What is a trophy whitetail?  Is it a record book buck?  Is it a deer taken legally, as well as ethically?  Many hunters have their own definition of deer hunting trophies.

I will share my opinion of what a trophy whitetail is before I go any further.  A trophy whitetail is any deer I cleanly killed.  The circumstances of the hunt leading up to the kill make a whitetail a trophy.  And most importantly the people you share camp with throughout the entire hunt make a whitetail a trophy.  Size does not matter when it comes to a trophy whitetail.

Measurements such as inside spread, width, circumference, tine length, beam length and deductions are the common methods for hunters to compare one buck to another buck.  Scoring systems of the Boone and Crockett, along with the Pope and Young record books agree with this method of determining a trophy buck.  By keeping track of antler measurements, hunters are able to compare the deer he has killed to every other buck he has killed.  However, there are many hunters who use other methods to determine the trophy status of a deer (notice I said deer, not buck) other than what it takes to be a “book” buck.  For a lot of hunters, the overall hunting experience combined with how the deer was harvested makes it a trophy.

I know some great whitetail hunters who have killed several Pope and Young class bucks, but they will not enter them recognition by the record keeping club.  These guys are some of the best deer hunters I have had the pleasure to meet, but they do not hunt so they can see their name in a book.  They hunt because they love to hunt.  The reason they kill big bucks year after year is because they scout, know the patterns of the deer they are hunting, and they know the lay of the land on which they hunt.  They do not kill big bucks year after year for certificates from recordkeeping organizations.  Sure, it is nice to kill a buck that makes other hunters look on in awe.  But, lets face it, most deer killed do not qualify as awe deer.

Ask yourself one question.  Have you ever killed a deer that was not a trophy?  The answer should be a honest no.  I do not mean because of the buck’s hat rack.  I am referring to the lifelong memories you gained from killing a deer, each and every deer.

Every deer I have killed has been a trophy.  I am not just talking about the bucks that had an inside measurement of 20 inches and base circumferences of 5 inches.  I am also talking about every doe or small buck that I have ever killed.  By far, these “lesser” bucks and does outnumber my so-called trophy bucks I have killed.  Why are they trophies?  Because I killed each deer doing something I love with people I care for most.  And each time I followed the hunters “code of ethics”.

From the very first deer I killed many moons ago to the latest deer I killed last weekend, I can replay the hunt in my mind. I am able to give detailed descriptions of each hunt when somebody from our camp killed a deer.  The first few years of camp all I did was crudely scribble down some notes in a notebook.  As our deer camp grew so did our recordkeeping abilities.  Now each hunter who kills a deer logs in the date and time of the kill, location of the kill, dressed weight of the deer, antler measurements if it was buck, and any comments they would like to include.

I have a trophy room/office that has several mounted deer heads (including my first buck, a basket rack 6-point).  But, also hanging on the walls are 5×7-inch photos of every single deer I have killed and many photos of other hunters with their kill.  Sometimes I just go in that room to look at all the photos.  When I look at them, it is the same as putting a DVD in the player and watching a movie.  I love it, and, it is a lot cheaper than a taxidermist.

Maybe it is not the buck you have killed that will stay in your mind as being a trophy whitetail.  How about the bucks that would not take that one step to clear a tree so you could get a shot off, and instead all you could do was watch the buck walk off?  How about all those deer you have shot over the back of or between their legs?  Do not pretend that you do not know what I am talking about.  If you are anything like me, you can visualize those deer as clear as you wrapped a tag around it.  Those deer that eluded me, but provided everlasting memories, are truly a trophy.

Every deer hunter remembers his or her first kill.  It does not matter if it was a buck or a doe, or even a yearling.  A first kill only happens once, thus making it a true trophy.

As I wrote earlier, not every deer has to be killed or have a rack to be a trophy.  The bucks you saw on your trail camera that kept you up at night are trophies.  The set of sheds you found that made your heart skip a beat are trophies.  Maybe a fat doe that smelled you just out of bow range.  How about the fat doe that you did kill that provided many healthy meals for your family?  All of these deer are trophies, even though you never laid hands on the rack.

What is a trophy?  That is for each individual hunter to decide.  Do not let another person tell you that a deer that has been legally harvested is not a trophy.

There is a difference between a big deer and a trophy deer.  Deer hunting involves the hunter and his quarry.  It is up to each hunter to say what a trophy is.  Do not let anybody else tell you different.