I recently made a comment on Facebook about a nice 8-point buck I had on trail cam that got shot during the youth hunt here in Michigan. It stirred up some emotions and to varying degrees, criticism and comments. I like the fact that it is a hot issue, so i thought I would write it in my blog and see what happens.
My view on the youth hunt may be sparked by some jealousy. Not because the buck I would have liked my wife to get this year got shot, rather because we never had this opportunity as kids. In my hunting career, which started when I was 13 as an over confident bow hunter, I have taken my share of bucks. I have never shot a buck or had a shot at a buck over 100 inches until last year when I got two. Call it a lucky season, growth of a hunter or whatever you may. My wife has been deer hunting with me since we met 16 years ago. She hunts with gun and bow and has 2 bucks (both 1.5 yr old-7 points) and a few does under her belt. My wife's father is in his sixties and he shot his largest buck ever 2 years ago - No not a monster buck either. It was a 1.5 year old 8-pointer that scored maybe 40 inches.
Now, I will say we harvest our fair share of does to fill the freezer and are happy to get that nourishment. Providing you with this history creates a perspective to ponder. How are these kids going to feel when they shoot a big buck at age 12, and then never see another buck that big again? I know, that is hunting, right? Well, up until about three years ago Michigan law still allowed baiting to harvest deer. When you could still bait, hunters did see all kinds of deer and the youth season probably would not have as big of an effect on a youngster. But now, hunters who have hunted all their lives are coming home with unfilled tags. It took me 24 years of hunting to get Michigan's deer hunting down to a science. I see bucks every time I go on stand. My two boys and my daughter will be ready to use their skills to do the same when they are old enough to hunt.
Most of the Michigan hunters I have talked to say the youth hunt should be does only. I disagree. The kids should be able to shoot what they decide to shoot. They do not need adults telling them what to shoot. My boys have already said they do not care if it is a doe or a buck, "just shoot" they say. I have taught my kids that does taste the same as bucks and if you like venison it does not matter if they have horns or not. Also, they have been taught managing the deer population is vital to maintaining a healthy deer population. We need to harvest a certain number of does a year. Period.
Now, on the buck subject, I made a personal decision about two years ago that I was going to wait for a buck whose antlers were outside his ears. I also am a part of a local QDMA coop in my area and as a group we decided to shoot only 8-point or better bucks. With that said, the rule I give to the folks on my lease is this: If you see a buck with 4-points on one side or if it is your biggest buck to date, shoot it! I am not about to deny someone their biggest buck. My boys will follow the same rule; however, their first year they will only shoot a doe during the youth season. Why? Simply this, I want them to learn how to be patient hunters and respect the animal they are hunting. I do not want them to think that every time we go hunting we need to shoot Bullwinkle. In the regular season, if they are hunting they can shoot whatever they want. The only rule they will follow is if they are successful and get a buck, to be patient and try to make their second buck bigger than the first. I believe in the QDM philosophy. If wanting to see more large bucks makes me a trophy hunter, then so be it. Call me a trophy hunter. Will my kids be the same? Probably, but they will make that choice for themselves.
When it comes to the youth season it is more about the timing. Early season deer patterns are much more predictable than as the season progresses. Youth do have a better chance of being successful in September hunting with a rifle. But, is it a false sense of success? Will they be able to repeat the success? Here in Michigan if the herd is managed properly odds are still slim. Otherwise, that trophy will come by paying thousands of dollars for it? In late September, the deer are still in what I call a "feeding pattern." They are oblivious to pressures. Call it what you want, summer patterns, the deer are still nurturing their fawns and beginning to feed heavier in anticipation of the winter. Once regular season starts, many deer behavior stages occur. Some are man made changes related to pressure from bow hunters, bird hunters and waterfowl hunters. Some are the scientific nature of the beast. Seeing big bucks in velvet in Michigan during the summer months is quite common. As the bucks antlers harden, the big deer become less visible. It is at this point when the youth hunt takes place. A young hunter will probably see 15-20 deer a day during this time of the year depending on where in the state they hunt.
Generally, one week later archery season begins (Oct. 1) and hunters may see 15 deer a day if you hunt in the agricultural areas of southern Michigan. If you are further north, hunters will be lucky to see five. Understanding the deer both physiologically and sociologically, I feel that youth hunters would still have a positive hunting experience if the season was moved back to the first weekend of November. The hunt would occur two weeks before regular firearm deer season and would be the start of the rut here in Michigan. Don't you think hunting during the rut would be an exciting time for kids to be in the woods? I think it would be more exciting , more gratifying and a much more memorable learning experience.
I leave the subject to you and for you to discuss the issue. I am going to remain silent and listen. Please remember we are all hunters. Everyone hunts different and personal views vary. Happy Hunting everyone!