PICTURE THIS. IT’S EARLY SEPTEMBER of 1979. Dave, my teenage son, and I are bowhunting Colorado mule deer on the Hot T Ranch near Horsefly Peak, not all that far from Montrose. For the record, I arrowed my first muley in 1965 and had taken a dozen or more of the long-eared bucks since then. Dave, himself a budding bowhunter at the time, had tagged whitetails and black bear with his own bow, but had joined me in ’79 for his first Western deer hunting adventure.
Since before sunup we’d been slowly still-hunting through pockets of quaking aspen and oakbrush flats without any close encounters. That abruptly changed when I glimpsed a forkhorn emerge from a rocky draw maybe 50 yards to the right and head our way.
“Buck,” I whispered to Dave.
He nodded and carefully nocked an arrow without taking his eyes from the approaching deer. As the fat youngster passed behind a tree at 25 yards, Dave slowly drew and focused on the walking forky.
From my vantage point at my son’s left shoulder, I could see two clear shooting lanes in the brushy jungle between us and the muley. As it entered the first lane, I fully expected Dave to take the 20-yard shot. But he patiently held off and continued to slowly swing with the moving animal. At 15 yards, just when the mule deer entered the second shooting lane, the deer suddenly saw us and stopped. Too late! Dave’s arrow was in his ribcage before he could turn and bounce away.
Both of us instantly knew the sharp broadhead had cut through both lungs and Dave’s first muley would be waiting at the end of a short blood trail. I’ll never forget that extra special father/son moment when Dave took a very special trophy buck.
A TROPHY BUCK? Hey, that mule deer was only a forkhorn!
True enough, but for more than half a century spent bowhunting across North America and sharing those adventures in magazine articles, columns, books, seminars, and after-dinner talks presented to hundreds of thousands of readers and listeners, I’ve repeatedly gone on the public record with a pair of oft-repeated quotes taken directly from the Book of James.
One personal quote is this: “Any big game animal – male or female — legally and ethically taken under the rules of Fair Chase is a true ‘trophy’ to the hunter who killed it.”
Another favorite saying goes like this: “An animal doesn’t need to make the Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett record book to be considered a true ‘trophy.’ It only needs to make the ‘book’ of the satisfied hunter who released a bowstring or sent a bullet on its way by squeezing the trigger.”
Fact is, I honestly don’t know how many total entries I’ve listed in the P&Y and B&C records over five decades-plus. I only know I’ve been blessed to enjoy hundreds of successful hunts and witness many more successes while afield with friends or family members. Though it’s true I do register most qualifying animals in the records, it’s because I know most of the entry fee money paid is used for pro-hunting, pro-conservation efforts by the record-keeping organizations.
Isn’t “trophy hunting” mostly an ego thing? Of course it is, for some people. As an official Pope and Young measurer since the late 1970s, I’ve encountered a few folks who were actually bummed out when their animal missed qualifying for “the book.” Yet for the most part, the men and women I’ve met at scoring sessions remain justifiably proud of their trophy, regardless of the total number of inches the antlers, horns, or skulls end up scoring.
How anyone can be proud of a nice whitetail buck someone green scored at 127-3/8 can be disappointed when its official score ends up 124-7/8, is beyond me. It’s the same buck and the special memories of that hunt won’t change in the coming years. If a score on a certificate and in a book means that much to a hunter, something’s wrong with his or her way of thinking. Validation of a record book animal should be icing on an already very sweet cake, nothing more.
I KNOW I’LL PROBABLY NEVER KILL a World Record animal. Of course, that’s true of all but a mere handful of hunters. But the knowledge that all records do fall in time is both intriguing and challenging. The chance, however unlikely, does exist. And it could happen to you or me.
To my way of thinking, it’s best to simply enjoy each and every hunting adventure. Be pleased to collect an outstanding animal – or any animal, for that matter – rather than seeking out an implausible dream and become lost in that endless quest.
It was Fred Bear, the iconic bowhunter whose legend still lives more than two decades after his death, who summed it up perfectly when he said, “A hunt based only on trophies taken fall far short of what the ultimate goal should be.”
Remember, trophies come in all sizes. Bigger doesn’t always mean better. Just ask any youngster or novice hunter who stands grinning down at their first or latest kill. Just ask any veteran hunter who understands the truth about “trophies.”
If you like to read M.R.’s bowhunting adventures you will love his newest book, Hunting the Dream.
Hunting the Dream is available now so be sure and get your copy of this great book.
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