The Decision to Shoot


Why does any given hunter choose to shoot or not shoot any given deer?

Certainly our motivations change as we mature, but what drives these decisions at any particular time? Sadly we have a few hunters who love to kill for killing’s sake, and they will shoot whatever, whenever. This is a very small percentage of hunters, and I’m more interested in understanding the average hunter’s mindset in this decision to shoot or not, and why. Because I’m in no position to really know what makes another hunter tick, I’ll try to answer for myself.

When I was a new and young hunter, I suspect my motivation was to prove to myself (and others maybe) that I could kill a deer and therefore provide food. Perhaps this is a primitive urge or instinct which at one time was an absolute necessity to survive. I know for me it was powerful and was not to be denied.

I can’t say for sure when it happened, but somewhere in my twenties I started challenging myself to hunt the best bucks my hunting areas had to offer. Before the days of Quality Deer Management, my choices were limited to the best of the 1½-year-old bucks, because that’s mostly all we had. An 8-point was better than a 6-point which was better than a fork or spike horn. After mastering that for a few years, I began to desire a greater challenge. At some point I remember deciding if the buck wasn’t larger than anything I’d shot before, I wouldn’t shoot. Obviously at this point food is not the motivator. The food is still greatly appreciated, just not the primary reason I hunt. The challenge to feed oneself has been replaced with desire of something more difficult. It was as powerful as the urge I felt as a young hunter to simply prove I could kill.

Somewhere in my thirties I started accomplishing these more difficult desires, and I started respecting deer more for their intelligence and survival skills. I began to care about them year round, not just to hunt and kill them, but to understand them. Now deer biology was becoming very important to me. Even before QDMA was known throughout North America, I was yearning to understand the whole picture. I saw firsthand what overpopulation of deer was doing to the ecosystem and understood the necessity of shooting does. I was a bit ashamed of having disrespected the female portion of the herd and its importance. Forgive me for I did not know. After understanding this and then hunting the does, I learned that a mature doe is every bit the master of survival as their male counterpart. Does are an annual part of my hunting now, and biology is a main motivator to shoot or not shoot.

Being a QDMA member has made biology even more relevant to my hunting these days. Understanding the importance of mature bucks to the natural functioning of a deer herd makes not shooting immature bucks more a biological choice than simply the greater challenge, as had been the case earlier in my hunting career. In fact, I fell in love with QDMA’s philosophy because the organization is about so much more than just killing big bucks.

The one exception to this question of why we choose to shoot or not, which can’t be explained by food, challenge, or biology, is this: Why do I pass a mature buck when I could kill him? The only answer I have for that is because, “I don’t need to.” At this point in my hunting life, it is enough to outsmart them. If they are within killing distance from me, unaware of me, and I aim, it is enough. I feel no desire to kill what could have been killed simply because it is mature. A wonderful benefit of this is that the bucks I don’t shoot are left for someone else, and seeing someone else harvest what they will cherish is my reward. So a spiritual aspect is also a motivator now in my decision to shoot or not. Hunting has become something greater than the kill.

These are my reasons for shooting or not shooting. They are mine alone. Each hunter should be true to themselves and no one else. As long as anyone hunts with sound biology, ethics and respect as the core reasons for shooting or not shooting, they should not be judged by anything else.

I have gone through several passages to arrive where I am today. At my age I doubt there will be many more changes except an aging body, which will one day lead to the realization that my skills are not adequate to shoot with the accuracy needed to kill respectfully. Then my joy will come from seeing the next generation love what I have loved while deer hunting.

When I die, if I make it into heaven, please, no wings and harps. Just let me go deer hunting.

The author, Bill Badgley, is the inventor of CyberDeer, QDMA’s shot-placement training program. QDMA urges all deer hunters – no matter which deer they choose to take – to make ethical shot choices. This includes practicing and being proficient with the archery equipment or firearm they plan to use before going hunting, and then taking only the shots that are within their range of proficiency. Support QDMA in our efforts to promote ethical deer hunting by becoming a member today!

About Bill Badgley

Bill Badgley is a QDMA member from Cambridge, New York. He created and teaches a Quality Deer Hunter course each year to help local hunters fine-tune their archery equipment and firearms, understand deer anatomy, and improve shot placement. Bill also created QDMA's CyberDeer shot-placement training software.