or better you may have none. At least little four points and spikes will be safe with the trophy guys.
Everyone loves big buck stories and the bragging rights that come with them. If deep down you don’t imagine that the buck of a lifetime will walk out every time you take to the field you are kidding yourself. That is what draws us all out into the cold, wind, rain, and snow each year. The curiosity of what will be seen and the excitement of what could be seen. It is a proven fact that a deer’s rack will continue to be larger with maturity so long as he has access to good nutrition and until he pasts his prime. So if you harvest young deer, you are reducing the fulfillment of those big buck dreams by reducing the numbers of bucks that live to maturity. So trophy hunters and meat hunters alike can agree, that shooting young bucks is unnecessary for meat and counter productive to growing big bucks.
My take on the matter is a combination of both perspectives. I utilize does for meat, pure and simple. I try to take as many as I can, especially early in the year so that when the rut comes in, I can hold off and wait for an opportunity at a buck. Ideally, I hope to kill at least 2 does for every buck. My buck standards depend upon the weapon and state in which I am hunting. My goal is to kill only a buck that is bigger than the largest buck previously harvested by that weapon in that state. So my standards for a rifle kill in Maryland are higher than that in Georgia because I have killed a larger buck in Maryland. I plan to teach my own son this manner of thinking when the time comes. At a young age he will have an opportunity to kill a spike or a four point, or whatever, as his first buck. The excitement of doing so is what hooked me on hunting when I was kid and that is more important than trophy hunting or game management at that age. But once he makes that kill, he will have the opportunity to begin to learn about the bigger picture in the following seasons.
I drive many miles each year during local trips to public lands or cross-country to hunt with friends and family. I am willing and often do come home with all my buck tags still in my pocket. Money is in a short supply and if I didn’t harvest does, my wife would put the kibosh on future hunting trips. But by harvesting does for meat and being more selective when shooting bucks, we save money at the grocery store, and I have trail camera pictures each year of big 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 year-old bucks that have me dreaming of sitting in a stand, bow in hand, and its only June.
I am not saying that my way is the right way, just what works for me. Bottom line is its your hunt, do what you want with it. But meat or trophy, I say leave young bucks out of it and focus more on the experience and time spent with friends and loved ones on your hunt. The memories are often more valuable than the meal or the mount.