Posted on August 27, 2013



“As I don my woolen clothing in the mornings silent sigh,

My thoughts roll slowly back in time to days now long gone by.

Days of old pass through my mind when my ancestors cut the track,

Then a smell or sound or sight, who knows, quickly pulls me back.


I gaze into the sullen sky as I step out on newborn snow,

Longing to discover the biggest buck a hunter could be graced to know.

A passion burns inside of me, stirring within my soul,

Hard to explain its origin, but it drives me towards my goal.”

                                                                               Hart L. Daley


In a recent Deer & Deer Hunting editorial the question was posed, “Have we lost our way?” Contained within his stump the editor, Daniel Schmidt, expounded that, “Deer hunting used to be about deer camp, good food and great friends…it used to be about friends and neighbors caring and sharing so much that compassion ruled above everything else connected to the hunt.”

I don’t believe it a stretch to state that we as a culture of deer hunters have, as a whole, indeed “lost our way.” There was a time when the huntsman would tramp from back woods cabin to back woods cabin, all the while relishing the solitude and solace of his experience. The hunt itself was the charm, despite the oft discomforts, difficulties and physical demands. And if and when the buck of his dreams appeared, it was merely a blessing atop the entire hunting experience.


Romanticizing aside, we have lost our way in part as a direct result of not taking the clear path cut by our forefathers. In our zeal to conquer and succeed at all costs, we have artificialized and mechanized our tools. We have abandoned woodsmanship and relinquished our patience, replacing them with technology. The desire for comfort and instant gratification, a by-product of the culture, has eroded our navigational process. We want guaranteed outcomes as quickly and comfortably as possible with the end result (a big dead buck) ultimately justifying whatever the means to kill him.

In his book, The Whitetail Chronicles, nature photographer Mike Biggs asked, “Who knows what the future (of deer hunting) will bring?” He continues with this expose penned back in 1998, “It will definitely include more intensive management of whitetails than ever before. Whitetail sperm banks are already in existence. Specialty helicopter crews now use “net guns” to capture and relocate scores of wild deer in just a few hours time. Deer from different regions and different blood lines are being cross-bred much like cattle. Whitetail diseases are being treated and/or eradicated. Nutritional needs are being micro-managed and studied in every detail.”

Mike then goes on to ask about what is perhaps at the very core of why we have indeed lost our way:

“Will technology eventually create such artificiality that it could destroy the mystique which brought us here in the first place? In extreme cases that might be possible. Certainly we don’t want to see whitetails come to share the same status as livestock. Nobody wants to hunt a Hereford. For most of us, the real final frontier of whitetail enlightenment lies in the accurate perception of their lives and times – the true understanding of how whitetails live, develop, behave and age under natural circumstances. We want the knowledge. We need the mystery.”


So what happened? How did we lose our compass bearings and can we ever get back on the right track?

From sustenance to glory 

The act of hunting is as old as mankind and became a means by which hungry mouths were fed. In fact, the late George Mattis once wrote, “There was a time when the American hunter lived closer to the environment of his quarry than he now does. Because the hunt served him some practical and obvious end, he looked upon woods lore as the tool of his profession. Such a man was ever conscious of the simple phenomena in his outdoor living. He was quick to observe a change in wind direction, was aware of the moon’s phases, could interpret tomorrow’s weather by today’s sunset. He sensed when his game was flighty and when it was restful and calm, and he knew how the weather affected the movement of wildlife.

The serious hunter willingly footed a backwoods trail during inclement weather, or kept a lonely surveillance over a deer runway till dusk because he knew here were his best chances for seeing a deer. In short, his success as a provider of game for the table depended upon knowledge gained from his personal experiences in the wilderness.


Because wild game for food no longer plays a great role in our economy, much acquired outdoor lore has been lost to the modern hunter. The hunt now takes on a totally new significance in our urbanized society; it has become primarily a much needed recreation for a large sector of our outdoor-minded population.”

Little could George have ever imagined back in 1969 when he penned those words how much further we would travel from our foundations. Today, deer hunting has been transformed from an invigorating, recreational pastime into a nationally televised spectator event that appears on numerous cable channels. What was once deemed sacred and personal has been, in my opinion, denigrated to fist pumping, chest beating, ego driven displays over the death of a wild whitetail. The lingo of these television episodes further condemns the participants and cheapens the experience with phrases like, “BBD” (Big Buck Down), “gave him a dirt bath” and “smoked him”. Essentially, what is being aired is not a deer hunt at all, rather it’s 23-minutes of spliced film consisting of B-roll footage of deer captured from who knows where, suspenseful music, whispering, lots more whispering and the climactic execution of the intended target. The ultimate goal for most of these productions is to get the kill, get it on film, do it as expeditiously as possible and convince sponsors why they should advertise their products on their program. It’s not about the hunt and it’s certainly not about the whitetail. In reality it’s all about the almighty $buck$.

Is it any wonder why hunters find themselves in a vicious cycle chasing unattainable goals? Should it be a surprise that these hunters find themselves unhappy, unsatisfied and unable to reproduce what they’ve seen on television?


It seems that everyone wants some form of guarantee, even if it’s not valid. If I spend my hard-earned money on a hunt, “What am I guaranteed?” is possibly the most often asked question by prospective deer hunting clients, followed closely by, “What is your success rate?” Is that to mean if you don’t kill a buck or a certain class specimen that the trip is deemed fruitless and a waste of money?


Hunting deer is an active pursuit whereby the end result is yet to be determined. That’s why it’s called hunting and not shooting. We have worked so diligently for personal securities that our expectations have reached far beyond our grasp. This is indeed an American tragedy, one which has made its way into the deer hunting ranks. The great scribe of the Hampton Plantation, Archibald Rutledge wrote, “The greatest foe to the constant exercise of all one’s course, aspiration, and effort is what we vaunt as security. Indeed, one of the real tragedies of civilization is that so many men and women of genius never really exert themselves. They do not because they are cursed with security.

Without insecurity, which once made us alert and independent, we lose that vital spark. Our early colonists had no subsidies, no handouts, no artificial work and wages created for their ease and demoralization; and yet look what a country and what a civilization they built…By some kind of negative logic, hardship, which we are accustomed universally to lament, is a blessing; and security, for which we long so ardently and strive for so unremittingly, may betray us.”


The surest and possibly wisest decision to be made when realizing that you’ve lost your way is to retrace the steps that got you to where you now find yourself. Get back to where you started. Remember when deer hunting was fun? Remember the sleepless nights before opening day; the child-like wonderment of the big woods; the camaraderie of deer camp; the hope of success despite not having trail-cam photos; and the intrigue that came without guarantee?

 Have what it takes 1

If indeed we have lost our way, it is not forward that will lead to progress – not in this instance anyway – but we must turn back towards the place from which we came. We need the romance. We need insecurity. We need the mystique. We desperately need the mystery, for it is those nuances alone that will provide the real and lasting inner satisfaction and place us back on a sound, familiar trail.

We have fallen victim to the trap of ideals laid out by the well-intentioned, thinking they had uncovered a simpler and less burdensome hunting methodology that could provide better results. What they never took into consideration was the fascination that would ultimately be lost from the entire hunting experience.


The thing that cements the love of a man for his carpet of leaves and his ceiling of stars is the knowledge that just being involved is enough. There is no score worth keeping. All we should ever count is hours, never birds, nor length of antler or hits or misses. If we want to do something where we can’t lose, then we must accept the proposition that we cannot win. We are not involved in a contest, but a very simple and pure journey that promises each day will be different, unrepeatable, and unrecapturable. Each time is unique. If there is anything of value to be entered in the log, let’s leave it at a series of impressions. A day without deer is a day spent in delicious solitary thought, a day that might bring you closer to understanding the infinite mystery of it all.

Gene Hill

 All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

© 2013 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

Posted in: Whitetail Deer