By Mark Kenyon

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat.

If you’re basing your expectations and goals for the next deer hunting season simply based on what you see on TV, you’re in for a boatload of disappointment.

I know, I know. It’s easy to get sucked into “TV big buck land.” I’ve been there too. But I can almost guarantee you it’s a trap.

The TV Trap

Flip on the tube these days and you’ll likely see someone like Tiffany Lakosky sitting a field edge, killing her third 160″+ buck of the year. Or maybe it will be Michael Waddell killing his fifth Pope & Young buck of the season, hunting with So and So Kansas Outfitters. Or maybe it will be Bill Winke hunting down another 190″ buck on his several hundred acre Iowa farm.

There’s nothing wrong with these folks on TV (or in other media such as magazines, websites, books, etc) having success, I’m happy for them and I enjoy a lot of their shows. But what I’m concerned about is that many hunters see that success, look at how easy it seems on TV, and then assume that they should be able to replicate that wherever they are and regardless of what their circumstances might be. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic for most of us and it’s screwing with our heads.

Setting Realistic Expectations

If you live in the right place or are willing to spend significant amounts of time and energy chasing big bucks out-of-state, you certainly can get a shot at those TV bucks. And if you have the passion and the desire, I’ll be one of the first people to encourage you to chase that dream. I have and it’s been a blast. And I’m a big believer in the idea that if you want something bad enough and are willing to put in the work, you can absolutely do it. (Click here for the stories of four other average joes who are doing it too)

But, I also realize that’s not in the cards for everyone.

If you’re in a state of lesser big buck renown like Massachusetts, or South Carolina, or Tennessee, you might have a little harder time getting on bucks like you see on the Outdoor Channel. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t deer worth hunting and testing your mettle against. It’s in these situations, where you’re limited to hunting a certain state or area, that I believe it’s most important to set proper expectations.

A few months ago I was working on an article for Outdoor Life magazine on this exact topic and during that process I spoke to several whitetail experts about their recommended expectation setting process. Both people I spoke to, Neil Dougherty and Dr. Grant Woods, recommended that rather than basing expectations on what we see on TV, the average hunter would be better served by setting goals based on where they hunt. Woods explained, “instead of having one standard, no matter where you are and basing your standard upon TV and applying it to where you live, base your standards upon where you are.” Grant went on to say that he sets his own personal standards based on the top 25% of bucks, based on age, for that particular area that he is hunting.

Neil echoed similar sentiments, stating that if you hunt a stellar property and want to challenge yourself, targeting the top 10% in antler size or age is a great goal. If you’re hunting more average ground, a top 25% goal is more realistic. You can get a better idea of what the top % tiers are by referencing record books, talking to others in the area or inquiring with local wildlife biologists.

The Experience Factor

In addition to factoring your location into the expectation setting process, I’d also encourage you to remember where you are in your hunting career. If you’re just getting started, please, please, please don’t feel obligated to hold out for a big old buck. Take it step by step. Get on that first rung, and then pull yourself up to the next. Kill some does. Kill some yearling bucks. Then kill some two year olds. Then maybe hold out for a three year old. But don’t get ahead of yourself.

There’s no better way to suck the fun out of deer hunting than by setting unrealistic expectations for yourself before you ever get an opportunity to enjoy some success.

Have Fun

If you’ve got a property that you can manage for big deer, by all means, go for it. And if you can head off to Iowa or Kansas and chase the big boys – that’s awesome. Go get em! But if you’re not able to do that, don’t get too down on yourself if you can’t match the Lakoskys, Drurys or whoever else is gracing your TV screen.

A 115″ four year old in Pennsylvania might be awesome for you. A 120″ five year old in Michigan is something to be crazy proud of. An 18″ wide three year old in North Carolina is terrific. Your first two year old buck is a hell of an accomplishment. The first mature buck you kill on the farm you’ve been managing for three years is something to be damned proud of.

Don’t let “big bucks” on TV screw with your head anymore, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about the deer that you’re hunting. In the end, the important thing to keep in mind is that a “big buck” is different for every location and every person.

So this year remember to take things one step at a time. Work hard and challenge yourself to improve, but make sure you set realistic expectations. And in the end, make sure you’re having fun.

Because that’s one expectation you always want to meet.


For more on this topic, listen to our most recent episode of The Wired To Hunt Podcast, titled The “Big Buck” Equation