More often than you'd think, we have conversations amongst ourselves, Kevin Kossowan, Jeff Senger and me, on what animals to harvest and why. For example, do I wait to harvest a mature buck with my general tag? The obvious answer is "yes" to most people. And having spent most of my hunting career focused expressly on trophy whitetail buck and big boar Black Bears, it is hard to disagree with the allure of being close to big animals. Those specimens are a special challenge, and my heart beats especially hard when I have those chances. But, here's the thing, an (almost) equally great challenge is to harvest the best possible table outcome. A yearling fawn, a calf moose. The opportunities to shoot at the smallest, most tender and tasty animals present themselves at about the same rate as trophy animals for me and my hunting style. Should my heart beat fast then? What will people say about my choice to harvest such an animal. Do I care what they say? Despite what should be the case, these things play out in my mind. I realize completely that they shouldn't...but they do. Less and less as I get older thank goodness, but it's still there, in the background. What will you think of me if I harvest a fawn whitetail?
"What about the reason that we hunt, or at least the reason why we should be hunting...the wild food. Is that a trophy?"
There's the people that will admonish a hunter for taking a fawn, simply because it is young. And I get that sentimentality actually. But the fact of nature is that it is the young who are most vulnerable, the most predated upon. From a conservation standpoint, it is more sustainable to harvest the young deer from a herd. Nature compensates, and the next season, more twins are born. I would imagine that to harvest only mature, and especially "trophy" animals, from a herd would significantly weaken the genetic structure of the entire herd. The animals that have survived to maturity are the individuals who have the strongest ability to survive what nature throws their way. They are the ones who should be left to pass along those genetics.
And what about table fare? What about the reason that we hunt, or at least the reason why we should be hunting...the wild food. Is that a trophy? Kevin and I were talking about that just this morning. I have photos of food; Kevin prepping a confit'd buck neck, 50 yards from where it was harvested a month earlier. I can remember the experience of helping with the harvesting of that animal. I remember the smells, sights and sounds of the entire event. There isn't a rack on my wall, just a picture of a memorable meal. The same goes for pictures I have of a fish in a fry pan over a campfire. A great meal, and complete memories of that same fish taking my hand-tied caddis dry fly and the subsequent fight. The colour of the light in the canyon, the cold shock of the water as I grabbed that fish from the net to dispatch it quickly. Trophies.
This discussion stems from something personal and current. I have one general tag for whitetail deer. I can go ahead and purchase supplementary tags for antlerless deer, and maybe I will. But it sort of begs the question, what animal do I place this general tag on? How did I manage to acquire this animal? There's no wrong answer here as long as it is done legally. I guess. And really, why shouldn't I simply buy every available tag and leave myself with all of the options...traditional bowhunting, rifle or shotgun. Buck or doe or fawn.
There is too much to dive into here with regards to the instrument of death that is used. I love the challenge of traditional bowhunting. I'd been away from that activity for a little over a decade and only waded into the world of hunting now and then, for a day or two. Beginning last season, however, I went heavy with the bow and set a goal of killing a whitetail with the recurve. I failed. And so far, I've failed at that this season too. Still a goal. Not sure why. The why of it doesn't matter though. We all have our different reasons for doing what we do.
Back to the issue of what to do with my one general tag. Yesterday was the rifle opening day here in our wmu in Alberta. Kevin and I have a tradition of heading out to my grandparents homestead to see if we can connect with a whitetail. Yesterday we both had big bucks on our brains. Kevin still does...but he also hopes to connect with a young mule deer, and he harvested a smaller doe a few weeks ago in another wmu where rifle hunting is permitted earlier in the season. My rationale for thinking about big bucks was simple. I wanted a trophy set of antlers and a big amount of venison in the freezer. About an hour into our hunt I heard movement through the frosty leaves on the forest floor. I knew it was deer by the sound. Sure enough, here he came, right towards the trail I was standing on. It was a nice buck and I stopped him with a grunt, on the trail, 30 yards away from me. The rifle was already on his centre of mass, right behind the shoulder. I was so cocky and confident. I had him, no problem. The trigger was pulled and after the shock of the recoil he ran off and stopped. I expected the usual thud of the falling animal and then the thrashing of hooves in the leaves in a fruitless attempt to flee. But nothing. He stood there, out of sight, but right there nonetheless. And then, after a couple minutes, the sound he made moving away from me faded to nothing. I had completely missed somehow. Kevin and I searched for hours for any sign of a hit. We even sighted in the rifle to make sure nothing mechanical had gone wrong. But the rifle scope was good. However it happened, the miss was complete. My disappointing miss-streak on whitetails was alive and well, just like the big buck.
Today, day 2 of the whitetail rifle season, I am in crisis. Not crisis, that word needs to be saved for people who actually experience crisis. I am in contemplation. Do I need the amount of venison that a big buck provides, no. Not at all. Would a young fawn be sufficient? Yes. Would the venison be more tender and flavourful? Absolutely. In fact, Kevin is on record as saying that a "Whitetail fawn is the best tasting thing to come out of the woods".
So tonight, with rifle in hand, I will go back to Nana and Papa Schneider's place, sit where I know young does and fawns are sure show themselves about 20 minutes before the end of legal shooting light, and try not to miss. I will affix a tag, and I'll be happy. Ecstatic actually. Of course a lot of things need to go right for this scenario to play out. It isn't as cut and dry as it seems. But the odds are good. Or perhaps I'll pass on that fawn, and wait until last light for the chance at that nice buck that I know resides in these woods. What would you do?