It’s Not About The Killing

Posted on January 6, 2015



 “Without the hunting, the killing would have no drama, no special meaning or value. Without the hunting, the killing would merely be the extinction of an animal, which would hold no special interest or appeal. The hunting, then, does not justify the killing. Rather, it gives the killing a meaning and value.” – Lee Nisbit




If we killed a deer every time we went out, would it be hunting? If we were successful each season, killing a mature antlered animal five years old or better, would this be considered hunting? What about top end specimens being taken regularly, and done under fair chase with out even a hint of breaking any laws? Sorry folks, I don’t think it can be done. And if it could be, it should not be called hunting; killing would be a more apt description. Those that claim they are doing it and leading us to believe it is relatively simple are probably not doing it legitimately, and they darn sure aren’t doing it for love of the sport or to feed hungry mouths. To them, it’s all about feeding their fragile egos.

And then there are those that just have to kill a buck to maintain a certain status quo. In order to accomplish this consistently they end up occasionally shooting a smaller deer than they would have liked; at least smaller than what they think their “followers” would expect. To justify the kill, silly rationales are offered up, such as: “He got in the way”; “He’s only this big”; “It was a mercy killing – He’s just a bag of bones”, etc. Let’s face it folks, we all make mistakes and when we happen to shoot a buck that ends up with major ground shrinkage, we should deal with it honestly. You’ll get a lot more respect than those who feel compelled to make excuses.

Understand, not a single deer hunter is under any contract obligation that demands they produce a quality specimen annually. And even if we were, it would be tough if not impossible. When you look at a professional baseball player, for example, even they have slumps where they fail to put up the kind of statistics that made them famous.

I’m now at an age where it has become easier to look back and realize that, had circumstances not been favorable to me, I would never have shot the animals I have. And during those dry years when nothing seems to be working, I need to be just as sensitive to realize the Creator of all life has engineered circumstances unfavorable to me for my benefit. Even though I have been diligent in plying my craft, that’s no guarantee of killing what I’d like in any given year.



Here’s a section from a recent article on titled, Is Greatness worth It, by Barnabas Piper:

Greatness comes at a price. In his book Outliers: Stories of Success, Malcolm Gladwell posed the idea that it costs 10,000 hours of practice to be truly great at something. He mentions Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as examples, as well as Michael Jordan. Others who fall into that same category are stars, past and present, like Ted Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods. Every sport has athletes known for their obsessive work habits and dedication to mastering their craft, and the same is true of most prolific authors, actors, movie directors, musicians, designers, and even pastors.”

But what did it really cost? Every hour given to practice is an hour debited elsewhere. Family, relationships, personal spiritual life, mental and physical health, rest, and service to the church or community all pay taxes to “greatness.” ”

Think of your own life and the things in which you would like to excel: work, a creative endeavor, fitness (deer hunting?). To do them it is necessary to not do something else, and often that something else truly matters…  Yet these are the things we set aside to become great in some other area. Is it worth the cost?”

I will tell you that it takes maturity and appreciation to enjoy a season when things don’t go your way. And, may I add, not having to feed an ego. Trust me, I’m as competitive as they come and more determined than most, just ask my wife, kids, or any of my close friends. You can probably imagine that when I don’t score, it goes down a bit like cod liver oil did when I was a kid, and leaves a terrible taste in my mouth. But guess what? Whenever it happens, it makes me better (well).




Early in my writing career, my first and most demanding editor, James Ehlers shared the following with me: “Dickie, it’s only deer hunting; there’s far more important things in life than killing a deer.” And you know what? He was absolutely right. Yet, sadly there are those who crave the limelight and want so desperately to be thought of as ‘all that’, they will concoct stories and make up circumstances that cast them in a favorable light. These embellishment aside – as if they were not enough – there are also hunters that step over the legal line in order to feed an insatiable ego. Don Higgins writes:

The deer hunting “industry” is becoming more sickening with each passing year as evidenced by that attached link. (High profile Illinois hunting show host and pro-staffers arrested for hunting violations on 11/2014) Some want to blame it on “trophy hunters” or big bucks but the truth is it is over-inflated egos that is the real problem. The most ethical and conservation minded hunters that I know are ALL “trophy hunters” without exception. Hunting has gone from being a solitary sport enjoyed without competition to a spectator sport with one ego-freak after another vying for first place in the biggest head contest. Outdoor television and hunting product companies are a big part of the problem promoting one kill-monger after another in a race to separate hunters from their money while also pacifying fragile egos. Today, deer hunting lacks for some true role models.”



When hunters begin recounting tales of almost unbelievable feats, they are usually unbelievable because they have seldom really happened. Now I’m not calling anyone a liar who tells or writes about shooting unsuspecting bucks regularly from 30 yards in their bed, all the while remaining inconspicuous. I am saying that more than likely they’ve taken a shred of the facts and surrounded it with a whole lot of hyperbole. Why? Because they want to be and feel superior to the rest of the deer hunting world. Although money can, and often does play a role, this behavior really boils down to a superiority complex and just wanting to be better than everyone else.

 Curious George 1


One of my favorite TV programs is Curious George, which I watch regularly whenever my grandkids are with me. (Ok, sometimes I watch it even if they are not at my house.) At the conclusion of each episode a child says: “George is a monkey, he can do things that you can’t do.” The reason that those pretending to be George in the hunting community can make claims of hunting feats the rest of us find difficult or nearly impossible is no one is watching. Hunting is not a spectator sport.



You see, professional sports such as baseball, football, basketball and hockey televise every game and have multiple cameras filming from every angle from within ballparks, gyms and rinks. Likewise, some of these hunters have TV shows and others have made videos. How do you account for their success on film? Simple. First we must ask ourselves, were we present when they filmed the hunt? Were we part of the editing process that produced the event? Why is it when they begin boasting of a stupendous hunting achievement they may have to apologize that it wasn’t filmed, especially when most of the guy’s (or gal’s) other stuff is? Seriously folks, think about it before you buy into the deception that is used to foster someone’s fragile ego.


Hunting for the right reasons



On the flip side of the coin, hunting, in my opinion, is all about the chase and the excitement of the adventure that comes with each new day; the hopes of an encounter with a majestic forest resident. Gene Wensel beautifully expressed why hunting for the right reasons is so much more than filling deer tags:

It has minimal relevance concerning numbers, measuring tapes, or competition amongst ourselves. It does have a lot to do with challenge and personal satisfaction…It has to do with proficiency and the challenge of getting closer to our quarry, and to ourselves…It has to do with adventure, history, heritage, and primal dreams. Things like the excitement of a close encounter, the thrill of victory, or the agony of defeat…And knowing when to shoot or when to pass.”

James was absolutely right when he said there’s far more important things in life than whether R.G. Bernier kills a deer. Things such as a phone call from your wife of nearly 35 years telling you she does not have breast cancer, following a second mammogram; watching a father in-law who has dementia and Alzheimer’s snap out of his month long depression when you return from a month away; shortening a deer season because your grandkids are coming for Thanksgiving; watching your beagle turn herself inside out with excitement upon seeing you return from a month long absence and hearing that your daughter was bragging about her daddy regarding things you had no idea she actually thought were important. Folks, no dead deer can ever hope to compete with these things, regardless of how big his antlers are.


“Hunting deer has very little to do with killing animals or hanging heads on the wall” –  Gene Wensel


There’s no better summation to this than the one given by Gene Hill when he writes:

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.”



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Posted in: Whitetail Deer