By Aaron Farley:

We all want to kill the biggest of buck of our life every year. It’s natural. Our friends are posting pics of the huge bucks they’ve taking, we’re seeing good antlers on trail cam photos, and we want a piece of the action. Articles about monster bucks are in every magazine. Websites, social media, television shows, books, interviews, podcasts, text messages, everywhere we turn we see big bucks this time of year.

The dream of the hunter today seems to be simple enough: to have a high scoring rack on the wall. Along the way, maybe we’re missing the real prize. When I read older books about hunting, and watch those archive hunting shows from Fred Bear’s era – they were not hunting antlers as much as we are today.

Hunting has always had an element of trophy involved. Always. We would have to be blind to omit that. But has the quest for antlers always been the primary focus that it is today? When I look back, I read about guys bragging when they get so close to a deer they could touch it. I find tales of men proud for shooting two does from the same cover, never knowing he was there. Success was more about the skill of the hunter, and the weight of a deer than about inches and scores.

It’s easy to get pious, to think that antler hunters aren’t as honorable as those who hunt for the meat. At the same time, it’s a logical fallacy to assume meat hunters are content to kill does because they aren’t capable of killing mature bucks. The beautiful thing about hunting in America is we can do whatever we want. As long as it’s legal, there is nothing wrong with a man who hunts for antlers. Nor is there anything less desirable about a guy hunting to fill his freezer.

We are all in this together. We must support our hunting opportunities, encourage the growth of the community, and give ourselves to the next generation or we will all lose what we love. Whether we’re seeking the state record buck, or next month’s roast, we are companions. This year, I hope you get the buck, or the doe, of your lifetime.

Loud, Close, and Almost Getting Trampled

I still remember that morning like it was just yesterday. It was my first season really hunting by myself. I’d tried a few times the year prior, and was able to talk a friend into taking me into the field with him once and showing me how to look for sign. But this was the first year I would call myself a “hunter”.

It was a new identity for me. At 23, I had never stepped into the woods in search of an animal with a weapon in my hand (that is if you don’t count the adventures of a 12 year old and his slingshot). I had read all the books, blogs, articles, magazines, forums, and advice I could stomach. The preparations were grueling (I tend to over-prepare) and I was out there, alone, staring into the pre-dawn woods.

The day before, I’d found a very clear game trail along a ridgeline on some public land I was hunting for the weekend. This morning, I’d returned to the same ridge, nestled into the base of a very large oak on the high side of the trail, and sat waiting for day break.

The woods were damp and loud as everything came to life that morning. I can remember thinking about that area as I sat there. Trying to decide which cover was most likely the deer’s bed and trying to anticipate their course of travel. Would they head into the thick stuff even though the wind was blowing away from it this morning? Did they bed somewhere else when there was a southern wind? Would any deer even use that trail today? Had I messed it up with my presence scouting the day before? Luckily, I didn’t have a very long time to sit and debate.

I heard footsteps just around a bulge in the ridge side. I’d never heard an animal walk with such determination and rhythm. I honestly thought it was a hunter coming into my spot. I had already leaned my rifle into the air for safety and prepared to wave him down with my orange hat. That’s when she crested the hillside.

With my rifle leaned against the tree beside me and my heart prepared for disappointment, I laid eyes on a beautiful, loud-footed doe. In some magical, adrenaline filled, reaction I was able to slip my hat back on, and shoulder my rifle without disturbing her purposed walk that morning. She continued to make her way slowly, but steadily towards me. She was walking the game trail like a train follows its tracks.

I waited for her to get a little closer for a clear shot without any brush between us. Waiting, and waiting, she continued towards me. The doe was headed directly at me. If I did nothing, I suspect she would have been within arm’s reach soon enough. The doe got within 15 yards, and I pulled the trigger.

The lever action Marlin 30-30 that my uncle gave me when I was about 14 was louder than I expected. It was the first time I’d heard the rifle fired without any ear protection. My ears rang as I looked up from the scope. A furry brown blur rushed past my body and across the side of the ridge, out of sight.

Did I miss? How did she miss me? I was lucky I didn’t catch a hoof to the shin as she zipped by. I waited for a slight bend in the game trail that presented a quartering shot. I aimed right where I should, and felt good about the shot. But how did she dart past me so fast? How did she not see me there even after I shot at her? Then the sounds of hoof beats thumping as she ran turned into thrashing in the leaves. I knew what that meant.

The small brush beside the trail told a positive story. There was good blood, and plenty of sign to follow. Although at that distance, I’m not sure it was even needed. A short walk right down that same trail lead me straight to her – the Doe of a Lifetime.

I’ve killed many deer since then, including a couple respectable bucks. However that damp, early season doe is one of my most memorable hunts to date. I’m not sure if it’s the close encounter, the fear of almost getting trampled, or the rush of having a deer walking directly towards me on the ground, but I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

As hunting seasons are getting underway across the country, let’s remember to enjoy the little things. Watching the sunrise from a misty Georgia pine is hard to top. Slowing down to refresh our souls and enjoy creation is always time well invested. This year, I hope you get the best buck of your lifetime. But I think you may enjoy getting the doe of a lifetime even a little bit more.

– Aaron Farley,