There’s no greater challenge in the hunting world than deer

Favorite game animal

I have been in this business a long time now, and it’s been good to me. I’ve been able to do a great deal of what we all love to do, and in many parts of this wonderful world of ours.

When I run into hunters at sports shows, in hunting camps or wherever, the question I seem to be asked most goes something like, “What’s your favorite game animal?”

The answer might surprise you. I love Africa, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen so much of it. I’m also a bit of nut on bear hunting, and in recent years I’ve become far more addicted to sheep hunting than I ever wanted to. Nevertheless, the game animal that makes me come unglued the most is a good buck deer of any variety.

If I had to give up everything else and could choose just one type of hunting for the rest of my life it would have to be good ol’ American deer hunting.

How to hunt your local deer?

I have hunted all varieties of North American deer in almost every imaginable habitat type across the continent. Last time I counted, I’d hunted whitetails unguided, guided and as a guide for other hunters in nearly 30 U.S. states, Canadian provinces and Mexican states.

Across our great continent, from Mexico to Canada and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, we have a tremendous variety of deer hunting–not only different varieties of deer but radically different terrain and hunting conditions. Because of these differences, we have some deer hunting that is relatively easy and much that is extremely difficult. Across the board–and I’m speaking from experience here–our American deer are universally some of the most difficult and challenging game animals in the entire world.

I read the “Letters” column in this magazine just like you do, and I read with great interest the letter from a gent in Pennsylvania suggesting that if hunting writers were sent into the Pennsylvania woods, they’d find that they’re not very good hunters at all. There might be some truth to this.

I have hunted the eastern woods quite a bit, but they aren’t my woods. And there is no animal on Earth that is as wary, hunter-wise and more difficult to outwit than a mature whitetail in the hard-hunted eastern states. It follows naturally that any hunter who consistently hauls whitetail bucks out of those eastern forests is a truly great hunter. Maybe he’s a better hunter than I am, maybe he isn’t–but for darned sure he’s going to be better on his own home turf.

Situations and appropriate tactics differ radically with the terrain, vegetation, time of season and local hunting conditions. I can make suggestions based on experience, but there are few absolutes, save this one: When you get a shot at a nice buck, you’ve done a lot of things right (even if you didn’t know you were doing them).

Whether you hunt Pennsylvania’s woods, the South’s swamps and edges of agricultural fields, the northern forests, the Great Plains or the badlands, mountains and deserts of the West, there’s a very good chance you’ll know how to hunt your local deer far better than I do.

Successful and unsuccessful

Over the years I’ve been successful hunting by almost any imaginable legal tactic–and unsuccessful in roughly the same measure. I know what has worked for me, but there’s a caution there: Deer are deer, and deer are difficult. No tactic, no matter how sound and how perfect for conditions, works all the time, Even so, I’ve taken a few good bucks here and there, and I’ve taken quite a few more that may not have reached “trophy” status but which pleased me immensely at the time.

If the two are standing together I won’t pass up a big buck in favor of a little one, and if the country and conditions are right I will certainly pass a little buck hoping a big one will come along. But I like to hunt deer, and we love to eat venison, so I’m certainly nor a purist as a trophy hunter. I definitely don’t hunt for any record book.

In the months to come, we’ll talk a bit about quality deer management, and we’ll talk some about trophy standards and how to judge deer, along with a lot of other subjects. But in this first column I want to make this last point extremely clear: If you see a buck you like and you take him, he’s a great trophy regardless of his headgear.

There’s a corollary to this. In much of the country we hunt, we have little or no control over management policies, and we have to compete equally with other hunters sharing the same woods.

There are many circumstances in which any buck, even any deer, taken in fair chase is a genuine trophy. Whether that deer winds up on your table or on your wall (preferably both) it should be appreciated for what it is: The result of great days afield, and the symbol of a significant hunting accomplishment in taking one of the world’s wariest and most elusive game animals.

So, in my 24th year of writing for this magazine, and in my 38th year of deer hunting, I’m absolutely delighted with the challenge of writing about deer on a regular basis. Obviously, whitetails are the most popular game in North America, and thus in the world, so we’ll spend a lot of time discussing them in the issues ahead, but there’ll be plenty of opportunity to cover mulies and blacktails as well.
Given our love for deer hunting, there’ll be plenty to discuss, and I look forward to the opportunity.

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