The first time I got to go hunting was with my uncle when I was 12 years old (1990). No one I knew had trail cameras. In fact, I don’t remember hearing about trail cameras until I was in my 20′s.
My uncle shot a small buck that day and I was instantly hooked. Fast forward to when I was 16 years old and shot my first deer, a one-horned spike. It was the first buck I had seen while I had a rifle in my hands. I didn’t know what other deer might be in the area, and it didn’t matter. I got my first buck.
I remember shaking for what seemed like an hour afterwards. It was the best feeling in the world. You know, the “fever” that keeps us coming back every year. Now, fast forward 20 years to present day.
I keep 3 trail cameras running on our property. I collect the cards every Friday afternoon and my daughter and I look through the pictures together that evening. We name the deer. We keep track of what times the deer are showing up at different spots. We can pretty much recognize every single deer on our property.
The week leading up to opening day this year, there was a small spike still in velvet that was showing up like clockwork at the stand where my daughter, Lexi, and I were going to be sitting on opening day. The more and more she saw pictures of him the more “attached” she became to him. She started to call him “Cutie.” I didn’t think too much of it until opening day came.
Sure enough, this little spike showed up the first evening. I told her to get ready and tried to help her calm her breathing. When he gave the perfect broadside shot I told her to shoot when she was ready. I kept waiting and waiting, but no shot. I looked over to see what she was doing and I could see tears in her eyes. I asked what was wrong and she replied, “I can’t shoot Cutie. I just saw 100 pictures of him and he is just too cute.”
I assured her that it was fine and I wasn’t going to force her to shoot anything. She then replied, “But if Junior, Lollilop or The Freak (other larger bucks on the farm) shows up, I’m shooting.”
I was glad to hear her say this, but at the same time I thought, “What the heck have I done?” On one hand I was happy to see her pass on a young buck in hopes of a bigger one. But at the same time, when I started hunting my first several deer were spikes. I didn’t think twice about pulling the trigger. It didn’t matter if it was only 10 minutes into the season, if it was a legal buck, I was shooting.
Would that have been different if we had had trail cameras back then, because I’d studied pictures of the young deer and “gotten to know them?” Would I have held off on shooting those young bucks because I had a few pictures of a bigger buck in the area? Maybe.
Then I think of all the memories that I wouldn’t have now. I can look at every little set and big set of horns that I’ve gotten over the years and remember almost everything about those days…the weather, the smells, the hard drags out…
Am I robbing my daughter of memories like this by showing her all the trail cam pictures of our deer? If she hadn’t just looked at 100 pictures of that spike, would she have shot Cutie? Would that have been a memory for the rest of her life and mine? If she didn’t know that there are bigger deer on the property would she have pulled the trigger?
Or, maybe I shouldn’t compare my 10 year old princess to that 16 year old boy I was? Maybe she just isn’t ready to shoot a deer yet? Maybe she just likes spending time on stand with her dad? I guess only time will tell.—Danny from Maryland
Very well written post my friend, and good timing. Ironically, just last week I hunted on a well-managed property down in South Carolina where the hunters did not use trail cameras. Very unusual since I don’t go many places to hunt whitetails these days where they are not running dozens of cameras, and showing me hundreds of buck pictures when I get there.
“I used to run a few cameras, put I got to feeling like it was affecting the way I hunt and more importantly why I hunt,” Freddy told me. “Nowadays I don’t want to know beforehand every buck that lives on our property. I want to hunt, and see what I see. If it’s a big buck, I want to feel that excitement and surprise.”
I climbed into a stand that first evening not knowing what bucks if any were around. I’ve got to admit it felt good. I was surprised and excited when I spotted the first big 8-pointer. I did not feel the pressure to look and wait for “a big shooter on camera in the area,” like I do in all the other places I hunt.
Don’t get me wrong, I remain a big fan of cameras. No doubt in terms of hunters finding and killing big, mature bucks, they are by far the biggest innovation of the last 20 years in the hunting world.
But as Danny alludes to in his post, is that really what deer hunting is all about, especially for the kids? What you think?
EPILOGUE: Danny sent this picture and reports that Lexi passed the little spike up again the other night. Hope you get one of the bigger bucks girl!