It doesn't necessarily take all kinds, but they're out there. Bowhunters, that is.
Archery deer hunters are somewhat of a hunting culture into themselves. It's an ancient pursuit that spun off as a latter-day bonus opportunity to pursue deer. It's a quest based on a higher level of difficulty, thus, one that allows more hunting with less impact on the game.
As deer populations increased dramatically through the years, bowhunters grew more successful as hunting seasons were expanded, up-close encounters with deer became more common, equipment became more refined, and hunters learned and became better at what they do.
Bowhunter numbers increased, too. From a mere smattering of specialists in the early days of the deer population, archery hunting has increased to include a legion of hunters. It's no longer a fringe group. Kentucky's bowhunting participation apparently in the past few seasons is higher than it's ever been and last year produced the all-time record archery deer harvest.
With opportunities so generous nowadays, there's room for lots of individual motives and goals among the bow and arrow set.
Looking back in history to the earliest days of "modern" bowhunting in this region, traditional arrow-slingers once rallied in the Kentucky Woodlands National Wildlife Refuge - a portion of what later became the Land Between the Lakes - to some of the first legal archery deer season opportunities in the early 1960s.
Success rates must have been quite low, but the mere opportunity to see live, wild deer while holding a recurve or longbow in hand with the legal authorization to hunt them was huge at the time. The chance to take any legal deer was an apex pursuit.
Nowadays, of course, deer are not just in rare pockets of wild habitat but are spread across the landscape. Wildlife managers work to control deer numbers now instead of growing the herd. To that end, Kentucky's bag limit on deer in this region is for a single antlered buck, but an unlimited number of antlerless deer can be taken. Hunting used to be mostly bucks-only and with few opportunities to take does back when managers wanted the herd to expand. It's flip-flopped now, with a greater restriction on antlered bucks (to produce more older, quality buck deer) and little or no restriction on taking antlerless deer (to rein in deer reproductive potential).
Amid those conditions, archery hunters approach the pursuit from different perspectives. Often, what drives a bowhunter is based on what has been accomplished with the stick and string weaponry previously. A new bowhunter is more apt to be focused on taking a deer, any legal critter. That can carry over for a long while, several seasons, if the hunter isn't getting results. Taking any deer with a bow isn't as easy as might be assumed, especially if a hunter is limited to less than choice hunting habitat. You've got to get together with an unalerted deer. It's still a rather close-range affair and a deer must be in the right position to allow a shot. Staying undetected while drawing a bow to get off a controlled shot at a deer in close proximity is no pushover, either.
Lots of times the deer never shows up. Often when a deer appears, no reasonably shot opportunity develops. Even when it does, things might not work out.
The bowhunter who takes an antlerless deer or two may become intent on taking a buck. The hunter who takes a buck or two may slip into the mode of seeking a bigger buck. In Kentucky, with a limit of a single antlered buck each year, that approach resonates with more and more bowhunters who have some racked bucks under their belts.
At the same time, there are plenty of archery hunters out there who are little motivated toward the pursuit of antlers. Their only concern might be that a deer is 100 percent venison: They could be the folks called meat hunters.
These are great times for hunters who are most interested in filling freezers. Unlimited antlerless deer harvest is a meat hunter's mecca. Lots of bowhunters combine a couple of those goal elements. A common "type" of bowhunter out there might be the guy who looks to put a doe or maybe even two in the freezer early in the season, and then when buck movement begins to increase about the last of October and through the fury of the rut, he starts looking for that good buck.
What amounts to a good buck to an individual varies as much as the individuals. Some experienced and accomplished bowhunters won't consider using their one-buck limit on anything short of record book quality. Some hold out for only a "quality" animal, which might equate to the state regulation on some management areas that requires a buck to have antlers with an outside spread of at least 15 inches to be legal for the taking.
Still other hunters might be happy with a branch-antlered, six- or eight-point buck, much preferring it to a spike buck, despite the fact that each might be only one-plus year old.
A good buck for any individual might hinge on what, if anything that the bowhunter has been lucky enough to tag in previous season. But where the individual hunts and what sort of deer are in the neighborhood skews the goals, too.
A hunter who hunts a place where deer aren't all that numerous and where they're also heavily harvested might be lucky to see one or two mature deer all year. It's not rare to hunt time after time and see few bucks of more than two years old. It's not rare to see none but yearlings.
On the other hand, the bowhunter with access to controlled, lightly hunted land with attractive food and habitat might see mature deer on a regular basis. This sort of hunter can have the confidence to be pickier. I know a guy who has access and control of some of Kentucky's best deer hunting, acreage with an inordinate population of bigger, older bucks. He typically goes years between shots while bowhunting, regularly turning down deer that are beyond once in a lifetime for most hunters. He's only interested in giants and is happy just hunting in the meantime.
Some bowhunters might turn up their noses at those who are meat hunting, while some see folly in passing up any shot opportunities. Some might shame the taking of a young buck, while someone taking a young buck might be overwhelmed with joy for the same harvest.
The thing about this bowhunting diversity is that there is room for all of it. As long as managers says we've good more than plenty of deer, any-deer hunting, the taking of lots of antlerless deer in particular, is a sensible management practice.
I appreciate more bowhunters passing up young bucks nowadays, giving more little ones the chance to grow older and larger, but the one-buck limit already has gone far to deflect the harvest of many young bucks. Kentucky already is reaping the benefits of more mature bucks in the overall deer population.
Within the regulations, a bowhunter can soul-search his or her own motives and shape the pursuit to an individual perspective. Do it legally and ethically, but do it your way.
Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at email@example.com.
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