No deer is “your” deer—A warning to the trail camera obsessed deer nut.
Each summer I capture pictures of really good bucks on my property in Southwest Wisconsin, and they show up over and over throughout July and August. Come velvet shed and the onset of autumn, some leave while a few bucks stick around. My trail cameras may go dry for a period but then mid-October rolls around and the bucks show up again. With each trail camera appearance, my excitement grows and I sometimes begin to start “claiming” deer by naming them, and probably talking about them too much with my buddies and relatives. So much so that I have caught myself being extremely frustrated when “my” deer aren’t showing up while I am on stand. Sound familiar? This is dangerous territory. I have quickly learned; no buck is my buck. No buck is your buck. If a kid harvests “your” buck during youth gun season, sorry, but it’s the kids now. Free range whitetails may come or go as they please.
Throughout the 2015 season, my trail cameras were on fire. I counted over twenty-five bucks that qualified as “shooters” in my book (most 3.5 or older). It was an amazing time to have my cameras in the woods! One buck in particular made a few appearances in October and had me absolutely boggled. I dubbed him the “G2 Buck” because of his large split G2. He was a giant with a heavy, wide, and tall rack that would’ve been around the mid-160 range. I watched a trail camera video of him scraping and pawing the ground countless times leading up to my November vacation time. I hunted the area I thought he roamed during my archery rut hunting trip, but to no avail. Gun season in Wisconsin rolled around and still no in-person sightings. My confidence dwindled until he started showing up again in December. Due to family commitments, I unfortunately had no opportunities to pursue him during the late season. The G2 Buck has disappeared since that season, and I had no ideas what happened.
Fast forward to 2016, I had just climbed down out of the stand on October 24th after a morning hunt to check a trail camera during a five day pre-rut trip. Same month, same day, same scrape as G2 Buck showed up at in 2015. Wouldn’t you know it, another monarch buck shows up on camera almost to the minute. Initially, I thought it was the G2 Buck making an annual return to his area around pre-rut. But I discovered it was a different buck based off body features and rack characteristics. I was quick to name this buck “Droptine” due to an eight-inch tine coming off his main beam. For the rest of that pre-rut trip, I hunted him hard when I could. Hunting in light rain, wind, warm weather, you name it. I had zero sightings of Droptine, but I knew my best days were ahead.
A few short weeks later, I couldn’t believe what I saw on my phone around nine o’clock A.M. on November 7th, as I was sitting in my cubicle at work. “Drop-tine came out of the woods chasing a doe with another big buck and is in the CRP right now!”, my Dad messaged me. I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, he is killable!” My father had already tagged out on a nice buck, so I was up to bat. I had more vacation the next weekend and the only deer I pursued was Droptine. I hunted him hard for three days with no success. The next weekend, I still had confidence as rifle season began and I had taken off time from work to chase him. However, no Droptine, let alone any other worthwhile bucks throughout rifle season. As I later found out in February, a surrounding landowner found the buck dead on his property. Confidence was blown and dreams were shattered, as I came to the realization I wouldn’t be able to chase him during the fall of 2017.
If my two short stories haven’t opened your eyes to the dangers of naming and inadvertently “claiming” deer as your own, I am not sure what will. After losing these two bucks, I learned it is highly unlikely plans unveil themselves as we imagine they might on highly pressured lands which many of us hunt. When speaking to others or thinking through hunting plans in my head, I now choose my words carefully and tend to avoid using statements such as, “my bucks look good this year; especially my giant ten point.” As a hunter with limited time to hunt due to work, family commitments, and having two small children, I realize my time in the woods is better spent bouncing between stands and not becoming obsessed with a buck, especially one that isn’t a regular in daylight.
I hunt in the Driftless area of Wisconsin where large hills and hiding spots keep deer living to reach ripe old ages. There are always going to be giants roaming around. Don’t lose sleep worrying about who is going to kill that big buck first. No matter where you hunt, no buck is your buck, until you’ve notched your tag.