Only by addressing several key issues can we ensure that hunting remains in good hands.
A couple of trends I see today concern me, because I believe that in the long run they could contribute to the current problem of declining hunter numbers. In the interest of trying to safeguard the future of our great sport, I feel compelled to conclude this book by offering my thoughts on these trends.
Whitetail hunting is becoming more and more an activity in which a person pays an outfitter or guide to select the stand, so that all the hunter has to do is shoot the deer. I believe many such hunters have dropped out of our sport and that more of them eventually will.
I want to make it clear that my intent certainly is not to belittle outfitters, guides or hunters who occasionally use them. I have many close friends who are guides or outfitters, and I am friends with some outstanding hunters who utilize their services. My point is that if a person relies totally on such assistance and never learns to hunt on his own, the art of hunting will be lost. In the long run, this could be detrimental to our sport. We need to teach young people, as well as some adults, the importance of learning how to hunt deer, not just how to shoot them. We need to teach hunters woodsmanship and the details of the life of the game they pursue. I do not believe the sense of self-accomplishment found in true hunting can be nearly as intense if we merely shoot a game animal someone else has found for us.
Hunting involves much more than shooting a deer. It takes more than just a casual stroll down a logging road while noting deer tracks and maybe a few rubs and scrapes another person points out. Hunting involves sore feet and aching legs from days of walking the hunting ground over and over during a scouting trip. It takes a lot of contemplation, study and time. In years past it was often stated that a consistently successful trophy hunter spends 10 times more hours scouting than sitting in a stand. While we do not hear that statement so often today, it is still true for me and for a lot of other trophy hunters with whom I am acquainted.
I would not allow someone else to figure out a buck’s pattern for me and then show me which stand to get into so I can shoot the deer. It would be my feeling that I had not hunted the deer; I would only have been the person who, for one reason or another, was allowed to shoot it.
I recently returned home from a four-day scouting trip to Illinois. I walked every inch of the 700 acres I will be hunting this fall. I found and noted all of the buck sign and funnels on that ground, then used that information to decide which trees to place my stands in. Next I prepared those trees for stands and cut shooting lanes.
As I headed home to Tennessee, the hunting part of my season was over. What I did on that trip was hunting. When I return in November, if I sit in one of the selected trees and take a trophy buck, that will be the shooting part.
When a person hunts long enough to realize there are no shortcuts to shooting a true trophy, he will do one of two things: He will start paying someone else to do his hunting for him, or he will invest the time and energy needed to learn how to outwit his quarry.
Acquaintances often ask if I will take them hunting. More times than not, they really do not want to go “hunting” with me. What they want is for me to do the hunting and then put them in a location where they can shoot a trophy buck. This type of person does not want to invest the time and energy that are part of deserving to shoot a big buck. All they want is the bragging rights that they believe come with killing a trophy whitetail. Personal accomplishment does not enter into the equation of their hunting. I always decline such requests.
Teaching Kids to Hunt:
Another problem, I believe, is letting very young kids kill deer. How many of the 7-year-olds we now see shooting them in videos or on television will still be hunting when they reach adulthood?
There is nothing better than for a person to get involved in the outdoors early in life. However, I question how beneficial it is to let a kid shoot a deer before the youngster understands what is involved in hunting. Are we not getting the cart before the horse?
The choice to kill a game animal should be a personal one made by a person mature enough to make such a decision. I think it would be terrible for a person to influence a young kid to kill a deer, only to have the kid regret it as he gets older.
From the time my sons – Ray, A.J. and Clay – were old enough to walk, they were in the woods with me. And yes, as kids they were asking me if they could go hunting. They were also asking me if they could go to work with me and drive my truck. By the time they had reached the age of 10, each had climbed more mountains, walked more miles and had been cut by more briars while scouting for deer than had most men three times their age. And, they had learned a lot about the life of a whitetail. Only after I was sure they understood what was involved in hunting and were mature enough to understand the value of all life and to know that death is permanent did I allow them to decide if they wanted to go hunting.
As I write this, Clay and A.J. are 11 and 12, respectively, and neither has killed a deer. Each has bowhunted with me for two seasons. During that span, I alternated taking one, then the other, to the same tree on the side of a mountain close to our home in East Tennessee.
While the boys did not know it, I purposely selected a location in which they were just about as likely to see a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep as they were a deer. Day after day I kept getting them up at 3:30 a.m. so we could climb over the bluff and down the mountainside to our stands before daylight. Then, about noon, after we had finished hunting, we would start climbing back up over the boulders, heading for home.
The first year we did this, 2002, neither Clay nor A.J. saw a deer. I kept reminding them that this is what hunting is really like, not what they are seeing on TV. After each trip I would ask them if they wanted to go back and if they were sure they wanted to be hunters, and the answer was always, “Yes.” After so many long, boring hours and the hardship of getting to that stand and back out, I wonder how many grown men would have kept going.
The 2003 season started out the same way. Trip after trip we went to the stand, again with no deer sighted. Then, one day in late October, that changed. (A tree must have blown down on the pen I had built to keep deer away from my boys’ tree stand.) That morning, three deer walked right up under Clay. His stand faced down the mountain, while mine was at the same height, facing uphill. It was my job to watch the mountain while Clay kept watch downhill.
As I sat there, I heard the unmistakable sound of deer running. Turning, I saw the three deer fleeing from beneath Clay’s feet. How could they have walked through open woods to end up below my son without his seeing them?
“I did not think they were real,” Clay later explained to me. “I thought they were a vision.”
After we talked it over, I understood. Clay had gone so many times and had sat for so many long hours in the past two years without seeing so much as a hair of a deer that he did not believe it was possible for him to see a deer while hunting. I guess he thought the three beneath him were another part of the daydreaming he had used so many times to help him get through the long, uneventful hours.
My boys now know what hunting is all about. A.J. and Clay have paid their dues. They can hunt better than many adults who have shot a lot of game. They will not get discouraged and quit if they go out a few times and do not see a deer. They are hunters.
This coming bow season, I will do everything I can to help each of them hunt a deer and then shoot it. And, believe me, because of the time they have put into trying and the hardships they have gone through, the excitement of their first deer will be overwhelming to them. In my view, a kid who goes hunting for the first time, sits 30 minutes, picks a deer out of 20 feeding in a field, puts the crosshairs on it and shoots will never experience the overwhelming thrill my two sons are destined to enjoy.
We should strive to cultivate hunters like Clay and A.J., who will always enjoy the hunt and the satisfaction of knowing that the climax was hard earned and well deserved. Only in hunters like them can we find the next generation of people who will fight with all their being to save the sport we love so much.
This concludes the chapter by chapter look at “Bowhunting Trophy Whitetails” by Bobby Worthington. (If you love to bowhunt the whitetail I highly recommend you do what I did and click the link above to purchase a copy of this remarkable book for your library ……. Robert Hoague, webmaster Bowhunting.net)