Defining Deer Hunting Success

Posted on February 16, 2016

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“Success can be measured in many ways; a fallen buck you’ll not always find.
The true blessing is being nature’s invited guest… the solitude and peace of mind.”
– Hart L. Daley

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How would you define deer hunting success? Would you feel successful when kneeling next to a fat fork horn? What about a doe? Is your entire hunting season viewed as a miserable disaster if you come home empty handed? Or, does your success hinge entirely upon wrapping your fingers around the gnarly bases of a huge buck’s antlers, one which is sure to attract plenty of attention? For some, it seems accomplishments come effortlessly and regularly, so much so that they find themselves in a rather enviable position…or do they?
Much like entertainers, sports stars, and television personalities, successful deer hunters of the 21st century have become household icons within the whitetail culture. They indeed have a fan base that follows them religiously within the pages of their favorite sporting press, that shows up wherever they are publicly appearing, and never misses an episode of their weekly hunting show. This phenomenon essentially took root in the mid 1980’s with the increased interest in whitetails by consumers and thus spurned the influx of mass media, supported chiefly by advertisers eager to sell new products to the whitetail-crazed masses. In essence, stars were born overnight. Deer hunters that were formerly content to bag their venison in ways that satisfied themselves, now show off their latest conquest to friends and relatives, only to return to a life of anonymity until the next deer season approaches.

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Culturally, we have become a people that are absolutely star struck with our idols. Is it any wonder that the most popular running television program in the U.S. is American Idol? What has become all the rage on the Internet? Facebook & Twitter. Is it surprising that this preoccupation with star status has crept into the deer hunting fraternity? If you are fortunate enough to shoot a record book deer you instantaneously become a celebrity, regardless of the effort put forth to attain such a prize. Historically, the deer hunter was an individual that reveled in an untrammeled sense of individuality, and cherished the sweat and toil required to bring his deer to bag. In his culturally defining 1841 essay, “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson argued that individualism must be grounded in effort and responsibility. He praised those who chose to work hard rather than show off, “A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who … always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.” In layman’s terms, diligent effort and hard work are what defines you. If at first you don’t succeed, suck it up and keep trying.

The Reality of Success

Do you remember when your mother used to say to you as a child, “Be careful what you wish for?” All that glitters is not gold. Often, the people who are most successful are the most miserable. Examples of this can be seen in the sudden premature deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley… the list could go on. A recent example of what rapid success can lead to is the story of Britain’s Got Talent vocal contestant, Susan Boyle, who at first glance was dismissed as a frumpy simpleton that had little to offer. In fact, prior to her singing, the audience was actually laughing at her as she spoke. But, once she began to belt out her song that all changed and when she finished the audience gave her a raucous standing ovation. As she rose to fame through the finals, increasingly more attention was given to her, accolades the likes she’d never received before. The end result of this attention was nothing short of disastrous. Susan was unable, and quite frankly untrained to handle the pressures that came with her new found fame and success. Sadly, there have been those deer hunting celebrities that have, like Ms. Boyle, become a fallen star due to the pressures of trying to maintain their star status.

Where did the Fun Go?

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Isn’t hunting supposed to be an invigorating pastime to be fully enjoyed? If it becomes more than a contest between you and the animal you pursue then perhaps the flavor of the whole experience has been unfortunately diluted. Hunting whitetails is an exercise of matching wit and wisdom against a formidable opponent where you need all you have to play it right. It’s not about comparing your level of success with some other chap who may or may not have had a greater advantage. Deer hunting is certainly not equitable; as the good book states, “Rain falls on the just and the unjust.” My standards may be all together different than yours, which doesn’t necessarily make me a better hunter, or you inferior; it is simply relevant to where you hunt, the size of the available deer and most importantly, the satisfaction derived once the trigger is squeezed. Sadly, I’ve had some disappointing conversations with hunters more times than I care to think about. Here’s how it usually goes: Joe (we’ll call him Joe) walks up to me at a show and strikes up a conversation. Generally, the first question Joe asks is, “How was your deer season?” By him asking that leading question, Joe isn’t so much interested in how I did as much as he is in doing a comparative of his own season. Rather than responding to his inquiry, I ask one of my own, “How was your deer season, did you shoot one?” Then, out come the pictures, followed by an almost apologetic response of, “Well, he was only…” Seriously? What robbed this guy of the joy that he obviously had to have felt the moment he walked up to his fallen deer? Somewhere along the line from the point of making the decision to shoot until now he has allowed outside influences to marginalize his success. Well Joe, here’s the good news, deer hunting is not a spectator sport, nor is it a competition, despite what is typically viewed on outdoor television programs.

When I start to think about the amount of pressure brought to bear on anyone making an attempt to kill a deer on camera, well, despite the 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. The hunting celebrity is scheduled, along with a cameraman, to go on a planned number of hunts with the expectation of getting kill-shot footage. So what happens when this doesn’t occur? This is when the pressure mounts, not only for the hunter who desperately needs to perform, but for the guys behind the scenes. Dollars are won or lost as the hunt has now been reduced to a business where the whitetail becomes the commodity. The tension in this scenario grows and makes perfect sense seeing that deer hunting was never designed to be a spectator sport for the entertainment of the masses.

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Where’s the fun? Where’s the enjoyment? 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 hero shots with large antlered bucks 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? From what does this learned behavior stem? 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? Could this be why Joe and so many more like him walk around feeling inept as deer hunters and have lost the fulfillment that deer hunting engenders?

The Ugly Side of Success

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I guess it’s just human nature to want what someone else has, but that doesn’t make it right or very endearing. Here is how it goes, the hunter who works diligently at his craft, puts in the time, pays his or her dues and scores consistently is eventually viewed by some as an outlaw. Let the gossip and rumor mill begin. First, doubts about the individual’s legitimacy are raised and are soon followed with negative aspersions being cast. Usually this behavior is demonstrated by insecure, envious sorts that cannot duplicate what the successful hunter in question has accomplished, and because of that feels it inconceivable that anyone else can achieve it legally. Finally, rather than applaud the success of another, these jealous dragoons besmirch and tear down the good reputation of the innocent.

Real Success

Success in deer hunting takes on many forms. Not everyone that takes up the chase is looking to kill the next world record whitetail. Most do not aspire to be celebrities or get their picture on the cover of a magazine. Deer hunters in general are hard working folks that just plain enjoy the solitude of the forest, the smell of frying bacon in the predawn hours at camp, the camaraderie of friends around a camp fire, the traditions of the sport that have been passed down for generations, and the thrill that comes with each whitetail encounter. For some, just seeing a deer while a weapon is in hand is a victory, while others feel a sense of accomplishment with the downing of their first whitetail. Still others who have shot deer in the past find satisfaction in limiting themselves to using only primitive weapons or employing a specific methodology. Each person who takes up the chase must set goals fitting their experience level and strive towards that end, counting each achievement along the way as personal benchmarks and a blessing from God. Deer hunting is not a spectator sport. No one is keeping score and comparisons only rob the joy from an otherwise enjoyable experience. It must be remembered that success is the achievement of something dared. For every victory there will be failure, for without failing, the victories would be nothing more than hollow triumphs.

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Let us be ever mindful of Gene Wensel’s words, “There comes a time when the beauty of simplicity overrides technology. Many of the finer things in life are among the easiest to enjoy, yet are often discarded in a rush for achievement. A real connection to the outdoors gets diluted by those hurrying their accomplishments. The true meaning of God, nature, and the circle of life lies right before our eyes. Traditional values, family participation, simple pleasures, and a respect for wildlife are essentials. The romance of the hunt is paramount to a quality outdoor experience, with memories and dreams being among our most cherished possessions.” And may we never forget, “The true blessing is being nature’s invited guest… the solitude and peace of mind.”

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer