I don't watch much outdoor programming. I don't get most of the channels that show it. Before I start teeing off on this subject, let me first admit to some things. Yes, I have been a professional hunter. I have been compensated to hunt. I have been a professional guide, compensated to put other hunters on game. I have been on television and I have made hunting videos and I have promoted products and been compensated for it.
I was, for about 20-years, a trophy hunter. I admit to all those things. What I won't admit to and don't think I have ever done, is put the antlers or whatever above fair play and complete disrespect for the animals we kill. I am not ashamed of one single piece of footage in which I appeared. Nor am I ashamed of any article I have written regarding hunting.
A few days ago, on someone else's television, I watch as a doofus, (maybe one of your heroes,), made an archery, gut shot on a 130-inch whitetail. He then, all in whispers, although the deer is long gone, does an end zone style, victory dance complete with whispered exclamations explaining how he "smoked him", gave him a "dirt nap" and is so excited about the "swamp donkey" he just shot. He is face-painted worse than any hooker I have ever come across-as if that mattered. It gets worse. He climbs down in the dark. Somehow, it went from morning to night. After talking about how hard they "worked" the blood trail, he finds the deer and lo and behold, it is bright daylight again. But wait. This deer is a much larger deer and the shot appears to be perfect, right behind the shoulder and the blood is still fresh???
And I have seen worse. It is not just one program. It is almost, all of them. There are a few good ones.
Now to the heart of this discourse. It is several days into our archery hunting season and hunting seasons across the land either are open or are about to open. Thousands of bow hunters will be heading out, some of the youngsters on their entry level hunts. Hopefully, most of these hunters will understand what hunting really is. What it isn't is a competition between humans! Write that down. There is nothing about hunting that requires a victory dance, high-fiving, fist bumping exuberance. You just killed something, a living, breathing animal. Show a little respect. Act like you have kin folk. You don't have to act like the bulk of the television idiots. They are trying to be stars and sell products.
Okay. What is hunting to me? The last and often least enjoyable part of hunting, to me, is the kill. The true enjoyment I get from hunting is unravelling the puzzle. The scouting, determining where the animals travel. The placement of the stand or blind. The sitting, watching learning what is happening in their world-the animals. When the time comes, if the opportunity is presented, yes, I kill. I do not harvest. I am not going to insult anyone by trying to make what I do more palatable to the squeamish. I don't' bag, I don't harvest. I kill. That is what I am doing in the woods with a bow or firearm. I am there to kill. I am trying to culminate all the time I spent learning. When I do, I do have a feeling of satisfaction. Not because I killed something but because I did something right.
However, when I do, I do not celebrate and I do not whisper. I am usually quiet, still, listening, watching. I am not sad, I don't shed a tear unless I have stuck a broadhead in my hand. I quietly say "thank you" and get on about the business of getting that animal ready for the table as quickly as possible. I follow the blood trail, usually within three minutes of the shot, (I'll explain why I don't wait in another column.). I get to that animal as quickly as possible and I gut it. I don't field dress it, I gut it. You may, if you wish, substitute eviscerate.
But the actual shot and kill is anti-climactic for me. Yes, it is the successful culmination of all the rest. But it is not cause for an end zone celebration. It is a time for respect, reflection, thanking God and going to work.
Yes. I have made bad shots. Yes. I have failed to find animals and some of them surely, later died and fed the scavengers of the woods. Yes, I have found animals long hours later that were still alive and required a finishing shot. My guess is, I have killed close to 500 game animals in my 62-years of hunting life and probably will kill a few more. Not all were killed with quick, clean, instantly fatal shots. But never, not once, have I jumped up and down in glee.
To date, best I can tell, I have killed 19-animals that qualify for various record books. Not one of them has ever been sent in for recording or officially scored. One of my most memorable trophies is a doe that had lived for at least nine years. I hunted her for a solid three years and for all but one minute of that time, she beat me. She made one mistake and I killed her. I was regretful the minute she hit the ground because the game was over and she should have won.
If that sounds silly to you, you do not understand hunting. Hunting, in a true sense, is not paying someone to put you in a shooting house you have never seen and killing whatever walks out. Think about it. You did no hunting. You just killed. Now, if that is what you want to do, fine. I have no problem with that.
It is a needed part of this business. You do realize, of course, it is a business. That is why we have televised hunting shows-to sell a product.
Hunting is walking new land, exploring, reading "sign", and making guesses and assumptions. Hunting is learning all you can about the game you hunt.
Hunting is enjoying the days you don't see a single animal you are after. Hunting is respecting the animals and the land, remembering, maybe making notes, adding to your knowledge of the woods and fields, knowing food sources and breeding patterns, trails and crossings and proper stand or blind placement. That is hunting. The rest is just killing. Nothing about hunting requires acting like a complete idiot.
That is for television...so you can sell a product and make a name for yourself. True hunters find it distasteful. As technology progressed to the point any idiot could do his own taping and production and some woman with expensive implants joined him to become an outdoor "star", outdoor programming went down the chute. Just my opinion, of course.
So hunters, respect the game you hunt. Act like your family is watching and use all the meat. If you can't, give it to someone who can. Then, if you want to preserve the memory, visit a taxidermist. Nothing wrong with well-mounted head or whatever. Just be careful you don't have so many done you have to build a new room, (inside joke.). And that is my diatribe for this season...until something else comes along.
Enjoy the game, the hunt and the memory. Above all, be safe.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.