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Mule Deer Hunting Dispatch: Passing on a Willow-Racked 24-Incher

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November 13, 2012
Mule Deer Hunting Dispatch: Passing on a Willow-Racked 24-Incher - 4

I spotted the buck last night, a thick-shouldered stud that left a gaggle of maybe 10 does for an unseen deer in cover along the creek.

There was something about the mass I detected at last light, and his aggressive behavior, that interested me. I decided to make a play for him this morning at first light.

The pre-dawn temperature stood at -12, and I was thankful it was a calm, crackling cold without a hint of a wind. I knew the big buck was likely to be working does at this point in the season, and I knew that any doe in the vicinity was likely to be feeding up on my neighbor’s alfalfa, trying to put calories between their bodies and the appalling cold. They had likely been feeding all night, and getting close to the buck was simply a matter of hiking to a spot where I would be likely to intercept deer leaving the alfalfa after first light on their way to bedding areas.

Just like clockwork, on came a herd of maybe a dozen does and their yearling fawns, marching from food to cover, directly toward my hide in a clump of creekside willows. In the midst of the herd, the buck. At first glance, he looked to be one that, as my boys say, I might “invite home for dinner,” their shorthand for shoot-him-now-eat-him-later. But the more I inspected his rack bobbing above the sagebrush, the less appealing he became.

His frame is impressive. He’s easily 24 inches, with an outside spread that extends beyond both years by a good 2-3 inches. But he’s spindly, like so many of our eastern Montana prairie bucks, and his 4x4 configuration ends unimpressively, with crab-claw pinchers at the ends of his main beams.

As eager as I was to make the shot—if only to quicken my pulse and send warming blood to my extremities—I decided to pass on this buck almost the instant I got a good look at him. It’s early in the chase phase of our mule deer rut, and I’m hopeful that where there are does, better bucks will soon arrive.

Did I make a mistake? Should I have invited this spindly buck home for dinner? Or was I right to pass in hopes a larger buck will show up? I’ll know within two weeks. Montana’s mule deer season closes the Sunday following Thanksgiving, and I’ll give you daily reports right up until sunset on the final day. But I’m curious: what would you do? Pass. Or shoot?

Leave your answer below. I’ll check out your response from home, as I warm up my frozen bones.

Comments (4)

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from Dcast wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I almost never pass a shot when hunting. I'm with Elkslayer I measure my hunt success by whether or not a deer is on the ground. That maybe why I don't have a single wallhanger, but I'm happy none the less. My 1st 2 yrs hunting I passed up every doe in hopes of getting a buck and ended up eating the tag. My 3rd year asked myself why I was hunting and found the answer, and haven't went without meat in 8yrs.

Last Saturday I allowed a smaller deer to pass by in hopes of getting the one following which was a much larger doe which blew up in my face. She literally was scratching her back on the trunk of the tree I was in. I just sat there admiring her trying to not to make a sound, when the stomach grumbles ensued and got her attention. She looked up at me as I was looking down on her and we had a starring contest then she bolted out 30yds turned around and came back to the base of the tree to check out the blob up in the tree after another stare down she did the same thing took off then came back, for round three then when round three was over she took off towards the other deer I let walk by. As she trotted off I drew back got steady and I stopped her, I had a perfect 40yds shot and let the arrow fly. I gave her a clean hair cut and education! So not following what I vowed to never do again bit me in the arse that day. No more walkers for me.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I would have waited. With that many does around he probably won't be going far anytime soon.

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from elkslayer wrote 1 year 22 weeks ago

I would have shot.

The only time I pass on deer is when I am elk hunting. That said, if what you are really after is another day of hunting then I understand letting the deer go.

For me, success is dependent on putting an animal on the ground and antlers are just a bonus. This year I shot my deer after 4 hours on the first day and although I am happy with the deer, I would have liked to have hunted a few more days.

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from cjohnsrud wrote 1 year 22 weeks ago

Pass - You did the right thing.

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from cjohnsrud wrote 1 year 22 weeks ago

Pass - You did the right thing.

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from elkslayer wrote 1 year 22 weeks ago

I would have shot.

The only time I pass on deer is when I am elk hunting. That said, if what you are really after is another day of hunting then I understand letting the deer go.

For me, success is dependent on putting an animal on the ground and antlers are just a bonus. This year I shot my deer after 4 hours on the first day and although I am happy with the deer, I would have liked to have hunted a few more days.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I would have waited. With that many does around he probably won't be going far anytime soon.

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from Dcast wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I almost never pass a shot when hunting. I'm with Elkslayer I measure my hunt success by whether or not a deer is on the ground. That maybe why I don't have a single wallhanger, but I'm happy none the less. My 1st 2 yrs hunting I passed up every doe in hopes of getting a buck and ended up eating the tag. My 3rd year asked myself why I was hunting and found the answer, and haven't went without meat in 8yrs.

Last Saturday I allowed a smaller deer to pass by in hopes of getting the one following which was a much larger doe which blew up in my face. She literally was scratching her back on the trunk of the tree I was in. I just sat there admiring her trying to not to make a sound, when the stomach grumbles ensued and got her attention. She looked up at me as I was looking down on her and we had a starring contest then she bolted out 30yds turned around and came back to the base of the tree to check out the blob up in the tree after another stare down she did the same thing took off then came back, for round three then when round three was over she took off towards the other deer I let walk by. As she trotted off I drew back got steady and I stopped her, I had a perfect 40yds shot and let the arrow fly. I gave her a clean hair cut and education! So not following what I vowed to never do again bit me in the arse that day. No more walkers for me.

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