For Love of the Game

Posted on January 31, 2012




“I used to believe, I still do, that if you give something your all it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you’ve risked everything put everything out there. And I’ve done that. I did it my entire life. I did it with the game.”     – Billy Chapel


In the baseball movie classic, For Love of the Game, 40-year-old Tiger pitcher Billy Chapel is faced with a major decision: be traded at season’s end after a 19-year tenure with the Detroit team or retire. In his final start as a Tigers pitcher, Billy is caught up in his thoughts without realizing that he is pitching a perfect game; that is until the bottom of the eighth inning.

Prior to taking the mound in the ninth, Billy has some final ruminations about his career. He picks up a baseball and pen, and inscribes along with his signature, “Tell them I’m through, for love of the game.” The ball is delivered to the former Tigers owner who when reading it, smiles in approval of the decision, while Billy finishes what turned out to be a perfect game.

As the movie depicts, Billy Chapel played baseball for the sheer love of the game. It wasn’t for money, fame, fans or ego.  He played it because he loved it. His girlfriend Jane said it best, “You, the ball, the diamond…that’s perfect…perfectly beautiful…” He played for the right reason: self-satisfaction. That used to be the case for hunters of the white-tailed deer.  They hunted for love of the sport. Regrettably, I sense a major shift in the motivation of today’s enthusiasts of the sport. Oh, the excitement is still prevalent and the desire to expand their whitetail knowledge continues to rise, but in the end the focus has become, in large part, the notoriety, ego and for some, whatever financial gain that can be had.  Let me explain.


Photo Ops

I’ve seen more than my share of dead deer in hero-shot pictures over the last few months that unfortunately are nothing more than advertorials for some manufactures product. The dead beast is positioned favorably to show off his antlers with the hunter either behind or beside the animal holding a product that supposedly provided the necessary edge in its capture. And then comes the brand name attire in the form of hats, jackets, insignias embroidered on anything imaginable, front and center for all to see. The latest trend in hero-shots seems to be in the positioning of a hunter’s rifle or bow at a 45-degree angle to the buck with the muzzle/riser laid against the animal’s rear flank to insure that the brand name on the weapon is highly visible.


Folks, this is not the National Football League or Major League Baseball, it’s deer hunting, where the life of an animal is taken (hopefully under fair chase). Deer hunting is not a game that can be won or lost.  How well you play the game determines the end result, period. Gene Wensel expressed it so well in his documentary, Primal Dreams, “Why we hunt is far more important than where, when, or how. Hunting for the right reasons is much more important than the act itself – it defines fair chase – our level of passion – our future – our very existence.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for taking the time required to set-up great field photos with a hard won trophy and the successful hunter, but does the animal that has already sacrificed its life need to be denigrated by becoming an instant billboard? Are these prevalent dead deer photos indicative of an attitude surrounding our beloved recreational sport of deer hunting? I don’t know, but it certainly seems to be a disturbing trend as more and more enthusiasts of the sport are being influenced. We must ask ourselves, “Am I hunting deer because I love it or does the act itself become merely the means to an end?”


Made for TV Whitetails


Having been privy to numerous conversations where otherwise rational people refer to hunting television personalities as their ‘hero,’ I must inquire if what they depict on screen is actually heroic? Without diminishing their deer hunting feats, the true definition of hero is, “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.  A person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.” Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem that TV hunting celebrities fit the bill. After all, how courageous does one need to be in order to kill whitetails? Let’s not confuse heroism with achievement.


When I start to think about the amount of pressure brought to bear on anyone making an attempt at killing a deer on camera, well, despite their on-air smiles, it’s got to be tough; especially when you’re dealing with a living creature that excels at secrecy. Here’s how it plays out: You have a whitetail TV show with sponsors paying the bill. Your celebrities are scheduled along with a cameraman to go on X number of hunts with the expectation of getting kill shot footage. So what happens when this doesn’t happen?

This is when the pressure mounts not only for the hunter, who desperately needs to perform, but for the guys behind the scenes.  Money is being won or lost where essentially; the hunt has now been reduced to a business where the whitetail is the commodity. The stress makes perfect sense since deer hunting was never designed to be a spectator sport to entertain the masses.


Where’s the fun? Where’s the enjoyment? And even when the deer has been taken on film, how can one possibly find any inner solace under these stringent guidelines? In reality, another dead buck on film ultimately translates into just another $buck$. The purveyors of such programming lure us in to watch, week after week, and in so doing, have a continual influence on today’s deer hunter. Is it any wonder we’re seeing photos that look more like billboards? Should there be any doubt as to why we hear and see terms like, Bam, BBD (big buck down) or Smoked Him directly following a kill? Where does this learned behavior stem from? Yep, you guessed it, TV hunting celebs. Is this fist pumping behavior not reminiscent of the end zone celebration; cocky to be sure, with perhaps some arrogance included? After all, it takes gall for someone to say, “If ‘so and so’ is on that buck, I wouldn’t want to be that buck.”

And might I add, when it’s all said and done, what about the dignity of the fallen buck? Does he become yet another prop used in the commercialism of it all?


Back to our initial question.  Do you hunt for love of the game? Are you a Billy Chapel?  Or, have you been lured into this fantasy world that has seemingly trumped reality?

Although penned over 82 long years ago, the proverbial words of Paul Brandreth still ring as loud, long and clear today with a message that should resonate with anyone taking up the chase of the white-tailed deer.


“Hunting is a recreation and invigorating pastime that never should, through a super-civilized, over-artificialized state of living, be allowed to die out. In this age of neurotic haste it means rest and renewed health to the man whose brain and energies are being constantly overtaxed. It means stronger muscles, a more vigorous constitution, self-reliance, hardihood. A real man does not care for sport that does not involve difficulty, discomfort and sometimes danger. The trouble with modern life is that physically it is terribly softening. We need something to counteract the effects of luxury and too easy living. Hunting does this because it takes a man to places where he has to depend on first principles, and where he comes in contact with obstacles that tend to build up and strengthen his natural abilities and manhood. It makes his eyesight keener, teaches him patience, and unfold many natural laws and beauties and wonders that otherwise would remain to him unknown. We all need something of the primitive in us in order that we may have a rock bottom on which to stand.”

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer