There is an image of the American hunter many anti’s have. But it doesn’t have to be that way; because it’s an inaccurate image created mostly by hunting shows.
I could not put a collection of essays together, concerning hunting and fishing, without a word on the state of trophy seeking. I believe there is a difference in the pursuit of trophies between hunters and anglers. This is most evidenced in televised hunting and fishing programs on television and on-line. The pursuit of trophies, in itself, is a good thing in either past time, unless he or she who kills has no intention of eating the animal, or has no sound reasoning for wildlife population intervention. The art of patterning different species on land and in the water, taken further in targeting only mature creatures, is far more rewarding in experience and building of proper ethics, than what a person gets back from the taxidermist. I find no faults in the keeping of trophies. The animals we harvest are beautiful, and should be cherished when we are fortunate enough to cross paths with them. It’s the way in which many in the hunting community obtain their “trophies”, and how their voices outweigh the voices of the real hunters in America, that should be of great concern to us these days.
We see hunting shows and the way killing is glorified. We see self-proclaimed stars that show up on a piece of land to hunt; in exchange for a few kind words regarding the outfitter on an enhanced commercial – or they pay for the trophy they take. We see these stars, or ‘professional hunters’ arrive in ‘camp’, which is often a five-star ranch, only to begin viewing photographs taken from cameras placed by guides – rather than scouting the land themselves. Then we see these ‘hunters’ informed of where the deer or other game approach from – what wind is best – perhaps when the areas were baited last, and so on. They are taken by a guide to their approved of destination, and then often told which animals they can shoot, or which ones are off limits, or carry a higher price tag.
Then, these shooters kill an animal – a trophy in inches or weight no doubt. I would not call it a harvest, for a harvest involves more than merely shooting an animal – only to keep the head – then often donate the meat on the way to the next property. This seems to me an odd form of charity. I would not say it is unkind to, or unwelcome by the needy, although perhaps strangely out of place. I think hunting ranches could be a great thing for those who have physical limitations, or may otherwise not be able to hunt, due to financial or geographical hindrances. But for those who are healthy, who can get around physically and have the privilege of being able to do the work themselves – actually hunting – why would they want to cheapen the meaning of a trophy?
I have mixed feelings as I write this. I know there is many a person, who sits and stares at an animal obtained in such a way on many days. They surely felt as though they were hunting when they sat in the blind or on the stand. They may have waited a few hours, or even several days. The weather could have been adverse. The time invested could be measurable. That is for them to decide and live with. That is for them to determine, and decide whether that is a true trophy. And if they wished to promote that as acceptable in the hunting community, if they feel that is what should define a trophy – that inches matter more than experience – that size is more important than passing on a different code of ethics to the youth – which we often call the future of hunting – then they will have to live with what hunting becomes – perhaps a click of the mouse in time.
All hunters go through the stages of the hunter, and ultimately should seek mature animals or trophies, but the trophy sought should not be singularly defined by the length of beams and tines. Of course the experience is of the utmost importance. An outdoorsman should be able to scout the land himself, determine animal movements, food sources and bedding areas, by reading sign on the ground as well as utilizing careful observation. He should determine himself where the dominant wind comes from, where to place stands and if bait need be used at all. Hunting ranches often bait areas to up the chances of sighting game for paying customers, so they may move more hunters through more quickly. While the man who hunts an area responsibly, and knows what the deer are eating, often needs no bait at all. He will hunt near the white oak dropping acorns, or the persimmons tree. The true outdoorsman should have a good idea of the carrying capacity of the land he hunts – be it public lands or private lands he has access to. Then, there is the proper selection of mature animals. Young hunters tend to shoot at all ages of animals. This is not discouraged early on, as most want new hunters to be interested. But as those that will stick with hunting become more seasoned, they will naturally learn to let younger animals pass. This has been described as the “evolution of a hunter”, and is essential in the art of taking mature animals. The ethics involved in allowing young animals to live is obvious in many ways. But only after we hunt a piece of land over time will we see the age class of deer, and know which deer may be the trophies in the woods we stalk. In one county a four year old, hundred and eighty pound, eight point might only have one hundred and ten inches of antler. While a tract of land miles away, where there are many more acres, and managed strictly for whitetails, may have a deer of similar age and weight with one hundred and seventy inches of antler. Is one really a better trophy than another? If the hunters put in the same work – should one really be more coveted? Because one man lets the deer exist as they would with the least of his intervention, and has less inches of antler, but the other man plants supplemental feed in the ground or baits? And I have heard the arguments that those who plant fields with different crops for deer are managing deer and not baiting them. To me this seems about the same as the fly-fisherman referring to his bobber as a strike indicator – funny how that works.
Most citizens of this country don’t have the land or money to grow big deer or hunt on the elitists lands. Or perhaps they weren’t as lucky in what they inherited. Most hunters actually hunt for the meat and the experiences obtained during their outings; any trophies they may perceive or take are only icing on the cake. But they have little influence in the way hunting and trophy seeking is perceived by non-hunters. Non-hunters see these ‘pros’ pounding their chests and shouting to the Lord seconds after the killing of a big game animal – as if God himself placed the animal in their path to kill. Then they see high fives and behavior they don’t really like to see at the Super Bowl, much less after an animal has been shot dead for television.
I do not see this evidenced with professional fishermen. Sure there are a few with outrageous behaviors and self-marketing strategies, but they all put in the work. I don’t see many television shows with anglers sitting on a two acre pond, yanking eight pound bass from the water and gathering and maintaining such large audiences or such prestigious notoriety. I see television shows that take place in truly free-range places and fair chase scenarios. I see anglers on large lakes and strong rivers, battling harsh conditions with outcomes not always the best. Now there are a few TV shows where hunters actually put in the work, but they are vastly outdone by the programs that do not.
Why do fishermen seem to need a more pure experience involved with obtaining a wall-hanger than so many hunters? Perhaps it is because taking a citation fish is in fact harder to do. I have never known an angler that would think of going to a trout pond, hooking a trophy class rainbow, and then taking it to a taxidermist. So why are there so many people that will basically do the same thing for a deer mount?
I suppose there could be psychological explanations, full of nonsense. I suppose it could be explained away as just another example of the apparent need to “keep up with the Joneses”. Regardless, this hunter is sure of one thing. I will take a hundred inch four year old deer, taken on public lands, where I have no fences, no guide, no bait and no control over others hunting pressure, over a paid for set of giant, unnatural looking antlers, someone I barely know points at and tells me I can shoot, after they were paid to do all the work for me.
So I have written this not to divide the hunting community – but to let those on the fence about hunting know that the majority of those who hunt in this country are not represented by what you may see on television. Virtually nothing you see on these programs would accurately depict what real hunters do or care about. For the few shows that actually provide content which show more realistic situations, or those programs which focus on getting our veterans or handicapped citizens in the outdoors – thank you. At least these types of hunting shows represent something different than a canned hunt.