By Chris Eberhart

I answer the occasional email from fellow hunter’s who have read my books.  Recently a young hunter sent me a few mails with questions mostly about using a Tree Saddle. He also sent me a picture of a buck he killed, and basically apologized that the buck didn’t quite make Pope & Young.  The guy was maybe twenty, had killed perhaps a couple other bucks in his entire life, and was hunting by permission on a tiny farm in an area in northern Michigan that certainly couldn’t be considered top notch big buck country.  He also told me that he would never shoot anything smaller again. And, not only had this young man never killed many bucks, he had also only killed a few does.  I was aghast, but not surprised.

Hunting media gives hunters, and non-hunters alike, the absolute wrong impression of what deer hunting is and what appropriate standards are.  Magazines, television, and videos are full of monster bucks prancing across food plots in the middle of the afternoon, being shot by this or that former rock star, country music star, or not quite pretty enough for Hollywood lipstick girl making it big in outdoor television.  My favorite quote in outdoor television is a woman sitting fifteen feet up in treestand at the edge of a food plot with a three or four year old 150 class buck standing fifteen yards away whispering, “That’s not quite what we’re looking for.”  This is just selling an absurd fantasy. Sure there are a few places in North America where you can pass up on 150 class bucks, but I’ve never hunted one, and most of you reading this won’t ever hunt places like that either. The point is you have to set realistic goals for the area you hunt, and never mind what you see on television or hear from the lock it up private acres crowd.

While doing some research for my book “Precision Bowhunting” I took a look at the records for the county I grew up in, in northern Michigan.  This is a few years ago, but the biggest buck on the list was a 150 incher and a 125 incher made the top ten. This is from a county that has always had abundant deer, and is obviously hunted heavily. There isn’t much farmland in that county, because the soil is sandy, and the terrain is mostly rolling open woods. It takes most bucks in the area three years before they top the hundred inch mark, and a four year old might not top the 125 mark, and even bucks that die of old age in that county will never get over 150.  Hunting pressure is also a key factor. The more hunting pressure there is the fewer bucks there will be that reach maturity. The bucks that do survive become extremely elusive and quite nocturnal. Holding out for a buck that makes the Pope & Young minimum in that county might have you hunting a very long time before getting a shot. Those heavily pressured mature bucks aren’t impossible to kill, but it takes almost a completely different form of hunting from what you see on television, and read in magazines.

This is in stark contrast to some areas I have hunted in Wisconsin, Iowa, or Kansas. There most two year old bucks top the 125 mark, and a three year old will often break 140. These deer have bigger antlers, but are far easier to kill than that three year old 110 incher in northern Michigan. Hunter’s from outside the not so great whitetail hunting areas just don’t understand how difficult it is to kill a big buck in truly pressured areas, where antler growth is also slow.

So what is this about? Set your standards according to what you have in your area and the access you have. My own hunting standards vary tremendously depending on where I’m hunting. Usually I am simply after mature bucks. This in my eyes is any buck that is over 3.5. In some areas in Michigan this means any buck over 100 inches is a shooter in my book. I hunt an area in Massachusetts where it literally takes a buck four years to get over the 100 inch mark.  A target buck there is about the equivalent to a yearling in Iowa or Illinois. Once I killed a 5.5 year old eight pointer there, that gross scored 120, and to this day that buck is the one I am most proud of.  I killed it from the ground on public property within sight of stand of two other ladder stands, and two ground blinds. On the other hand, while hunting in Kansas I have let several Pope & Young class bucks walk. More people will look at the bigger buck, for sure, but the antlers really have nothing to do with your hunting ability.

Now back to the guy from the beginning of this post. He killed his buck in the county right next to the one I grew up in, and it is basically the buck of a lifetime for the area. I told him this, and suggested he kill many more deer before setting his standards higher. In fact, I told him to lower his standards, which were higher than my own in that area. Also, it’s not a good idea to jump into strictly trophy hunting until you have killed many deer. I hear too many new hunters holding out for big bucks. This is just crazy. The most important thing in the beginning is to gather as much experience as you can. Kill small bucks and does until you feel comfortable simply killing deer.  Later, as you start regularly getting opportunities at mature bucks, the experience you gained on the small ones will become invaluable. You too shouldn’t be fooled by what you see in the hunting media.  The goal should simply be a mature buck, if that is what you want, without regard for the numbers on the tape.

– Chris Eberhart,