THEY say you can’t shoot a monster buck if one does not exist in the area you are hunting, the point being that scouting and flexibility are essential for people who seek out trophy deer.

I’ve never been an aggressive trophy nut in my hunting or fishing, choosing instead to let fate decide when I might get lucky enough to catch that 30-inch walleye or shoot that big eight-point buck.

Some hunters are incredibly disciplined and dedicated to shooting only the biggest of bucks, frequently passing on the little guys in both archery and gun situations.

Not me. My quest for venison steaks, roasts, sausage and hamburger is far more powerful than how many points are on a deer’s head. And I have no problem shooting an antlerless deer when the herd is healthy enough to sustain that kind of harvest, because as you know, we don’t eat the antlers anyway.

From an opportunity standpoint, fate struck on an afternoon in early October as Gracie and I trekked into new grouse territory in the state forest. Our mission was to find more areas where young aspen was a key component, and the state is doing a much better job on that than the managers of our national forest.

What we didn’t expect to find on that two-mile walk was the shed of a monster 10-point buck — a shed so large that I could have tripped on it. It was actually half of the deer’s antlers from the previous year, which they drop annually in order to grow another set of antlers in spring.

It was large enough that it did not fit well in the back pouch of my hunting vest, but I wasn’t leaving it behind. Except for some tiny damage that mice did to a couple of the points, it was in surprisingly great shape.

As we walked on for another mile, hoping this old road looped back toward the truck, my mind pondered whether this buck made it through the winter and escaped wolves long enough to still be around.

As luck would have it, the road dead-ended and we had to backtrack. It was about 30 minutes after that shed was located, and the time read about 3:30 p.m. by the time we returned to the same area.

Gracie flushed a grouse on a corner that was very close to where we found it. She had gotten “birdy” there on the first pass, and I’m guessing that grouse was sitting in a tree watching us as we walked by the first time.

After studying the area of the flush, I slowly turned my attention around the corner and down the road. And there it was, bigger than life itself, a trophy buck standing in the roadway at 50 yards.

The monster buck just turned and bounded straight down the road away from us. It took three long, powerful bounds for it to reach another jog in the road, and to disappear out of sight.

What’s the chance of finding the shed of a trophy buck in the first place, and then 30 minutes later, seeing the deer that most likely dropped it there last winter?

Turns out that the walk netted me a shed, more than a glimpse of one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen in the wild, and a place to deer hunt that holds the opportunity to shoot a trophy of a lifetime.

The scribbler is preparing for the nine-day gun deer season that starts this Saturday, Nov. 17, with a little more anticipation than the average year.

I may never see that buck again, but at least I’ll be hunting in the area that has harbored him for several years. That’s more of a chance at a trophy than I’ve had in many years of hunting public forests, where the herd has been down for a long time and big deer are far and few between.

Deer camps will again come to life later this week in all their splendor, as the grandest outdoor sporting event in Wisconsin sends some 600,000 hunters afield.

Whether any of us gets our buck or not, the most important part of the deer hunt is enjoying a safe hunt with family and friends. And that’s something worth a moment of focused thought.

I’ve said it for years and the message isn’t about to change any time soon. The concern should be on your own safety habits and those of your hunting buddies, for years of accident statistics show self-inflicted wounds and shots fired by hunters in your own group are far more dangerous than a bullet from a mysterious source.

Every hunter has more control over their own safety than they might imagine. There is some truth in that old saying, “Choose your hunting partner as if your life depends on it, because it just might.”

To do your part to make this sport safer, there are some activities you should not tolerate from fellow hunters. First and foremost, they should never point their gun at you — loaded or unloaded. I mean never.

Best friend or not, when they point a loaded firearm at your stomach, they might as well put the muzzle right to your temple. Would having the safety on be any consolation then?

If you truly care about staying safe, then make it your job to promote safety. When a hunting partner meets you in the woods with his or her gun pointed straight ahead, say something. When a buddy swings a gun at your face while turning a corner, say something.

The bottom line in preventing injuries and death is this: If you never point the muzzle at yourself or another person, you won’t injure anyone if there is an accidental discharge. It’s that simple.

As I tell hunters almost every year, never accept that looking down someone’s barrel is part of hunting. We’re talking about your life here, and their life, because they’ll never been the same if they carelessly injure or kill someone.

Remember that the only good hunt is a safe hunt. Best of luck to all.