Passing up bucks can pay off

Oak Duke

It's tough at the end of the deer season to walk out of the woods on the last hunt with an unfilled tag.

And then we have to wait an entire year.

"Been there, done that."

But passing up bucks can pay off in more than one way too.

First and foremost, if a hunter scores early on the first buck that walks past the stand, then it's all over for the rest of the season, here in the Southern Tier of New York and Pennsylvania's northern tier of counties.

Learning has ceased.

But by hunting for an entire season a hunter learns the themes and sees the whitetail deer season as a whole. And next year, when the major changes in behavior happen, the hunter is better prepared to anticipate what is coming next. And that is not to mention all the fun and enjoyment of hunting that is missed with an early filled tag.

Anticipation of the major behavioral shifts during the archery season gives a hunter a big edge.

And by being able to hunt through a few seasons, a hunter is a long way along the road to being a consistently successful whitetail hunter.

Secondly, it's patently obvious that the buck, which is passed up this year, might be there next year and maybe the year after. If this buck is passed up and makes it through a few seasons, he'll really be something to enshrine on the wall, and not only fill the freezer.

Of course there's a lot of luck involved in passing up a buck one year and then getting a crack again at the same animal, a year or two later. But it does happen.

Other areas of the country with lower whitetail and hunter populations favor the judicious hunter.

But here, chances are very good (about 80 percent according to DEC statistics) that the antlered yearling buck which is passed up will be wearing someone else's tag.

I believe that I scored on a passed buck which I let go the previous season.

A few years back, during the New York state bow season, my sights were set on a big eight-pointer. That big, dark, knurly-racked buck that dwarfed the nearby yearlings got away. On the final day of the 1993 season, a large-bodied yearling with a weirdly shaped rack walked under my stand.

His spindly-shaped antlers were high and not with a lot of spread. As he ambled past at about nine yards I came to full draw. But it didn't feel 100 percent right so the arrow remained nocked and not in or through the deer.

Sure the tag could have been filled, but it can be a bit of a letdown when a hunter comes so close to bagging a heavy-beamed whitetail of his dreams and then winds up with a little whisker of a buck.

And then too, it's nice to think that a young hunter, scoring on his first buck or an old-timer scoring on his last, could be the beneficiary of the passed-up shot.

More meaningful. That's the way it should be.

That's what it's really all about.

The next season came and went with its bad luck and successes.

Then during the following deer season, while hunting not only in the same stretch of woods, but on the other side of the same thick patch of thorns, I tagged a big seven-pointer that had the same, identical antler configuration.

Now I know that the chances are greater that it was in fact a different animal, maybe a cousin with the same genetic pattern to produce that unusual set of antlers.

But something indescribable tells me that it was the same buck. And instead of being just another yearling buck, two extra years of growth allowed the big tanker to dress out at 190 pounds, have a front hoof two and three-eighths inches wide, measure 22 and one-half inches around the neck with the cape removed and possess an antler circumference around the base, just above the burr of 5 and seven-eighths inches.

During that same year, in the Pennsylvania archery season, I passed on three bucks in a group. They walked 20 yards from my stand in a single file as they entered a feeding area. The last in line had a perfectly symmetrical eight-point rack. I was at full draw and very tempted to release, but the season was in its infancy.

But as it went and so it goes, I never did have a better crack at a better buck through the season until the final Tuesday of the late season.

I tagged a perfect eight-point buck on the end of the same ridge where I had passed up one with the exact same antler configuration 10 weeks prior. I think that it was the same buck.

Now again, it could have just been a close relative, but I believe that it was the same deer. Each whitetail buck is unique and can be distinguished by its own peculiar and individual physical markings.

Passing on a young buck does not necessarily mean that the same hunter will never have an opportunity to get another crack at it.

A lot of hunters pass on small bucks and does. I wish more would. Imagine what the deer population would be like out there even if 20 percent more hunters passed up small-racked deer. But to each his (or her) own, and a trophy is in the eye of the beholder.

Some are tickled with a small buck, that's fine! We don't want to force our ideas on someone else, especially those young hunters who need all the experience and they can get, as well as some of us older hunters who don't have many seasons left. 

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing Sunday on the Outdoors page.