Flip through the pages of any major hunting magazine and you will generally find it filled with page after page showing seasoned hunters displaying their fallen game animals. Likewise, go to any major sportsman’s show and you will generally find seminar speakers whose only real credibility is having shot several trophy critters with the mounts on display to serve as prima facie evidence of their superior predatory skills.
So is that your idea of hunting success? Do we put too much evidence on the final result (killing) and not enough on the hunting experience itself?
If you hunt the deer season hard and you come up emptyhanded do you hang your head a bit lower when interacting with your hunting buds at the coffee shop socializing about the past hunting season? When you end the day pheasant hunting and you’re still a couple of birds short of your daily limit…do you head home with fido a bit depressed and frustrated about what little you have to show for your efforts? Do you honestly feel that the only way to prove you’re a savvy and skilled hunter is to consistently fill the freezer with game?
If you answered yes to any of these questions I feel quite sorry for you. Seriously, I’ve matured enough not to judge another hunter in how successful they are at the killing game. Rather, the hunter who really impresses me is the one who hunts not for the sake of achievement, but is motivated more through personal fulfillment simply by enjoying the overall outdoors experience.
Prime example. Bill is a successful auto sales executive from Minneapolis who for years has hunted Merriam turkeys out in the Black Hills of South Dakota in an organized turkey camp. I’m sure tucked away in some office cabinet is a photo album filled with years and years of pictures showing evidence of his past fishing and hunting adventures. When I hunted with Bill about 10 years ago, he was probably in his late 50s and as enthusiastic about turkey hunting as anyone else I have ever known. But what he did one April morning totally shocked me…almost as much as it did to his turkey guide.
You see, ol’ Bill paid nearly $1,000 to be in hunting camp for three days and to chase some wily gobblers with a guide one on one. Both him and the guide worked the hills hard and had set up in a spot near where they had put a flock to bed just the night before. As daylight started peeking into the valley the guide was successful in calling in some very vocal birds. The guide would call…and the three big toms would respond with raucous gobbling. This scenario continued until the birds were easily within gun range…but Bill froze. The guide grew a bit anxious…but continued his expert calling until each of the three toms were just about on top of the two camouflaged hunters positioned by ponderosa pine trees. Suddenly Bill made a quick move that broke the stalemate. Instead of reaching for his gun…he lifted his hand to simulate a pistol and rapidly pointed it at each of the birds saying “BANG, BANG, BANG…you’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead.”
As you can imagine…those lucky toms wasted no time escaping what surely would have been a deadly situation, at least for one of them. The utter chaos of the moment left the hunting guide totally befuddled. He continued sitting there in disbelief as to what he had just witnessed. Never before had he gotten a hunter in position to shoot and then seen the whole event unravel quite like this. Afterwards, the two hunters sat on the ground laughing and reliving the unusual moment just like a couple of young first-time hunters.
Bill’s hunt was a success. Too many years have passed to recall all the details, but knowing Bill if that event had occurred on his second day hunting (with one more day remaining) I doubt he would have hunted the next day. Seriously, in his mind he had shot a bird…and much like a hunter who might have already used his tag on a bird…Bill would have considered his hunt over at that point. Complete. And a real success.
Bill’s actions taught me a very important lesson in camp that year. When I now go hunting I don’t do so to prove my hunting prowess to anybody else. I hunt in a manner to be consistent with my beliefs, my ethics and my thorough enjoyment of the outdoor experience. When I strap on my boots to go hunting in the morning I don’t have anybody else to blame if the experience doesn’t live up to my expectations other than blaming myself. Truth is over the past several years I have countless times raised my gun on animals and only pulled a mental trigger because that’s what I chose to do at that moment in time. I’ve watched the game go bounding off because the only “bang” that occurred was mouthed by my lips and not by the muzzle of the gun.
Today when I greet an old hunting buddy I might not have seen since last season I try not to ask them what they killed. And believe me…it’s not because I’m against killing by any means. Instead, I know there are so many factors that go into a good hunt aside from simply just killing an animal. It’s the sort of stuff that anti-hunters will never understand about our sport because they never give it a fair chance.
When I hear about a hunter who shoots a big-racked animal or a limit of birds, of course I feel lucky them. But to measure a person’s hunt solely based on what they killed is not only immature, but in my opinion lacking a complete understanding of why they should be out in the woods in the first place.
A good sportsman might hunt their entire life without ever shooting what some would call a trophy animal. So what? It’s just not important. The quality of the experience you derive from hunting should not be based on making extraordinary achievements in killing game. To have such high expectations and goals for the hunt only sets one up for disappointment in the end.
One of the big faults of our modern world is the fact we tend to judge others by simplistic measures. You can’t be a successful car collector unless you have the trophies and ribbons to prove it. You’re not successful in the workplace unless you occasionally earn that “employee of the month” parking spot. How can you be a successful parent unless your kid grows up and does something positive with his/her life. Furthermore, how can you prove your marriage is successful unless you have the silver and gold wedding anniversaries to prove it.
Well, my friend, I’ve attempted to dispel a major misconception in the hunting world today. YOU CAN be successful as a hunter even if you rarely kill any animals to back up that claim. Besides, only desperate persons use such yardsticks to compare hunting abilities. Killing game might be the ultimate goal of every hunt, but that’s not to diminish the process we all enjoy by being outdoors and participating in this great pastime. After all, like ol’ Bill realized turkey hunting…coming home emptyhanded doesn’t necessarily mean that time spent in the woods or in the field is wasted. Remember, the only person you really need to impress while hunting is yourself.
© 2006 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.