His body tensed, his hands shook, and his breathing became short and swift. Settling the sight pin behind the crease of the deer’s front shoulder, he released a flawless blend of carbon and kinetic energy. The forest floor was now stained with a crimson trail which would lead us to our quarry.
Slowly, the young archer turned to face his father. A large smile spread across his face and excitement radiated from his countenance. His first archery buck was down. Reveling in the moment, it never entered the boy’s mind this deer would not find a place in the record books.
As someone who believes in quality deer management and attempts to harvest a mature buck each year, I struggle with the value that some attribute to an antler score. Don’t get me wrong, I like big antlers. Matter of fact, I’m enamored with them. Furthermore, I score every deer I harvest.
But if we list the many reasons why we take our kids hunting, is antler score that important?
Having visited the Buffalo Bill Historic Center in Cody, Wyoming several times, I understand there was a day when big game numbers were dwindling. I believe the vast collection that Mr. Hornaday established called the National Collection of Heads and Horns has value. I also see the reason for keeping records of fine animal specimens and have no qualms with the Boone and Crockett Club or its scoring system.
Knowing what we know today about conservation and deer management, I would have enjoyed sitting down with William T. Hornaday and asking him, “If you had sons, would you let them shoot a spike buck?” “How old would your sons have had to be before you made them hold to a higher standard?”
Score alone is based upon measurement and dimension. Score speaks of limits. But these limits cannot properly define an experience. The quest for a trophy whitetail cannot be defined by a calculation.
The memories, experiences and adventures we assemble from hunting are immeasurable. The moments we share at hunting camp or in a treestand border on the infinite. My 95-year-old grandfather still gets a spark in his eye when he shares his hunting stories. Yet, my grandfather doesn’t have a single buck in the books.
Hunting is the summation of indescribable moments etched upon the heart and mind. These are what I want my boys to cherish and pursue. Will I teach them about management? Yes! Will one day they hold to the same standards I do? I hope. But for now, I want them to cherish their time spent in the outdoors.
It was more than a score those hunters before us handed down to us. They passed down traditions, passion and respect. This quest cannot be measured — it must be lived.