How To Judge A Trophy Buck When Seconds Count

How To Judge A Trophy Buck When Seconds Count

Author: Peterson's Hunting
Published: November 17, 2022

“Field judging whitetails can be a tough task, the goal is to make the best call you can.

It’s the last hour and nothing’s happening. Even the squirrels are quiet. Then, movement in the trees. A quick flash of antler. Adrenaline surges. You swivel slowly to adjust for the angle. There’s a narrow opening where the shot must happen. While the buck is mostly hidden, you raise the rifle and get ready. When he steps clear, you must make the call.

This scenario is especially applicable to stand hunting for whitetails. In thicker cover, we rarely see the deer until it’s right there. We have to determine sex and judge antlers in seconds and make sound “shoot or don’t shoot” decisions. Nobody gets it right every time. All experienced whitetail hunters wish they’d taken bucks they let walk and regret even more their too-hasty decisions. The point is to make the best call you can because you have to live with it.


First day or last, this is a buck you cannot pass. Take him now. That doesn’t mean he’s a giant, just a nice buck for the area and a buck you’ll be proud of.

In our 2020 Kansas season I had a new treestand that had it all: well-used trails, rubs, and scrapes. Except it was deep in the thick stuff and set up as an archery stand. We knew of a huge-bodied old buck there, heavy and wide, but with broken points. Not all hunters are comfortable with ladder stands, and many aren’t interested in broken-up old bucks. That being my call to make, I put my friend John Sonne in that stand on opening morning, telling him I was hoping he’d “get a look” at that buck. About 9:30 I thought I heard John’s shot. After a while I got his text. He was pretty sure his buck was down. I asked what kind of buck, and he responded, “You know him.”

The buck had come out of thick cedars at 30 yards and stared at the stand for long seconds. John had the cool to stay frozen, and when the buck had enough and trotted on into oak timber, he got the rifle up and managed to thread the needle. After the shot, the buck had run straight away. John thought he’d seen him go down, but he wasn’t certain. Turns out the deer was perfectly shot and down about 100 yards from the stand. It was an older buck, rutted-down, ribs and hipbones showing, in horrible condition. The antlers were just fine: tall, wide, heavy, a straight-up 160-inch buck, nothing broken. No, I didn’t know this buck. I’d never seen him before. That’s the real magic of the whitetail rut: Unknown bucks just show up. Two hours after sunrise on opening morning, this was a “no-brainer.” I wish the decision was always so easy.”

The full article from Peterson’s Hunting can be found with this link.

Photo Credit: Original Author

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