You’ve probably heard this before: “You shouldn’t shoot the buck you passed the first day on your last day.” I’ve heard this advice time and time again from friends, colleagues, outfitters and even strangers. Do I follow it? Heck no. Here’s why.
First, I like to shop. I enjoy field-judging bucks and scouring the nooks and coulees for a cagey senior citizen. If I shot the first decent buck I saw on every hunt, it could curtail my time in the field. Why cut a hunt short? And why not see if there’s an older buck around to appease my hunting desire?
Second, I’ve shot a lot of deer during my career, so this cat-and-mouse game keeps me inspired to keep trying to become a better hunter. The challenge of hunting is always a test, but by hunting older bucks I can continually increase my skills as the ultimate predator. I learn new things about deer every year, and much of that comes from time in the field and hunting the oldest bucks I can find. If I don’t do some shopping first, I won’t always learn something later.
Third, I like deer. And when I have more than our family needs, I get great pleasure from donating game to families, food banks and those in need of protein. Deer are a renewable resource, so why not use them for a tasty meal and to benefit those in need?
Finally, it helps to take a deer when I’m in the field with a TV crew. I could help produce dozens of episodes where we passed bucks and had no luck at all. Nevertheless, I understand that the viewing hunter enjoys seeing a hunt end successfully. I do, too.
My latest mule deer hunt in Wyoming revolved around passing a bunch of bucks as we looked for Mr. Big, a buck that could make Boone and Crockett. Over the course of the hunt, we scoured the land managed by “Not Your Typical Outfitters.” Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the monster buck … or the two other big bucks that were hanging around during bow season. We did see a large crop of up-and-comers, and several management bucks. (What’s a management buck? It’s a mature buck or one nearing maturity that just doesn’t have the needed rack configuration to score well. In some eyes it’s a trophy; in others, it’s just a nice buck.)
After losing a day and a half due to a blizzard and not seeing any sign of the larger bucks, I focused on a management buck. I could have shot this buck several different times, but I passed. Finally, I got my chance. Just as I was about to crawl into shooting position, the entire thing blew up. Unbeknownst to us, several coyotes were stalking the herd at the same time we were. Our competition spooked the deer and they started running everywhere. I couldn’t believe it.
Outfitter Todd Steinbock and I reassessed the canyon and once again located the herd. Thirty minutes later, we were able to knock down a buck I passed on earlier. After a long storm and a long stalk, it became a great trophy memory.
What do you think? Should you shoot a buck you passed at the beginning of the hunt when the hunt is nearing an end?