A guest post by Paul Annear, inspired by our recent podcast episodes, exploring the challenges of dealing with neighbors and other peoples’ criticisms and/or expectations for your deer hunting.

My 2017 bow-hunting season was kind of rough. I hunt in the bluffs of southwestern Wisconsin where deer are plentiful. I saw two mature bucks out of range, a few yearlings and a couple 2.5-year-old bucks during a 3.5-day window I could hunt during the rut. It was fun because I was hunting peak rut at a familiar place, where I know just about every deer that comes by, but it was still difficult leaving empty handed.

The 2017 rifle season came along just a few weeks later, and I made a commitment to just have fun and shoot whatever ‘makes me happy.’ Just before last light, a buck made his way out of a big section of timber and into my clover food plot I had worked so hard to create just a few years back. I’ll be honest, I knew he wasn’t anything big, but he got the blood pumping. I settled my crosshairs behind the shoulder and squeezed off a perfect shot at 70 yards. I immediately recognized the buck from summer trail cam pictures. He has only a short double main beam on one side, and a basket rack five-point side on the other. He was my smallest rifle buck by far, but I shared the moment with my two-year-old son when I returned to camp, a moment I will never forget.

The past two episodes of the Wired to Hunt podcast have reiterated some key points for me (#200 and #201); 1.) you don’t need to apologize or answer to anyone’s beef for shooting a certain deer, and 2.) you should set and adhere to your own goals and find your own style of hunting.

Are your critics paying your property taxes or buying all your equipment that allows you to hunt? Likely not. If you are hunting legally and ethically, unruly neighbors quick to criticize you or others throwing comments your way are not worth your time or attention.

While checking a trail camera during my short weekend trip to hunt the 2017 rifle season, I discovered a trespasser had stolen an SD card from one of my trail cameras. That’s not all, I also found a pathetically hidden moth ball directly below the camera that they left as a parting gift to supposedly keep deer away. Yep, there are hunters in this world that let deer drive them to steal their neighbors SD card and then proceed to litter the fence line with stinky moth balls. I am sure many of you have experienced much worse than me. There are also neighbors who have the audacity to say “oh, I wouldn’t have shot ‘Stickers’, when dropping down to your camp to check out your harvest. These folk have little respect for you and even less for the animal we are all chasing.

Then there are neighbors who you couldn’t be happier for when they harvest a big one, and vice versa. They share camera pics, drop down to catch up and help you recover that paunch-shot buck after dark. The point is, you don’t have to answer to anyone when it comes to your critics or rude neighbors. Dan’s description of his critical neighbor during episode #201 is a perfect example. Yes, he may hunt in a spectacular neighborhood where everyone manages for older age classes, but if Dan chooses to shoot a 145” 3.5 yr old, it is really no one else’s business.

In episode #200, guest Jesse Coots had some excellent advice when he claimed his ‘ah-ha’ moment of deer hunting came when he questioned everything his father had taught him about bow hunting. While I am not encouraging anyone to ignore hunting advice from their father, I am saying that you should evaluate every move you make to determine how you can be successful. I look at hunting like an NFL team. You can win the Super Bowl one year, but the following season rosters will change drastically and a coach or GM will need to reestablish the team for the upcoming season. No different in the woods. You can shoot a Booner at five yards one season, but the next can bring about many different changes such as food sources, land access and time constraints, which may lead to tag soup.

Each year it is critical to establish yourself and your hunting strategies. Reestablishing yourself usually includes setting goals each season. I have some basic goals and self-made rules I adhere to when bow-hunting and rifle hunting. Although I broke my rule by harvesting a buck under 3.5 years old this season, I have put goals and a basic mindset in place. Your goals may not have anything to do with the harvest of a deer. It may be something simple like figuring out better access routes to your tree or finally having the patience to let a trail camera sit all season in a bedding area to gain critical info for years to come. Set your objectives before each year but always remember to enter the season reminding yourself to enjoy each sit.

The hunting community is already at odds against a society who is generally unsupportive of hunting culture, the last thing we all need is a nationwide ‘whose is bigger’ contest, which will drive young or new hunters away from our sport. Social media is not helping in this regard. Social media tends to get out of hand when it comes to harsh comments and rude posts about controversial topics, or even someone shooting a young buck. I am all for growing an older age class of deer, but no one must abide by my personal goals, and I do not have to follow the objectives they may set for themselves.

Take some time to think critically about your upcoming hunting seasons and try to check a few items off your lofty list of goals. No one else can do that for you.

– Paul Annear