Are you a deer hunter? Do you like to hunt for big bucks? If you do, do you make a habit of judging the deer that others take and belittling them because you think the antlers were too small or the buck wasn't old enough?
If you do this, then you are a buck shamer — and we need to talk about it.
The climate of the deer hunting world has been changing for some time, and there are probably several reasons for it. Many would cite deer hunting TV shows, though others have contributed to this. For many years now, hunters have watched celebrity hunters perched in tree stands and shooting houses as they fling arrows and pull triggers on whitetail deer with antlers like those of the extinct Irish Elk. (OK, slight exaggeration.)
Watching all this for so many years has probably changed the collective thinking of much of our deer hunting crowd. Gone are the days of your father's time, when just seeing a deer was quite an event, anything that had an antler of any length made that buck legal game and he was probably going to get shot. "If it's brown, it's down" was the old saying.
The Quality Deer Management Association has done much in this regard in the past several years as it educates hunters and land owners on deer management techniques. Part of the group's teaching includes the advice to "let the younger bucks walk" in order to bring bigger bucks into your area. So what we have now in the deer hunter world is more hunters than ever saying let the younger, smaller deer walk by to give them a few more years to grow up.
Please understand that I think this is all fine. If deer hunters want to regulate themselves as to antler size, fine and dandy. This is as good a time as any to throw in my own personal disclaimer, which is "I don't have any dog in this fight." I have said in these pages before I am not a true big buck hunter. I will deer hunt a little — I hope to maybe take a nice buck someday, and I will go with you on the doe season trips to get a little venison for the freezer — but I am not really mad at them like I would be for turkeys or squirrels.
So whether you want to hunt only for Boone and Crockett Record Book bucks (Booners) or will shoot the first legal spike that walks by, I do not care. It should be your choice.
Currently in my own state of West Virginia, we have an ugly little scrap going on between two groups on slightly opposite sides of this "big deer horn" controversy. One group wants the legal limit of bucks taken by a hunter reduced to two from the current three per year. The other group wants the limit to go unchanged. Sounds simple, but the fallout and arguments that have resulted from this difference of opinion are somewhat amazing. Much of this battle has been waged on that wonderful entity Facebook, which has the modern convenience of allowing you to hurl insults at your opponent without actually facing them. It is usually not very pretty.
If I have set the stage well enough for those of you who don't deer hunt and really don't keep up with these struggles, a common occurrence these days is that one hunter may look down on the size and age of another hunter's buck. Again, in the shady world of Facebook and other social media, a young hunter may proudly show a picture of a buck they have taken, maybe their first, only to be barraged by a flood of shamers telling them the buck was too small, too young and should have been allowed to grow up.
Do we think that this is a good experience for a young or new hunter? Does this make them want to continue hunting? What do you think?
My brothers and sisters in camo, we are better than this, and we must do better if we going to survive as hunters.
Now, even though I have preached to you about the problem of buck shaming here, what I really want you to think about is the bigger problem, and that is hunter unity. Many times I have told you we must address this problem of fighting in our own ranks. There are plenty of groups out there working to bring an end to our hunting sports and our hunting heritage, and we do not have to help them.
If it's legal, deer hunt as you wish. If you want to only target old bucks, fine. If you want to take a spike or a fork horn, fine. Don't berate another hunter because they may have taken a deer that you wouldn't.
If you are an experienced hunter, your job is to encourage those new to the sport, not rebuke them.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.