Most of us envision bugling elk, bug-eyed swaying bull moose responding to a plaintive call, or perhaps a few of the critters that call Africa home when we dream big about hunting. Even though our desires belong to animals beyond easy reach, our hearts belong to the whitetail, especially whitetail bucks.
It’s their ability to make us feel like we don’t belong in the woods that we secretly love. Despite oft-suppressed desires to hunt for “easy” bucks, the reality is that whitetail hunting exists as a delicate balance between challenge and potential success. It’s the perfect pursuit because it demands nearly unrealistic optimism, which is often tempered by the very real feeling of eating another tag.
It would be easy enough to say that whitetails rule simply because they are so common. If that were true, we’d be watching fishing tournaments where professional anglers tried their hands at catching big limits of sunfish instead of bass or redfish. Commonality can sometimes detract from a species, but not the whitetail. Their availability to nearly every hunter is one of the reasons that they are so endearing to us.
Anyone can shoot a whitetail, right? After all it is not that hard to lay eyes on some deer if you know where to look. They are everywhere; they are not dumb. And they don’t put up with our intrusion too well when we express a desire to turn them into tightly-wrapped packages of protein. They can be dumb, but those deer live in special circumstances, and you can bet a little predation would go a long way toward changing their habits forever.
It’s deer of all shapes and sizes that have spawned a huge hunting industry, and the demand for know-how on all-things-deer have turned passionate hunters into businessmen. Our collective desire to figure out how to better kill deer has led to the creation of so many products that it would be impossible to count them all.
Those products – from state-of-the-art camouflage, to calls, to trail cameras, to you-name-it – are designed to make it easier to fill a tag, especially when it comes to big bucks. Some do, some don’t. Even the best products that make it easier, don’t make it that much easier because they simply can’t change the nature of the animal we’re after.
A mature buck is a no-nonsense critter that knows more about your habits than you do his, and he learned all of them through evidence of your intrusion. He feels more confident in the nighttime than he does in the day, and that’s enough to get him to lay down and wait out the daylight hours. Sure, he’ll get up and stretch and maybe browse for a while. But you can bet he’ll have the wind in his favor, and his ears will constantly swivel to and fro to pick up the slightest sound that doesn’t belong.
If you get to see him, you’re lucky, however your job is far from over. Whitetail bucks grow big because they make it through encounters with hunters every year. They learn from those encounters that carelessness is dangerous, so they engage in less and less reckless behavior as they grow older. The only solace we can take in that is the rut – the short period of the year when mature deer sometimes throw caution to the wind and move during daylight with their minds on other needs beyond individual survival.
The whitetail is king for plenty of reasons. Tags are easy to get, they live in every kind of habitat you can imagine, and despite how hard it truly is, the chance to kill a genuine giant exists for every one of us.
What is not to love about that? God bless the whitetail.
Coming next week: Gaining Access to Private Hunting Land, featuring Melissa Bachman.