Goin' Home With A Buck
By Dave Gibson

....As a very young boy, I could hardly wait until I was old enough to go deer hunting with my father. Dad brought home a buck, sometimes two every deer season. A good deal of the meat that our family consumed was venison, so it was always a welcomed event when dad got a deer.
... I remember vividly, a fantasy that I began having at age four or five. It was about a time in the future when I would be arriving home with my father on a Sunday night after a successful hunting trip. Instead of following my mother and little brother out of the house when we heard Dad's truck pull up, like I had always done. Some day I would be in the truck with him. I would get out and raise the stiff green canvas tarp in the back. Under the tarp would be two fine Blacktail bucks. As I stood proud and manlike my dad would say, "I think David's is a little bigger". My mom would smile and give me a hug. My little brother would say" you got that buck Dave? "
.. The fantasy I had had for many years about my first buck pretty much came true. The only difference was that mine wasn't a little bigger. They don't grow forked horns any smaller than the one I took at age twelve. With pencil thin horns and probably weighing less than a hundred pounds on the hoof, it definitely was no monster.
... I was still very proud of that buck because back in those days, getting a buck was the important thing. If size was to be considered at all, it would be body weight and not antler size that earned you a little more prestige among fellow hunters.
.. There are several reasons why just getting a buck is sometimes much more important than the size of a deer's antlers. As people often say "you can't eat the horns". This is very true, especially if you depend on a supply of venison in the freezer to help feed the family, as we did back in the 50's and 60's.
... When available hunting time is limited it's even more important to bring home a buck. When you know that you only have a weekend or two to hunt for the entire year, you may not want to pass up a small forked horn on opening morning, knowing that it could be the only buck you see that season. Maybe in the area that you hunt, the Blacktails simply don't grow large horns so why bother holding out for a big rack. You can see that this is true by looking through the record books. Many high scoring bucks come from the same area's, while very few if any entrees come from other areas.
... Genetics and diet play big roles in the growth of large antlers in all members of the deer family. If hereditary factors are poor or diet is inadequate, or if there is a lack of calcium and or phosphorus in the soil, male deer will not be able to grow large antlers. There are some areas in California where even the healthiest mature bucks almost never grow a set of horns with more than two or three points on each side and a spread greater than 16 inches.
...Sometimes it's a hunters age and experience that are used to decide if it's more important to go home with a buck, than it is to wait for one with large antlers. I believe that a young hunter with limited physical ability and limited hunting experience should be encouraged to take a small buck. I think that an older more experienced hunter should incorporate more of a challenge into his hunt. Depending on the area, this may mean working a little harder in hopes of killing a mature buck with large antlers.
...For many years I hunted Blacktails in parts of California where hunting was very difficult and hunter success was poor. If I went home with a legal buck I was happy. These areas had only a moderate deer population. The buck to doe ratio was very low and there was substantial hunting pressure. The genetics were also not conducive to large horn growth in most of the areas I hunted. To make matters worse most of the terrain was steep and brushy and the days were usually extremely hot, as is often the case in California's "A" zone which runs from mid July to late September.

After seeing both of these bucks during archery Season, I hunted them exclusively during
rifle season, only to get a couple quick glimpses of the 21 inch four point on the right.
It wasn't until the rut began and the season closed, that they again showed themselves.

...It was physically demanding and extremely challenging to hunt these areas. I guess that's actually what made it so appealing to me. It gave me a great feeling of accomplishment to be able to be regularly successful under these unfavorable conditions.
... I took pride in my ability to kill a buck when others could not. Because of my physical endurance, my determination and my years of Blacktail hunting experience. I was confident that I could overcome nearly any hunting challenge. For me hunting must be a challenge. The more difficult the challenge the greater the sense of accomplishment when successful. I've never been one who has had an interest in paying high dollars and shooting a 30 incher in an alfalfa field. I can only take credit for what I earn and I can only appreciate what's difficult to achieve. I must suffer both physically and mentally to earn the right to kill a buck.
... For a long time there was a balance. I would hunt hard each season and eventually kill a deer. If my friends heard a single shot in the direction in which I was hunting they would know that I got a buck. " You take all the fun out of it, you never shoot more than once" my cousin Jamie once said. In fact, I killed seven bucks in 7 consecutive years, using the same shell casing. I would reload my lucky shell, marked with silver paint, and use it as the first shot the next year. I finally lost it in Sonoma County after firing several shots into a large boar hog, which was nearly impossible to bring down.
... I've always had the dream to live and hunt on my own property. That dream became a reality a few years ago when I moved to a ranch in Mendocino County. The Blacktails in this area have the genetics for very respectable antler growth. This is apparent by the large number of entries in Boone and Crocket that come from the county. Food for deer is abundant and hunting pressure is minimal. The buck to doe ration probably approaches 50%. Sounds like all the ingredients necessary for some great Blacktail hunting, doesn't it? The hunting truly is great, but great hunting doesn't necessarily mean going home with a buck.
...These days I have increased the difficulty of the challenge. Sometimes I wonder if I haven't made the challenge too difficult. I have probably hunted and average of 50 days each of the last two deer seasons without firing a shot. This doesn't mean that I don't see bucks. I usually see legal bucks every time I hunt our ranch. It could be just one or two or maybe as many as ten or more in a full day of hunting. I've come close to pulling the trigger on a couple of the larger ones but have not. They just didn't meet my present standards.
... I am looking for one of the truly large bucks that I know exist in this area. I know they're here because every fall, shortly after deer season closes they come out of hiding for the rut.
... I have put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to find one of those big bucks. I hike, I sneak, I glass. I literally try everything I can think of but I rarely see the big ones during hunting season and when I have, they have not given me a decent shot . Wouldn't you think that an able bodied guy who has been hunting for more than 35 years and who is lucky enough to have a good ranch to hunt on, could occasionally score on a big Blacktail buck. That's what I thought before I moved to this county. Now I wonder. At times it seems like if I do ever take a really magnificent buck it will be the result of dumb luck and not effort.
....My tactics work very well on younger deer. I can find forked horns and small three points regularly. My usual hunting technique is sneaking from vantage point to vantage point thoroughly glassing from each spot.

Goin' Home With a Buck, part 2
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