The trophy hunter in us all
Trophy Hunter/Seeker - Such an interesting and often not fully vetted thought process… and I while this likely can’t go deep enough it endeavors to start the conversation. In my view, we us all (everyone) is a trophy seeker. From the garden to the store, to the river, to the woods… We want to grow the biggest tomato, we want to catch the biggest fish, we want to climb the highest peak, and yes I want to kill the biggest deer. It's not a conquering desire (as some may suggest) but a part of the human make up. To feel accomplishment from struggle and achievement. To deny that is to deny our very makeup and part in nature. Winning a race, climbing a mountain, or yes hunting a large animal is a mix of charged emotions from joy to sorrow. The accomplishment is immense and the feelings overwhelming.
In this picture I am collecting and tagging a 4x4 Mule Deer buck I killed in fall of 2018 on a backcountry hunt with friends. I had told them that I wouldn’t take anything but a 4x4 except maybe on the last day a 3x3. But that I would also be okay in going home empty handed. I was holding out. Does this make me a trophy hunter? I know the class of animals in the unit. I’d had stalks on two larger deer as well. I took this buck on the next to last day of a 14 day drop hunt, which was fortunate as the next day was a rain out. I’d had a 2x3 in what I considered a 100% sure position just a few days earlier and passed. You can’t eat the antlers is often quoted, and I claim to hunt to eat. So why did I wait? Why do we pursue a different animal? Is there a condition that we have to seek something that ineffably feels special to us at that time and place? I am no less proud nor happy about my first deer, which was a very small blacktail, yet I didn’t have it mounted, just took the antlers.
(Note I use the word kill. I do not wish to hide that fact behind words that seem less severe such as take or harvest, to me at least that disrespects the wild, the animal, and the hunters before me. I am killing, I am eating, I am taking part.)
Many of my non-hunting friends say, “I like how you hunt because you’re not a trophy hunter you eat what you kill.” And I reply that I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. That said even if someone hunts specifically for a trophy in all the cases of legal hunt that I am aware of somebody benefits of meat and of dollars to conservation. Yes hunting for conservation is a reality, strange as that may seem. Many species hunters raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every year even if we are not allowed to pursue them. Furthermore, more than a few species have recovered and become unendangered due to hunter and conservationist support.
The number one danger to animals and the wild is people. It’s not the hunter though, it’s the ever expanding city, the pollutants, the encroachment and the way we change our environment to us versus changing to it. This also creates imbalances in the cycle of predator and prey populations. Hunters adapt to their surroundings, face the same punishment and challenges their quarry does… To be such a part of nature that we are entwined within it. Hunters and fishers are the number one conservationists I know. Hunters battle to shut down rivers and forests, to restore wild and waters, and to save public natural areas.
Often when I am fishing I rest my palm just grazing the surface of the water while swinging my fly through the currents. It’s as though I can feel the pulse of the river.
Or when hunting my 2nd season I moved so slow and relaxed I had a doe walk toward me during a rain shower so close she was under 5 yards away. She shook and I could see every droplet of water flung from her fur. It was breathtaking. It felt very much like a normal thing to be there in the rain together. That in part is why I go.
I know I don't need to hunt. I can buy all my food needs at the store. Why does any of us grow a garden, fish, dig clams, crab, gather wild foods, or hunt? It’s a human need to not only understand our food but to relate to it. I would offer this suggestion… Perhaps most growers, hunters, and gatherers are more in tune with themselves and the world around them than those that buy every meal and rely upon the industry that provides such. There is not something wrong with those that do but at least in my opinion they are missing something bigger than themselves and something amazing and wonderful.
To round out all this… I don’t get upset when I see people who disdain what they believe is trophy hunting. There is usually a perception difference in what is a trophy hunter. Hunters see anyone illegally taking an animal simply for display and not for food a trophy hunter and a poacher. The non-hunting public, may see a hunt for a trophy class animal or personified or canonized animal as trophy hunting. Hunters abhor poaching “trophy hunters”, recent examples of this are hunting organizations putting up reward money to catch poachers of elk. Tthere are unfortunately are some examples of illegal trophy hunting where a head has been taken and the rest of the animal left to waste! Hunters may have differing opinions of how to manage wildlife and our role within that but we vehemently pursue and abhor those that are seeking a trophy only. That is not trophy hunting that is poaching.
It’s also quite apparent that its an awkward new Social Media world we live in now that creates reactions that are larger than the issues. “Which side are you on?”, “Are you Good or Evil?!?”, “How could you?!?” It’s most certainly not that clear. It also ties to marketing, imagery, and propaganda. To sell to hunters, sponsored hunting athletes are going to post pics that serve to elevate themselves. (Just as any athlete does - in my opinion there is no difference in selling a running shoe or hunting boot.) As with any sport or activity there are those you will like and those you cannot seem to see eye to eye with. Inspirational hunters to me I encourage you to check out are Randy Newberg, Tim Burnett, Remi Warren, and Donnie Vincent to name a few.
Do we pose with our quarry? We certainly do. I also did when I only fished. Or when my dad grew a gigantic Cucumber. That went on Facebook too. Those are acts of sharing not trumpeting. Sharing ties us and our events back to the daily world we live in and those around us. It says I carry you with me when I do these things and want you to see and share a little in the story. I share deer meat too. So yes I hate poachers (aka trophy head hunters), but the pictures and stories I see I get to wonder at the experience that each convey.
All in good understanding and with my best muddy foot forward,