Choosing between shooting or not shooting a buck

This nice buck pauses within easy bow range but I didn’t shoot


A hard northwest wind came moaning through the pines last fall, driving the snow horizontally across the newly whitened horizon, and making me wish for the comfort of home and hearth.

The pines were draped with snow, and only the foolish or hungry were afoot in this foul weather. I belonged to the first category, and was hoping a few deer from the second group would filter past my tree. My stand, 15 feet up a pine tree, offered a vast panoramic view of the nearby woods, tag alders and open feeding field. Several inches of new snow covered the ground, and a nearby tag alder thicket provided the only decent cover where deer could wait out the storm.

My glasses were almost useless because they were covered with melted snow, and periodic cleaning of my specs helped some, and the movement was necessary if I were to loose an arrow if and when a buck showed up.

It wasn’t a nice day that year to be out, but bucks were moving

The wind sliced through the nearby bedding area like a knife through warm butter. It came gusting across the field, sandblasting my face with hard snow, when a buck stepped hesitantly into view.

The 8-pointer seemed to have come from nowhere. The animal appeared like gray smoke scudding ahead of the wind, moving dark against white from the tag alders into the snow-covered open woodlot.

It traveled downwind, and stopped at random to check the wind, and then seemed to drift slowly across the whitened woodlot. It was the epitome of a whitetails strength to survive in all types of weather and ensure perpetuation of the species. Deer must be tough to survive for long in this type of weather.

It also was the stuff of calendar photos: a snowy scene, green topped pines and a motionless, majestic buck alertly surveying his surroundings. I raised my bow as the buck stepped methodically through the deepening snow to within 30 yards, knowing I wouldn’t shoot until it moved to within 15 yards and offered a high-percentage shot at a no-miss range.

It’s a close shot or nothing because of my vision problems

The buck began to forage, and conflicting thoughts sent electrical currents coursing through me. Live or die, it’s late in the second bow season. I may not have another opportunity to take a buck before the season finally ended.  Besides, it would be a tough drag for one man to get the animal out of the woods to where I could pull it to my car with the four-wheeler. It would be a back-breaking chore just to lift it into my vehicle.

Conflicting emotions offered the thrill of taking a nice 8-pointer while testing my mettle against a savage late-season snow storm. The buck fed closer, browsing on something just off the ground, and my mind was forcing me into a confrontation with myself over the sanity and wisdom of shooting or not shooting this buck.

Give in, and just do it, came one mental command. The flip side said no, it will be too tough physically and there will always be another opportunity.

Flip a coin or do something; I chose to pass on this buck

The buck solved my mental deliberations. It gradually fed into a thick tangle of second growth from a cutting made 10 years before, and it slowly disappeared from sight.

I trudged through the building snow to my vehicle, cased my bow, and prepared to head out. Within moments, the vehicle was filled with welcome warmth, and I calmly reflected on my ambivalence.

Was I too wishy-washy? Had I lost the killer instinct?

The questions pinged around like metal balls in a pinball machine. Minutes of inner reflection told me that the answer was a definitive no to both questions.

There’s something about a nasty storm, and hunting in bad weather, that satisfies my mental needs. There also is something about taking an animal’s life, or not taking it, that causes great deliberation. It’s easier to kill the animal than to allow it to walk away.

Granted, venison is one of my favorite meats. I take deer every year with bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun, and each year I pass up many bucks that could have been harvested.

But, darn it, it feels good to let one live another year and to recall the decision many times over a long winter.

That’s why it was simple not to pull the trigger on my bow release. That decision made it easier to yank the four-wheel-drive lever into low-lock and ease down the rutted and slippery two-track for a snowy journey back to civilization where my decision to not shoot made even more sense.

The power of granting life or death over an animal had been satisfied once again, and this time, the buck lived to furnish many fine memories. The thoughts of passing on that buck will live longer in my mind than it would have if the buck had been killed.

Knowing I had made a wise decision based on my personal feelings and simple logic was enough to turn this hunt into a successful one.


About Dave Richey Outdoors

Outdoor Writer/Photographer/Author/Book Dealer View all posts by Dave Richey Outdoors

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