Let me put my home-area deer hunting in a nutshell for you: Last night, from a climbing stand just off a hidden greenfield, I watched a group of deer filter into the freshly mowed meadow to nibble on upstart forbs. Among them was a bachelor group of bucks that perfectly captured the state of deer hunting on many properties around here: two spikes, a 3-pointer, and a forkhorn. And if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know, I’ll add that the forkhorn was (a) the only buck there that wasn’t led to the field by its mother, and (b) clearly the area’s dominant male, running other deer off his little patch of greenery and instigating sparring matches with the smaller guys.

But–and this is important–I’m not complaining. Not much anyway. Sure, it would be nice to see more bucks with better racks, and an older age-structure would likely make for a more exciting rut. If the hunters around here could agree to press the state agency for regulations to protect yearling bucks, they’d have my support.

But in the meantime, especially on farms like this one where the sweet, older couple who owns the place let’s everybody and his brother on, it just is what it is. And it’s just fine.

Back out in the field, the little bucks, and especially their mothers, are on red-alert. Not because they smell me; I’ve got the wind. Or because they see me; I’m tucked back and well hidden. They are on red-alert because after generations of being intensely hunted, these whitetail are hard-wired to be utterly neurotic. They take a nibble, then snap their heads up and stare for 5, even 10 minutes. One of them blows an alarm every now and then, just on principle. Their tails are stuck at ¾-mast. I’ve hunted areas where bucks three or four years older than these–and 13 or 14 times their B&C score–act dumb as sheep by comparison.

So these little deer provide a real challenge for a bowhunter, and their meat tastes just a good, if not better. All that’s missing is the big rack, which would be nice but is really not that big a deal. Like my wife and I told ourselves years ago when I quit my regular job to be a freelance writer: We can live very happily on very little–as long as we don’t get caught up in what we don’t have.