What is it about the antlers of a whitetail deer? When I see a deer, any deer, during a day in the woods, a level of excitement rises along with, I am certain, my blood pressure. But if the deer is carrying antlers, that level of heightened awareness goes up even more.
I can only speculate as to why that is, and I will talk about that a bit later.
Meanwhile, I wish I had a dollar for every hunter, when retelling his sad tale about missing a good buck — and this taking a shot and missing has happened to any deer hunter with a good number of years in the woods — the hunter goes on to give you the exact number of antler points on the buck’s head.
I cannot help but believe that, anyone who takes the time to count the number of points emerging from a buck’s head, when often you only have seconds to make the right decisions, seems to be more focused on the deer’s headgear than on the real issue here — making a good, killing shot at the right moment.
At some point in the past — my guess it was the early 1990s — I learned it was imperative that when I see a buck with legal antlers, my eyes immediately drop down to that place just behind the shoulders. I do not want to look at the buck’s antlers, especially if that buck is carrying big antlers, because I know that can rattle me.
Many newcomers to the sport, I have read, can attest to the fact that, upon seeing their first buck in the woods during deer season, missed an easy shot because of so-call “buck fever.” I think it was more a case of “antler fever,” but what do I know?
The point is, if you are a newcomer to the sport of deer hunting, you should be thinking about what you will do when you come face to face with a legal buck. Here’s my advice: Once you are absolutely certain that what you are seeing is a legal buck, take your eyes away from the head and focus your eyes and then your firearm on that place just behind the buck’s shoulders. Oh, and take a breath and gently squeeze that trigger.
I have a collection of deer antlers hanging around my home and it never amazes me, even with a buck on the wall that I shot back in 1987, how impressed I am by the antlers of a whitetail. None of these antlers are spectacular, although I do have two sets in my study that I am extremely proud of. The antlers on the walls and in the study remind me of great hunts in the past, and I can remember, in fine detail, the circumstances of every kill, going back to the 6-pointer I shot in Vermont almost 40 years ago.
And there are times when I think about why I hunt, why I am compelled to hunt and the deep satisfaction I feel when I do find success. It means I am a member of the hunting clan, that I can butcher my own deer and, for months to come, my family can sit around the table and enjoy the venison of my labors.
Something, I am not sure what, takes me back, far back, to a time and place when my ancestors, say 60,000 years ago, went on a hunt, a hunt that was not for sport, but for survival. The talented hunters in the hunter-gatherer group were surely held in high esteem, for obvious reasons. With success, the small group of 20 or 30 Homo Sapiens, gathered around a fire for the feast with smiles and full stomachs. Failure over any extended period of time almost certainly doomed that little group of humans so it is no stretch to imagine hunters, during the early rise of man, were held in high esteem.
You could, of course, argue that any Native American who set out to hunt, say, the whitetail in what is now the United States, would, without hesitation, kill the first whitetail he could, be it male, female or young deer. A doe would be as sustainable as any buck to those early hunters.
That said, however, there must have been something mystical to those first Americans when they drew back their bow and released an arrow on a buck, especially a buck with great antlers. An Indigenous hunter almost certainly carried the same awe as I do when a buck steps into view.
So this is for the young and new hunters out there: Enjoy the day, hunt smart and safe and when that buck comes out of nowhere and steps into view, focus on that place behind the shoulders. You can count those antlers when the buck is down and gone.
Contact Dennis Jensen at email@example.com.