What we can do, along with where we can do it, when we can do it and how we can do it, are pretty much defined by law as pertains to hunting. This is because, by law, all wild animals are considered wards of the state. The big boys in Cheyenne have the final say. My understanding is that, ostensibly, by law, they are charged with maintaining the overall health of the herds, as opposed to the wellbeing of a smaller segment of the herd or that of individual animals.
When we purchase a license to hunt a critter, we accept, or should accept, the common rules of fair chase. Some obey those rules and, then again, some don’t. But, in retrospect, that’s about as much regulation as a man needs when he’s following a tradition older than clothes.
All of which is why I have come to the conclusion that a person’s reasons for hunting, the why of it, and his ethics, if within the law, are a private matter. Which is to say that reflecting on those personal reasons as we grow older, might be something a person should do if only because things change with the passing of years. As persons, and hopefully as hunters, we grow as time puts more grey in our hair.
If you looked at the many mounted heads and antlered skulls hanging in our home and in my shop, it would be seemly to conclude that I am a trophy hunter. A term distasteful to many, especially non or anti-hunters. I’m not, in the regard that I shoot game only for bragging rights. I don’t and I detest that attitude in others. And yes, I have a couple of friends who do and several more exist right here in our tight little community, that relish the term.
I am primarily a meat hunter. If I cannot eat it or use its material being in some manner, then I don’t hunt it, like turkeys. I love to hunt turkeys and we can include ducks in here to. But I’m really not fond of them for groceries. In fact, I detest wild turkey on the plate, so I don’t hunt them, leaving that to others who enjoy the food and the pastime. Varmints are another subject altogether.
Back in the day, when Sandi and I were first married, I was what might be called a disciplined meat hunter. The success or failure of our hunts were judged entirely by the game taken for the freezer. Larger than standard antlers were a bonus when hunting bucks. Those big bucks usually yield more pounds of usable protein when butchered, wrapped and frozen. Maybe not better tasting on the plate, but to a long-haired country boy who was raised in a household where fried baloney sandwiches were a special treat, meat was meat.
My biggest trophy, body-wise, was an outsized 2x2 with very tall tines and an approximately 24 inch spread, that weighed a certifiable 178 pounds hanging in the butcher shop cooler, gutted and sans hide, head and hocks above the knee joint. Over the years I have been fortunate to kill five deer that had antlers huge enough and symmetrical enough to have qualified for the Boone and Crockett all-time record book, commonly referred to as “The Book.” Three were mule deer and two were whitetails. During that period of my life I wandered across many miles of mountain wilderness, spending virtually all of my off-duty time wandering and hunting. I was a lot younger, exceptionally fit and extremely hungry for knowledge of the wild country and it’s denizens.
You won’t find any of those outsized deer I killed in any of the record books because I consider that as an exercise in ego and maintaining a record of such as an ego particular to social climbers unique to the hunting fraternity and not the recording and honoring those outsize animals that it was originally intended to be. Otherwise, why list the hunters name? They didn’t create the animal.
In fact, quite the opposite. They have, in their pursuit of fame and some obscene sort of stardom, destroyed a creature they couldn’t, in their best days, create. This is not intended to censure hunters who slay mighty stags and such, only an effort to put those individuals obsessed with such status into perspective. When hunting solely for “The Book,” a hunter is basically competing with other hunters for recognition. Much like catch and release anglers taking photos of their catches for bragging rights among the brethren. It’s an unfortunate by-product of being human.
A meat hunter competes only against the critter and against him or her self. There are no records kept, except in the mind of the hunter. To me, a hunt should be more of a personal challenge than a good chess game. These days, it mostly isn’t.
Yet, for all of its negative baggage and negative connotations, ethical trophy hunting is but one of several justified reasons for hunting big game. Despite the ravings of the antis, ordinarily one’s selectively taking fully mature specimens from a “healthy” wildlife population does no long term harm. Limiting one’s take to only the older, exceptional animals may actually render the majority of the herd safe from the trophy hunter’s attention and removes senior animals from competing with younger animals for often times hard to find food. And, by the time this creature is large enough to merit special attention, under normal circumstances its genetic code has already been passed on multiple times.
I no longer hunt with the passion I did 50 years ago. Or even 20 years ago. Sandi and I need little meat for survival these days and neither of us have anything to prove to anyone other than perhaps, ourselves. Still, I am a hunter and my blood still stirs when an outsized rack comes into view, in season or not. And, having pride in a healthy wildlife population and loving the adrenalin rush of the hunt, quite naturally my writing will reflect this attitude. If you are among those who choose to be offended by my personal outdoor philosophy, then the problem is yours, not mine.
Perhaps the heads and antlers on my wall are little more than reminders to me of a time when men hunted for their existence and decorated the walls of their caves with magical drawings of wild beasts. So be it.