I never thought I cared about antlers until I shot this 10-pointer.
I used to think I knew what kind of deer hunter I was. An experience on opening day of this year’s November deer season has me wondering, though.
My approach to deer hunting has always been to shoot the first legal deer that comes along. Also the second and the third, if I am that lucky. My family would rather eat venison than beef, so the best-tasting deer--does, button bucks and fork-horns--are trophy kills for me.
I always figured that if a fat doe and a monster buck came along at the same moment, I would automatically shoot the doe and see if the big boy stuck around long enough for a second shot. That has never happened, so I don’t really know what I would do in that situation. But late last Saturday afternoon I gained a little insight into how I really feel about antlers.
Shooting light was fading fast. I was sitting against a tree with a pasture in front of me and woods to my left when I spied an antlered deer walking directly toward me at about 50 yards. I put my scope on him.
So many points! I could see at least nine.
My heart immediately started doing a tap dance. Efforts to calm down proved useless, so I focused on finding a shot for a quick kill. Shooting a deer facing you is tricky, with lots of potential for wounding. As the deer came steadily on, I worried he would walk right up to me, only to bound away without offering a clean shot.
Instead, he paused at about 30 yards and lowered his head to sniff the ground. Because he was downhill from me, I had a clear view of his shoulders and spine. I decided that might be my only chance at a killing shot, so I slipped off the safety and jerked the trigger.
Yes, jerked the trigger.
Instead of going down at the roar of my .30-06, the big buck raised his head and looked around curiously. Then he resumed his purposeful walk, angling slightly to my left--downwind.
The job of reloading my bolt-action rifle quietly and before the deer caught my scent gave me something to do. I calmed down. The buck was within 20 yards when I squeezed off my second shot. He bucked like a bronco, stumbling when he landed. Then he staggered, walked a few feet and collapsed.
When I went to tag the deer, I found he had 10 points, and my reaction surprised me. You couldn’t call it pride. After all, I hadn’t stalked this particular buck. I wasn’t even trying to kill a buck. I was just sitting there, hoping for a fat doe, when he happened to come along. Heaven knows, my shooting had not shown great skill. I was lucky, plain and simple. Maybe the thrill of seeing that big buck with my tag on his leg was the same as you get from a winning Lotto ticket.
The other surprising thing is how interested I suddenly became in antlers. My 10-pointer is no Boone & Crocket deer, but I get a charge every time I see those antlers. I get a feeling of satisfaction when I look at doe tenderloins and back straps in the freezer, but I don’t make excuses to go down to the basement and look at them. And I don’t compare my packages of venison burger to those of my friends, as I now find myself doing with antlers.
What is it about antlers that fascinates us? That is a riddle I expect to mull over while sitting in deer stands for years to come, as I wait for the next deer to come along.
What kind of deer hunter are you? Do you have any special insights about the mystique surrounding antlers?