What type of deer is defined as a trophy? Many might answer by saying it is a large buck with an impressive set of antlers. Others might argue that any deer that is harvested is worthy to be defined as a trophy. These types of deer may include a 120 pound doe, or a spike buck. However, the history of the word “trophy” tends to relate to things that are seen as best, biggest, or most impressive. Hunters and trappers have been fascinated with larger, more size-appealing animals for centuries. Deer hunters in particular have had the goal of getting the large-antler bucks, also referred to as “monster bucks.”

Small collared buck, 2020.

Dating back to the prehistoric times, cave paintings depict animals with larger bodies, thick horns, giant antlers, and many have a great emphasis on the largest animals. Moving further along in history, we find that in the walls of old European castles, there are often many trophy stags, bucks and antler sets on display. Although the earliest humans mostly hunted for meat and the protein that was needed for survival, the domestication and breeding of livestock greatly reduced the need for hunting in regards to it being a source for meat. Then as grocery stores and other food sources came to be plentiful around the world, hunting transformed more into a sport instead of its original intended purpose of providing food and tools for villages and families (antlers and horns were also used to make tools in the early times of humans). However, that hasn’t stopped many families from taking the time to venture out into the wilderness to hunt for fresh meat.

In the state of Wisconsin alone, deer hunters have harvested an annual average of 330,000 deer over the past 10 years, according the DNR and Wisconsin tag records. With those numbers, say the average weight of each of those deer is roughly 80 pounds, that means around 26 million pounds of meat is put in the freezers of Wisconsin deer hunters each year. That’s nearly 14,000 tons of fresh venison! A good amount of meat is also donated every year.

During the year 2020, nearly 570,000 gun licenses were sold in the state for buck hunting. Out of that number, only 16% were successful. However, that same year brought in more than twice as many antlerless deer. So although more does and antlerless deer are harvested each year, does that reflect on how hunters tend to feel about their successful hunt, regardless if the deer was a big buck?

“If you are not working to protect hunting, then you are working to destroy it. A hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be… time to commune with your inner soul as you share the outdoors with the birds, animals, and the fish that live there.”

-Fred Bear

Even though firearms, archery equipment and other hunting tools have greatly improved over the past 100 years, harvesting a deer, any deer, is still a challenge and usually requires a lot of preparation and hard work. Scouting, trail cameras, tracking, target and calling practice, and so on. Any hunter who successfully harvests a deer, no matter if it’s a doe fawn or mature buck, should be proud of their trophy.

For a hunter to be able to bring a deer home is a great accomplishment. There is no greater feeling of success in the eyes of a true hunter than being able to bring fresh meat to the table, and to have have it come from a recently harvested deer, no matter the size or type of deer.

Although there is no denying there is a great appeal to having a nice set of antlers on the wall, the greatest trophy of all is being thankful for any deer that is harvested, and being able to recognize that having fresh meat is also an amazing trophy. Because regardless of what type of deer someone harvested, it is important to recognize the life that was taken in order to acquire fresh venison.

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