We are now into the Wisconsin archery season. One question to ask yourself every year is, which deer will you shoot?
When you just start out in deer hunting you should shoot the first deer with antlers that you can. When you start hunting with a bow, you should shoot the first buck that you can.
There are many places where there are restrictions on the minimum size of the bucks that you can shoot. Some of these rules come from state laws, some from the clubs that own the land, and some from the local peer pressure.
I'm lucky enough to hunt where there are no such minimum size limits. and there are still big deer around (B&C 160 +). I would even prefer to hunt a place without size limits even if that meant I had fewer big bucks around. Because I like shooting deer. If I could, and there were no negative side effects, I would be happy to try and shoot every buck that I have the opportunity to. And rules are never fun.
However, there are less than desirable results if you shoot every buck. If you shoot lots of bucks then there will be fewer around next year, when they'll be bigger. For a long time everyone shot any deer with antlers. And they considered themselves lucky to do so. Since most of us have been letting smaller bucks go more, and more big bucks have been shot. Bucks that would have been shot years ago are now being passed by and we are seeing more big bucks as a result. When I first started hunting, in 1999, is was common for most deer registration stations to be full of 1 1/2 year old bucks and 3 1/2 year old bucks were not common. Now the smallest bucks are often bigger than the average bucks that we used to see.
Many times on the hunting TV shows we see the hunter's struggle to decide what to shoot. If the hunter has an opportunity at a nice buck on the first day they are hesitant to end their trip so early. It can be the same for us, over the course of a season. But if you decide not to shoot a buck because it is early in the season, then you'll run quite a risk of not shooting a buck at all.
I have been a great beneficiary of the letting smaller bucks go policy. I have shot 22 bucks and could because I was allowed to shoot smaller bucks when I was younger. Even most places with size limits allow people younger than some age to shoot whatever they can to experience it for the first time.
It is much more difficult to shoot bigger bucks, and not just because they are rare or smarter. But also because rather than just glancing at the deer's head, we now need to study the look of the antlers for a while in order to decide if the buck is big enough. This means the deer needs to be in position for much longer than he would need to be if we were only looking for a set of horns.
Since we let bucks go now, we each need to decide how big of a buck we will shoot. It is good to have an idea beforehand. If you wait until you see a buck to decide if its big enough, then they will often disappear before you make up your mind.
For almost all of us a bigger set of antlers is better than a smaller set of antlers. Therefore, the biggest set of antlers is the goal we wish to shoot. But most places will never see a 200" buck. And there is no point in waiting for a buck that will never arrive. So what we want is the biggest buck that we have a reasonable chance to get.
My goal each year is to shoot a buck. But with my increasing personal size limit that is getting harder and harder. A reasonable goal, I think, is to have an idea of how big the bucks get where you hunt and hope for one at the top end to give you a shot.
Here in central Wisconsin most of us, if we hunt enough, will get an opportunity, or two, at a 3 1/2 year old buck. Around here that will mean a set of antlers with between a 16" and 19" inside spread. (Ear tip to ear tip is around 15" on an adult whitetail deer.) And that buck will score around 120" to 140".
Last year, 2011, I had three opportunities at 3 1/2, or older, bucks. (Missed with my bow, hit a shoulder blade with an arrow, and missed a standing shot at 8 yards with a rifle. Pretty poor showing from me.) This gives me a good idea that if I hunt as much as I did last year, then I'll have an opportunity, or two at a 3 1/2 year old buck.
Think about what you saw last year. Pick out the top three or four and plan on shooting only one of them if he comes along. This is a pretty fair size to shoot, it seems to me.
There's no point in waiting for a bigger buck than you'll ever see. And shooting one of the biggest bucks in the area is always something to be proud of, no matter the deer's size.
If you are just starting out, then shoot the first buck you have the opportunity to. Regardless of its size, your first few bucks will be more enjoyable even than bigger bucks later.
After you've decided to shoot only bigger bucks, then I suggest moving to shooting only 2 1/2 year old bucks or bigger. Once you've shot enough of them, you should increase your minimum to 3 1/2 year old bucks and bigger. After that move your minimum up until you hit the age of the top few deer in your area, even if they only get to 2 1/2 years old where you hunt.
I'd never speak ill of a hunter who shoots any buck with antlers (unless that particular hunter is a dickhead). Because shooting bucks is fun.
If you want information on where the biggest bucks have been shot in the past, you should check out the QDMA Whitetail Map Guide.