Nothing was going to change my mind. I was six years old the day my dad brought home a 10-point buck, and I was convinced he was the best hunter out there. I couldn’t wait to go with him, and begin my career of killing deer.
My immature concept of a great hunter included two simple standards. A great hunter was the guy who got a buck nearly every year, and had at least one big buck to his credit. Dad met both standards, his biggest buck coming at the ripe old age of 29.
For many years I didn’t measure up to the standard I established. I didn’t kill a deer until my fourth year of hunting, and for many years I didn’t fill my tag more than two years in a row. It wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I finally shot a buck bigger than Dad’s biggest. If Dad was a great hunter, I clearly wasn’t.
Over the years my idea changed. I became a bowhunter and sometimes had my tag filled by the time firearms season came. Maybe I was a good hunter, but was hesitant to grade myself higher. I knew of hunters who not only killed a buck every year with a bow, but killed bucks bigger than I was getting. I’d sometimes see photos of them in magazines with more than a dozen, mounts fastened to a barn wall. If being a great hunter meant lots of big bucks on the wall, I was unlikely to duplicate their success.
The evolution of other hunters may not mirror my own progress — if you call it progress. I gradually began to care as much about the why of hunting as I did about the how. I now believe that hunting is more than killing, and part of my mission as a writer is to explain that.
So today, my standards have changed again. I now kill deer regularly, but killing isn’t as important as it once was. Sometimes a good hunter will go several seasons without killing a deer. His access to good property may be limited. Schedules and lifestyles may keep him from hunting as much as others do. Or, killing simply may not be his highest priority. So if killing deer regularly doesn’t make a good hunter, what does?
Back when I hunted mainly to kill deer, it was the kill that both motivated me and satisfied me. I’ve learned now that hunting is more than killing. I’ve learned that every hunter, whether he realizes it or not, is a small but essential piece of a bigger picture. Killing deer still brings a sense of accomplishment, but success also includes knowledge of the trees and the trails, and understanding the irony of being the indispensable predator — the one that helps wildlife thrive.
I now grasp what Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset meant in his classic work “Meditations on Hunting” (published in 1943) when he wrote “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted…. If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it: the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.”
The ambition of being a great hunter no longer matters. What matters is being able to hunt. The kill still motivates, but it’s the hunt that satisfies.
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, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.