In reference to whitetail deer hunting, goals and expectations are most often centered around two factors: antlers and meat. However, whether hunting public land, or even private properties, standards shouldn’t only be about trophies and food. Ultimately, the goal should be to determine how hunting can become a lifelong endeavor not just an activity to pass some time on a weekend.
No one searches for a new job expecting to make the same pay as the CEO of the company. In the same way, it’s important to create realistic personal goals and manage your expectations when it comes to bowhunting. This isn’t to say you won’t start enjoying yourself right out of the gate, but it might take some time to get to where you’d like to be, and that’s okay! DIY bowhunting is heavily garnished with opportunity for growth as a hunter, as well as personal growth in general. You’ll learn a lot about deer and hunting over a short amount of time. But really, you’ll learn more about yourself than you could have imagined.
Building hunting standards will include some fundamental factors. Before you can get to the real meat of the topic, consider your reason to hunt. Contemplate your motives, knowledge base, and logically your available time. Once sorted, decisions about your personal set of standards will be much easier.
What’s driving your desire to hunt? Pure motivation to kill a big buck could land you with a new hobby in less than one season. However, starting your hunting career in the big buck trap could more realistically lead to a big flop. Nothing is worse than a broadside 4 ½ year old buck at 20 yards while your nerves are melting. Never having been in highly intense hunting situations could lead to some game-time failure. It doesn’t matter who you talk to about hunting. If they love it enough, nerves have probably gotten the better of them too! Honestly, killing a trophy buck isn’t always as easy as hunting shows make it seem. If you expect to kill a monster in your first season, you could be very disappointed. Take some time to consider your ultimate motive. Does that motive need to be re-evaluated? Maybe there should be less pressure to kill, more emphasis on learning deer, and just having a good time in the outdoors. Maybe there should be more emphasis on filling the freezer. Your grill won’t discriminate—any deer will do.
Ever watch a singing competition show? If you have, I’m sure you’ve wondered who in the world told the auditioning singer that they could actually hold a tune. Some of those people either never took the time to listen to themselves, or someone lied to them and told them they were great. Not many people are excellent hunters right out of the gate. Don’t be discouraged if you suck initially! Unlike a terrific singing voice, hunting is a skill you can acquire, provided you’re willing to put in the time and effort. Today there’s more information and content related to hunting than anyone could consume in an entire lifetime. Learning methods have definitely advanced, even in the last 5 years. But woodsmanship skills can’t all be perfected by watching a YouTube video. All that content is helpful, but skills are best learned and honed hands-on. Take, for example, one of the hottest present styles of hunting—hunting specific buck beds. If you think you’re going to sneak into position successfully, having no experience moving with methodic, stealthy intent, you’re gravely mistaken. While a newbie could really dig in and learn all the information they could ever want to about how to approach this style of hunting, there is no substitute for getting out in the woods and actually doing it. Most importantly, be patient with yourself, have awareness of your own skillset, and don’t be afraid to learn through a little trial and error.
Learning to kill a big buck is a huge investment of time and energy. Of course, about 10% of hunting is luck. The remaining 90% relies on scouting efforts and actual time spent hunting. If a 100” buck would make you happy, let it fly. Personally, I used to care too much about what other people thought. I’ve come to learn that that puts a damper on my own hunting goals. Since that recognition, I’ve enjoyed my invested time in the woods much more.
Remembering your family when the season begins to cloud your mind is very important. If you alienate your family over deer, that will lead to a pretty crap life. Speaking from experience, the huge honey do list that you finished in summertime is only going to go so far. The best thing to do is actually pretty simple. Set aside a bit of time to seriously be present with your spouse and kids. 3 or 4 hours of pure quality time with your family on a regular basis throughout the hunting season will go a long way. Set aside that time whether it be once or week or even every other. During peak hunting season, even short amounts of quality time go way further than the new patio that you installed a few months ago. Got kids that are even remotely interested in hunting? Take them with you! Of course, that might not be a hunt to expect Booners, but it will be time well invested.
The bar for what a hunter could expect from public land used to be set very low. Recently, that’s changed. Public land is the hot topic in hunting media and among many groups of hunters. Reality is this: public land hunting hasn’t changed much. Sure, there is much better management of our public spaces, but public land is still an even-odds arena. Some public land is more pressured than others. That may seem pretty obvious, but my point is: if you’re looking for the same bruiser buck that may be found on less pressured properties, you may be setting yourself up for failure. I’m not saying to go out and shoot the first buck that walks inside of bow range. I’m just saying, if the chosen property has an overall buck population of 2½ -year-old deer, you’re probably going to burn yourself out waiting for a 5-year-old to walk by. Move on to a new spot or decide to lower your standards to the level of what the property has to offer.
Goals are synonymous with expectations when it comes to public land hunting. When choosing goals, don’t make it just about the size of the buck you’re after. Make it about the challenge you’re about to face head-on. Maybe it will be your first time packing a deer out of the big woods or your first out-of-state hunt. Do something to change the way you perceive hunting. I promise, antler size will matter a lot less, even on a buck you would never dream of arrowing on a pristinely managed property. I love big antlers and cool trail camera pictures just as much as the next guy. And, believe me, I strive to aim for big bucks too. But, more than anything, I just love to hunt.