Why do we hunt? Is it for the passing of time? Is it for the bragging rights of a well-earned trophy? The satisfaction of knowing that sometimes as a hunter you put yourself up against nature and succeed? Or maybe it’s the hearty, all-natural meals to come? For me, many things drive the desire to be in the woods every fall. When in the field, a feeling of rapture comes over me that I find no other place. Every time I step into the outdoors to pursue our abundant wildlife, an elated feeling fills my soul. The outdoors has shaped me into who I am today as a hunter, and has given me the confidence and the appeal to do the very best at all I do. Hunting has created a life for me; a life to live, and a life to cherish.
Yes, I have several nice bucks hanging on the wall and a score of turkeys accredited to my name. But is that truly our goal as sportsmen each time we enter the woods? Or is it to simply enjoy the hunt itself? As I have grown older, I have become more inclined to believe it’s the latter. However, I do say this carefully and with caution because I do enjoy taking a mature buck in rut and I do enjoy hearing my Remington 12 gauge go off on a big tom. But as hunters we enjoy every hunt. Success is not defined by the kill, but by the positive memories made, and knowledge gained while afield. As outdoorsmen we should enjoy every day that we enter the woods. The appreciation of each hunt as an individual is the focus and I whole-heartedly believe that most people in our coalition of conservationists feel the same.
A controversial topic that is commonly propounded is that of what a true “trophy” actually is. Some say that a “trophy” is a buck 5 ½ years and older. Others say a “trophy” is a buck with a spread outside of the ears. Some even go as far to say that a “trophy” is a buck scoring 140 inches on the Boone and Crockett Scoring system. I agree with all of them. I am a firm believer in all of these statutes but I also believe in the commonly habituated cliché that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I assume you realize where I am going with this. I believe that a true “trophy” deviates from person to person. For example, you see Chuck Adams on television taking nothing but the biggest game, because that is what a trophy is to him. These animals are what he is looking for when he steps into the woods. On the flip side, an individual may observe Ted Nugent shoot a 1½-year-old scrub buck that scores as well as the fingers on my hand (no incursion on Ted’s ways intended). Yet he shoots these animals with the enthusiasm and the ardor as if it was a 180-inch whitetail. You see, a true trophy can be a buck with a spread outside of the ears, or a buck that is 5 ½ years of age, but it can also be a buck that is yet to reach his prime. It all depends on the individual.
Some may ask how does an individual decide what is and isn’t a trophy for them? Well, that is the simplest question to answer of all. Say a 2½-year-old 8-point scoring 120 inches walks in range, if that animal gives you enough of a nervous breakdown that you almost fall out of the tree, then yes, you should shoot that buck. More importantly than this thought though is my next rule of thumb — would you be sorry after shooting this animal? If the answer is yes, then you should put the gun on safety and wait for a better-quality animal. Another rule to consider if hunting on private ground is the fact that most lands (public or private) have a size and age requirement on bucks that can be taken on those properties.
How we hunt is always a big topic in forums and discussions today. It just depends on the situation I am in and the query that I am chasing. But when it comes to fair-chase hunting, I believe that there is no other way to hunt. That said, if we divide ourselves as hunters, then we will only make it worse for our situation. This is the last thing that our heritage needs.
As a whole, it all comes down to principles. Whether we should do this or whether we should do that. I say (within reason and the law) that we all should ultimately do what makes us happy. Harvest animals that you want. Hunt the ways (that are ethical and legal) that you want to. The outdoors is there for us to enjoy. It is there for us to love and to pass on. It is there for us to conserve. This is how I feel about our amazing sport. And these are the principles in which I stand by.