By Mark Kenyon
I love whitetail deer.
I love watching them and studying them. I love hunting them and eating them. I love knowing they’re nearby, but also far away. I love figuring them out and I love them fooling me more often. And as I write this, I realize this paragraph could just go on and on and on – there are so many ways in which I admire and enjoy these animals.
But if you’d allow me, I’d like to expand on this all just a bit more. Because I’d bet that you love whitetails too – but how often do you (or I) take the time to think about why and in what ways? When’s the last time we took a moment to appreciate how special these animals really are?
Let’s do that today.
1. Because They Eat Our Landscaping: Of all the big mammals left in North America, none is more familiar to the average American than the whitetail deer. Munching on your landscaping, running across the road, feeding in a forest clearing or farmer’s field. Whitetails have seemingly evolved perfectly to fit into all the little gaps and nooks and crannies that our modern civilization has left in a state of semi-wild. But what’s really damn neat about these critters is that while they sometimes live among and amidst the clutter of urban life, they still remain wild. One moment they might be chomping on your tulips and the next they’re bristled up, lips curled, snot dripping, circling and seemingly ready to murder the other buck that just walked up. Or maybe two whitetails have shacked up in your backyard and are humping in broad daylight – whitetail deer have no regard for societal norms. Whitetail deer have a wonderful way of bringing just a little bit of the wild back into our ultra-planned, perfectly polished, safe and sound modern existences.
2. Because They Taste Great: Who needs a fancy high dollar restaurant selling grass-fed hormone free steaks when you’ve got the same thing running around outside your house or farm across most of the country? Anyone who hunts knows that whitetail deer taste amazing – just enough lean wild flavor to differentiate it from the civilized beef, yet still mild and palatable enough for the average palette. Venison carbonade, venison enchiladas, venison stir fry, venison empanadas, venison chili, venison tartare, venison burgers, grilled venison backstrap – the options are infinite – equally inviting and achievable for the new chef, while also offering exciting new options for the adventurous gourmand. Whitetail deer are the country-wide, wildly delicious, uber-sustainable red-meat-providing gift of the natural world to the average American.
3. Because They Offer A Sliding Scale of Challenge: Whitetail deer are an equal-opportunity target animal for the modern hunter. Whether you’re looking for a quick way to fill the freezer with sustainable meat or want to embark on a month’s long pursuit of a single wily old animal – whitetail deer hunting has you covered. With a bit of basic knowledge, a few pieces of gear, and access to decent habitat, just about anyone can head out within an hour of home and have a relatively solid chance of bagging a whitetail doe to fill the freezer. On the other hand, whitetail hunting can provide days and weeks and months of all-consuming obsessive fodder for those who seek to kill a deer with a bow or target a mature animal or a single specific buck. Whether newbie or old hand, whitetails can fit the bill.
4. Because They Bring Us Together: Whitetails are the most accessible of all American big game and the most pursued, for that reason they’re also the species that most brings hunters together. Whitetails bring us together at camp and at the buck pole and at the butcher and bonfires and family get-togethers and at the feed mill. The shared experience of chasing whitetails – long bone-chilling days on stand, pulse-racing moments of surprise when the twig breaks and the leafs crackle, the knee-shaking seconds of both chaos and stillness before the shot, exultation and remorse and satisfaction when walking up on the fallen other – it gives us all something to reminisce and laugh and wonder and cry and marvel about. Together.
5. Because They Help Us See the Nearby Beauty: Being that whitetails are local to so many of us, when hunting them we’re commonly pulled into little pockets of close-to-home “wild” places that are often overlooked in the rush of daily life. The patch of woods behind the house, a fence-line behind the farm, the old cattail marsh behind town hall – these aren’t usually the places we think of when imaging the grandeur of the natural world. But whitetails bring us out there and force us to slow down and sit and wait and listen and watch.
And when we do that, when we open our eyes to the world around us, we see a kaleidoscope of color and texture and sound and smell. Crisp and crackling blood red leaves drifting to the ground, rolling waves of amber and umber toned grasses, star-speckled surfaces of ponds and streams, an endless procession of dolphin and duck and rabbit and bear shaped puffy white clouds trolling along amidst a robin’s egg blue backdrop. Without whitetails, how many of us would ever sit still long enough to notice?
6. Because They Can Take Us To Faraway New Places: As much as whitetails can bring us to appreciate the beautiful wild nearby – they can also take us to faraway adventurous locales. You can chase whitetails in the towering green forests of Maine or the rolling cactus-choked canyons of Arizona, you can hunt them in the dank and dark bayous of Louisiana, the corn and bean blanketed breadbasket of Iowa, or the wide-open grasslands and river bottoms of Montana. A hunting trip for whitetails can take you on whatever kind of adventure you’d like and it can be as adventurous as you want it. You can stay in a hotel and chase farm-ground bucks for a few days from the comfort of a pre-hung treestand or you can paddle a canoe deep into a backcountry wilderness, sleep in a tent and chase wily old bucks from the ground. If there’s ever been an equivalent to a choose-your-own-adventure book in the hunting world, it’s the whitetail deer.
7. Because They Can Give Us Year Round Purpose: For those who take whitetail hunting to the most extreme level, these critters can offer year round purpose and enthrallment. For people like this – like me – whitetails are an anchor, they’re a pivot point for the entire calendar year. In the winter it’s scouting and studying maps and old trail camera photos, in the spring it’s shed hunting and food plotting, in the summer it’s glassing fields and hanging stands and trimming lanes, and in the fall it’s days and days and days of early mornings and long nights in the woods and the fields – searching and waiting and watching for those wild whitetails. These deer give us something to think and talk and dream about year round, something to take our minds away from the monotony of the office or the factory or the farm.
8. Because They Drive Us Bat-S*** Crazy: And if you’re one of these people who chases whitetail deer not just for a few days a fall, but for the entire year, then you know that these critters can drive you absolutely 100% nuts . They outsmart us and outwit us, they confuse, concern and perplex us. They can even piss us off. But in the end they fascinate us and bewilder us, they fill us with wonder and awe and purpose and humility.
And for all that, and much much more, we love them.