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pass on a buck
(Photo: Jake Bonello/USFWS)

Depending on where and how you hunt, it might be worthwhile to pass on a younger buck. But many hunters need not do that. Read on for our take on when to shoot and when to pass.

It was October of 2016, and I had one buck in mind — an ancient 6 ½-year-old 8-pointer. He’d been bacheloring with a 3 ½-year-old buck that sported a nice rack, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. The bigger, older buck was my primary target.

Still, it wasn’t too easy when that younger deer stepped out on that crisp October afternoon. Drawing on willpower, I opted to let it grow another year, and that proved rewarding in two ways.

The first was immediate. A few minutes after passing the younger buck, my target deer stepped out. Within a few more minutes, I’d lodged an arrow in its opposite shoulder. It resulted in one of my oldest bucks.

pass on a buck
The author poses with the big droptine buck he tagged, which he passed the season before. (Photo: Honeycutt Creative)

Fast forward to 2017. The buck I’d passed the season before was back and bigger than ever. While it had been a clean 10-pointer in 2016, it blossomed into a bigger 9-pointer a year later. It also threw a downturned right main beam, likely due to its bad, swollen left front foot.

There was no question, I wasn’t passing this deer a second time. It was my main target. After a few patient minutes, it offered a shot, and that was that.

In short: Obviously, for hunters, it can be difficult to determine when to quit passing on bucks. It really depends on circumstances, goals, time, and other factors. The most important of which is happiness. Shoot whatever makes you happy. There’s no shame in shooting a younger deer.

However, for those who still aren’t sure of what to do, there are logic-based reasons to pull the trigger, or not, depending on the circumstances.

When Should you Pass on a Buck?

The “Pass on a Buck” Rule For New Hunters: Don’t!

New hunters can and should shoot the first legal deer they see. His is a time for gaining experience, and you can’t do that without putting deer on the ground and in the freezer. Stacking as many deer as you have tags for is the best and fastest way to learn.

You’ll make plenty of mistakes, but you’ll have successes, too. Learn from each of these experiences, positive and negative alike.

The “Pass on a Buck” Rule for Meat Hunters: Don’t!

Those who purely hunt for meat might feel as if it’s no question for them — shoot the first legal deer in sight. It sounds simple enough, but I’d argue a different perspective. First, young bucks and does have very little meat on them. An adult buck or doe that’s 2 ½-plus will go much further filling a freezer than a yearling.

As someone who’s eaten a lot of deer, there is no noticeable difference in tenderness between old and young deer. The difference maker is in proper handling of the meat. So, as a meat hunter, instead of shooting the first legal deer, consider waiting for one that has much more meat on its bones. The only logical time to defer this mentality is if you only have a day or two to hunt, and you’re worried about not filling a tag. Perhaps shoot the first legal deer you see, even if it is a younger deer.

The “Pass on a Buck” Rule for Hobby Hunters: Maybe!

Some hunters go mostly for the thrill of it. Therefore, hobby hunters oftentimes hunt for adventure, food, and antlers (in that order). If adventure if your primary goal, shooting the first deer you see will cut that outing short. Consider passing younger deer, spending extra time enjoying the outdoors, and wait for a bigger animal with more meat or a larger rack.

Furthermore, if this is you, let’s say you’re a two- or even a three-buck state. Perhaps you fill your first buck tag on a younger deer. It doesn’t hurt to hold tags No. 2 and 3 on something with a little more age on it. After all, you want to save your remaining tag(s) for something of size, right? Of course, as with the meat hunter, if you don’t have much time, shoot the first legal deer you see, buck or doe.

The “Pass on a Buck” Rule For Traveling Hunters: Pass!

Some outdoorsmen and women opt to travel across state lines in search of new places and better hunting. Places that have bigger deer, such as Iowa, Kansas, or Wisconsin, or those with better views, such as Colorado, Montana, or Wyoming, are popular destinations. Oftentimes, non-resident hunting isn’t cheap. Also, some of these licenses and tags can take years to obtain.

So, why shoot the first deer you see? Unless the first deer is an older, larger animal, it makes more sense to pass. Enjoy the hunt, experience more of it, and wait for an animal you’ll be happy with. Get your time and money’s worth.

The “Pass on a Buck” Rule For Land Managers: Pass!

pass on a buck
The author shot this buck in 2016, mere moments after passing the deer he’d eventually shoot the next season in the very same spot. (Photo: Honeycutt Creative)

You aren’t merely a meat hunter, or just a hobby hunter. You also enjoy managing the land, growing bucks to older age classes, and the many benefits this lifestyle has to offer. Obviously, if you’re at this stage, you’ve been around the block. You’ve killed some good bucks. Now, you’re ready to shoot some great ones. At this point, it probably doesn’t pay to harvest smaller or younger ones.

This is especially true in one-buck states. Those with only one antlered tag should be more considerate of how they use it. Consider the increased challenge of waiting for a more mature animal. A good rule is to target the top 10-15% of bucks on the landscape. This way, you’re hunting the biggest of the deer on your lands.

All in all, if it’s a legal animal, shoot what makes you happy. That’s the foremost factor in deciding to pass or shoot a deer. If you’re hesitant, and must think about it, consider the thoughts we’ve outlined here to help make the final decision. Because there’s no going back after pulling that trigger.

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