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What's A Good Buck?

BOWHUNTING Editor Christian Berg's 2009 Pennsylvania buck wasn't a record breaker, but it was a memorable trophy just the same.

In the last issue, I wrote a feature story about my 2009 Missouri monster whitetail, which gross scored 157 2/8 inches. That was a good buck. OK, a really good buck.

Less than six weeks later, I killed an average 8-pointer back home in Pennsylvania. I never bothered scoring that deer, though I suspect the tally would have come in somewhere shy of 100. That doesn't matter. It was still a good buck.

It was Friday, Nov. 13 -- the second-to-last day of the regular archery season. I had a different 8-pointer and a spike buck hanging around in some brush not far from my stand much of the morning. The 8-pointer actually bedded just 45 yards from my perch for about half an hour while I watched and waited to see if he would get up and come closer. At 10 a.m., my friend Bob decided to head home. I told him that 8-pointer was still hanging around, and I figured I should sit just a little longer to see what would happen.

As it turned out, I never saw the original 8 again. But around 10:45, I heard leaves rustling on the ridge behind me, and I turned around to see another 8-pointer on the trot. Lo and behold, he veered right down the ridgeline to me, crossed the small creek at the bottom of the ravine and headed up the exact run I placed this stand to cover. When he got to 35 yards, I stopped him with a grunt and made a perfect, double-lung, pass-through shot. He wheeled around, crossed back over the creek and made it about halfway back up the ridge before dropping in sight. The whole encounter lasted maybe 30 seconds.

I was pretty pumped up about the way he ran in and presented such a tantalizing shot! In my excitement, I overestimated the size of the buck's rack. So, when I walked over to claim my prize, I felt a bit disappointed in his headgear. When I shared those feelings with Bob, he quickly reprimanded me. "That's a good buck!" he scolded. "A lot of other hunters would be thrilled to shoot a buck like that."

He was right, and I suddenly felt ashamed. This wasn't a prime piece of managed hunting ground in Missouri. It was a small, farm-country woodlot in heavily hunted Eastern Pennsylvania. Truth be told, I had done a lot more work to earn this buck -- from running scouting cameras and clearing trails to hanging stands and trimming shooting lanes -- than the one in Missouri. Punching that tag was something to be proud of, and by golly, I was.

As bowhunters, we're all influenced to some degree by the bruiser bucks we see on TV and the cover of magazines such as BOWHUNTING. It's hard not to compare our own trophies and judge them accordingly. Don't give into that temptation. Sure, we'd all love to shoot a stud every year, but that simply isn't reality.

It's also easy to impose our personal standards on others. We see a fellow bowhunter dragging a forkhorn out the woods and derisively think, Why would he shoot something like that? That is a dead-end road that leads to bitterness, frustration and lost relationships.

As bowhunters, we all must choose our own path. If a buck doesn't meet your standards, let him pass. That's your prerogative. But if that same animal is a trophy in the eyes of another, more power to him. Slap him on the back, offer congratulations and let him to enjoy the moment.

Because a good buck is in the eye of the beholder.

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