By Chris Eberhart
Before I get back into the nuts and bolts of chasing mature bucks I want to touch on a couple of things of a more philosophical nature. The first is the use of the word HARVEST in relation to deer hunting. Let me be blunt here: I KILL deer. I do not harvest them. Deer are not beans or potatoes, they are wild animals and I am a hunter with heart and soul. In order for hunting to remain hunting deer must remain totally wild. Using euphemisms to describe, or hide, reality from the non-hunting public is simply a form of pandering to the anti-hunting side and being apologetic for doing something that is as natural as eating or sex. I am proud that I hunt and kill my own food, and you should be too. There is no need to hide anything or apologize as long as it is done in an honest fashion. Hunters kill, they do not harvest. When non hunters hear hunters talk about harvesting game they instantly sense the inherent dishonesty in the expression, and the attempt to hide some dirty little secret. People pick up on dishonesty very quickly.
You might be wondering why this bothers me at all, since language changes naturally over time. Well, I have had the opportunity to hunt in Germany, and I also speak fluent German. In Germany hunting is largely an elite pastime, and German hunters took up using euphemisms to describe all aspects of the hunt that could possibly make non-hunters uncomfortable a very long time ago, and to separate themselves from normal people with their own specific language. This has reached almost absurd levels of linguistic trickery. For instance, German hunters never use the word blood. The euphemism for blood is the word sweat. And no animal is ever wounded by a German hunter. Instead, wounded game is described as sick. A non hunter could listen to two German hunters talk about wounding an animal and tracking and have absolutely no idea what they were talking about. This keeps outsiders at a distance, and is an attempt to hide truth. Of course, there is a special vocabulary in every profession and pastime, but do American hunters really want to go that route and separate themselves from the non hunting majority? The word Harvest does just that. Do we want to exclude rather than include? Yet more marginalization is not good for hunting.
Of course, the hunting industry seems to want to use the word harvest, and if you look through any hunting rag or watch hunting television you will hear the word harvest again and again. Particularly, organizations and people associated with so called quality deer management push the word harvest, which is to be expected by a big business that runs on selling seed and fertilizer to grow antlers. And, in a way they have indeed turned away from hunting more towards farming deer. (More about that subject later, like everything else QDM and hyper deer management has its good side and its bad. There are countless parallels to the development of QDM in the U.S. and the long history of basically mandatory QDM in Germany. The long term repercussions are not all good for the future of hunting, particularly from the standpoint of exclusion as opposed to inclusion.) It has often been explained to me that the word harvest is simply the industry standard. This may perhaps be the case, but I the standard should be reconsidered. Hunters still stand on the moral high ground of more natural behavior and need to think about the words they use to describe their activities, because the impression they make on non hunters will ultimately decide the direction hunting takes in the future. The first hunter to use the euphemism harvest ought to have been slapped. Honest language garners respect, even the respect of opponents. There is a lot more to this, but I only have so much space here….. You should really give the idea some thought. Thinking about what we do, how we do it, and how we present ourselves should be on every hunters mind.
The second thing I want to touch on is KILLING does. I love to hunt, and one of my favorite types of deer hunting is hunting for does. Doe hunting isn’t some chore that has to be taken care of; it is the best opportunity to experience hunting the way nature intended. I would hunt does all the time, but there comes a point when the freezer is basically full, and the season still long, and the answer is chasing mature bucks, if for nothing else but to increase my hunting time. Occasionally I even kill a big mature buck. In the end hunting is all about the food, and nourishing ourselves and our families. In hunting and gathering societies there isn’t really such a thing as a trophy hunter*. Though killing mature animals has always been, and will always be, a sign of skill and ability (even if that ability is more about having dollars to spend these days, having lots of cash also shows a certain skill set important in our society) and perhaps luck. The animal that presents the first best opportunity is killed and eaten. When I hunt I always instinctively feel the urge to kill the first fawn that unwittingly ambles past. I believe this is a natural state for a hunter. What primitive hunter in his right mind would possibly pass up an easy opportunity to make meat for his family. I assume that if you are a hunter you more than likely feel the same way. Every year I kill more does than bucks, and am proud to do so. The focus in hunting media is squarely on bucks, but always remember that doe hunting is more than half of the story.
Killing does for food keeps hunters legitimate and is a way to really enjoy hunting. And, I have to say from experience that hunting for does isn’t always easy. Last fall I was in western New York on some good ground. I had three pieces of property to hunt. I was after a mature buck, but also wanted to shoot a doe, or two. There was one really big buck I was hunting, about 160 class 12 pointer (that happened to spend most of his time of public ground), and at least four other nice bucks, between 100 and 120 inches, that I would have shot given the chance. The first day I passed up on several does and fawns, because I was early and I was in a buck spot and it would have been a long drag, figuring I would get an easy opportunity soon enough.
After two weeks I had three encounters with the good bucks, one of them was broadside at twenty yards but I couldn’t get a shot, and I had twenty-three yearling bucks within bow range (the area is absolutely loaded with deer, and I promised the landowners I would shoot only mature bucks or does). I hunted hard for the biggest buck, but he never showed up at the primary scrape area, with four scrapes the size of car hoods, that I focused on during my hunt. The kicker was that not a single doe had been shootable after that first night. Sure, several had been close, but I couldn’t close the deal. I was really beginning to feel superstitious, and that I was being punished for passing on those does the first night. It actually got to the point where I was sort of disappointed when yet another small buck strolled into range.
Finally, on the last day a big doe snuck in and stood broadside at ten yards. I killed that doe with a double lung shot, and couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of that hunt. That hunt is one of the best I have ever had, even without a big buck. I am damn proud of that doe. Kill deer, kill does, and have FUN hunting.
– Chris Eberhart, BowhuntingWildFood.com
*Trophy hunting is another word that has been linguistically high jacked and is misunderstood by the non hunting public. If you replace trophy hunting with the words selective hunting the acceptance level goes way up. Hunting for mature animals is completely legitimate, if there is extra challenge involved and it is real hunting. The words Sport Hunting are yet another instance of changing definitions that has had negative consequences for hunting. The point is to be aware of this kind of thing, and have answers for other hunters, non hunters, and eve