The Everyday Hunter: Trophy Hunting

Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen Contribiting Writer

Phrases I don’t understand catch my attention. As a writer I like words to have meanings we all understand. Words shouldn’t mean whatever we want them to mean. When they do, they are a barrier to communication.

Take the phrase “Love you.” If my wife says it, and a waitress says it, I hope they don’t mean the same thing. When you truly do love someone, how difficult is it to add the personal pronoun, and actually declare a commitment? “Love you” is much weaker than “I love you.”

I know not everyone will agree, and maybe I overreact, so let’s move on to another phrase, “friends of animals.” Who doesn’t think of themselves as a friend of animals? Hunters are friends of animals, and killing animals doesn’t mean we don’t love them. We may not feel warm fuzzies about big brown eyes, but we know that killing a deer helps not only the species, but other species that share its habitat.

Yes, “Friends of Animals” is the name of an organization that saved a mangy bear by taking it from its habitat, curing it, and prolonging its life in an artificial environment. I don’t object to that, but it does nothing for the mangy bear that walked through my yard several times last year, or any bear that caught the disease from it. Mange is a symptom of overpopulation, so this issue is bigger than a single animal. Spending enormous amounts to save individual animals is not the best investment in the species. Money goes further when it supports and sustains species, not just individual animals.

The author’s first buck was a five-point whose antlers fell off when he was shot. Was it a trophy? You bet it was!
The author’s first buck was a five-point whose antlers fell off when he was shot. Was it a trophy? You bet it was!

“Trophy hunting” can also be a confusing phrase. People who use it aren’t often clear about what they mean. Is a trophy hunter a hunter who shoots only the biggest, most impressive specimen he can find? Is a trophy hunter the one who aims to put animals in record books? Or can we call any hunter who brings home the animal he pursues a trophy hunter? I would say, yes, a trophy is the animal the hunter legally bags and tags, regardless of its size.
The questions “What does he score?” and “Will he make the book” might imply that a big animal is worth more than a small animal, or that the hunter who shoots a big animal is a better hunter than the one who shoots a small animal, but it doesn’t work that way.

“How can a small animal be a trophy?” you might ask. Good question. I’ve shot many animals. Regardless of size, all are trophies in my eyes. For me, every hunt is a trophy hunt.

Sometimes a trophy is represented by a keepsake — a set of antlers, big or small, or a hide or a skull, or just a photo. I regret that I do not have photos of some of my trophies.

Sometimes the trophy is in the intangibles. It might be the length to which the hunter went to succeed. Sometimes adverse hunting conditions make an animal a trophy, like the time I took a doe when the temperature was minus 26 degrees. A doe, mind you, was the trophy.

And that’s the way it should be. To a fox, a mouse is his trophy. To a coyote, it may be a fawn or a woodchuck. TV documentaries show us the hunts of lions and tigers and bears, and commonly refer to their prey as trophies. To be consistent, whatever a rifleman, a shotgunner, an archer, or even a trapper takes is also a trophy.

Enter your buck in a record book if you like (and I’ll congratulate you), but let’s remember that record books represent only a fraction of the trophies hunters take. When I shot my first buck, a 5-point, his antlers fell off. Was he a trophy? You bet he was.

I’m in favor of record books, but let’s not allow them to divide hunters, or to define what a trophy is. Every hunter pursues trophies, and if so-called trophy hunting (whatever anyone means by that) comes to an end, all hunting is not far behind.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.