Fellow Deer Hunters, Professionals We Are Not

Posted on March 3, 2020


Deer hunters, as a collective whole are being duped by the “professionalization” of our grand sport. The mentality of a TV celebrity is not the mentality of the average Joe – it is not the approach of those that hunt for love of the sport. Being a professional has nothing to do with the heart of a hunter, his methods, desires, contentment or what the hunter hangs from a meat pole. – R.G. Bernier


Photo by Jay Kennedy


As New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, walks to the line of scrimmage, tied at three, he does so with confidence. His demeanor reveals little of all that is going on around him. The ball is snapped and handed off for a score that breaks the tie and ensures a sixth Super Bowl title. Tom Brady is indeed a professional, however, his execution under time restraints as he marches his team down the field is not why he is a pro. His ability to remain poised is born from experience, not title. The talent he exhibits as a gifted athlete, which has been built through repetitious practice, is not what makes him a pro. What makes Tom Brady a pro along with every other football player in the NFL is being paid by an organization to compete in a league that entertains millions of fans.

A professional then, would be someone engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime. And trust me when I tell you no one that I know of is being paid an annual salary to kill whitetails; no one.

In direct opposition to this is deer hunting, which has no teams, it’s not a competition, and despite the number of TV hunting shows that are hoping to do what hunting was never designed to accomplish, it is not a spectator sport.



However, there is a commonality amongst deer hunters once they reach camp, and it doesn’t matter what line of work they come from, they’re deer hunters. Be they bankers, bakers or candlestick makers, they all come with a common goal: to hunt and pursue the grandest game animal with whatever abilities they possess and do so under whatever conditions befall them.

I can easily recall being perched beneath a stately oak on the first morning of my initial deer hunt. As I sat with all of the curiosity of a ten-year-old, short of any kind of attention span, I reached my hand into yet another small Halloween bag consisting of numerous candy treats that I’d gathered from the night before. Not knowing what to expect, or when the deer would eventually arrive, my sweet tooth fix was suddenly interrupted as my father grabbed my shoulder and instructed me to slowly get up without making noise. How that happened without scaring the deer I still had not seen was in itself, a miracle. Once afoot and positioned directly in front of my father, the spike buck suddenly materialized before my own eyes. I was excited, nervous, and a bit tentative as Pop coached me through the entire process. Before I knew it, I was standing over my first deer. My first buck. Who knew that that day, along with that experience, would have such a profound effect on shaping the rest of my life?



A lot more bucks have fallen victim to me as my life-long hunting resume will attest. And with those hunting achievements came adventure, excitement, misses, mistakes, fun and education.

Through my initial love of the sport, love of the forest, and love of the whitetail my hunting passion eventually turned into a career. Through the mediums of writing, photography and speaking I have been able to make a living from the white-tailed deer. My job is and has been a labor of love. But let me be clear, this does not make me an expert; it makes me a guy that is passionate about the chase of whitetails, thirsty for understanding the animal, determined to capture all the behaviorisms of deer with a camera, and happy to share all that I have seen, confirmed and experienced about the white-tailed deer. Although I am indeed compensated for my writing, speaking and photography, and have been the recipient of a good many products, attire and the like for perhaps endorsement, that doesn’t make me a professional any more than me becoming a hamburger by walking into McDonalds.



Far too often it seems, words which have meaning are easily levied by over-zealous scribes in attempts to qualify their statements with titles like, Hunting Tips from 10 Pros, etc. My first question is, what makes them pros? Or, who determined them to be pros? Thirdly, what is the determination of them being pros? And, who is paying them to be pros?

I’ll paraphrase author Michael W. Goheen when he wrote that while in sporting life, videos, TV hunts, book publishing, and lecture circuits may have become an opportunity for celebrity status and for various other self-serving benefits, it does not a professional make.

The word “pro” is bandied about enough that unfortunately, it has become an almost household term to define successful deer hunters. For example, in the Spring 2019 issue of NAW on the Trails & Tails page, Jerry Ziegler aptly writes, “The kill isn’t why I hunt. I go for the serenity of the woods and the majesty of the outdoors. Enjoying nature’s beautiful scenery for a few hours on a Saturday morning is enough.” And then, a couple of paragraphs later, Jerry laments, “I’m just your Average Joe Hunter, and I’m fine with that. I love it just as much as [wait for it…] the pros do.”



Petersen’s Hunting Editor-In-Chief, David Draper writes in his November Op-Ed, “I understand deer management. I get the need for minimum scores and age restrictions…but I’m a hunter at heart, not a mathematician, and certainly not a guy who puts a measuring tape to an animal before I’ve even killed it.”

John Madson reminds us, “Hunting is one of the last genuine, personal adventures of modern man. Just as game animals are the truest indicators of quality natural environment, so hunting is the truest indicator of quality natural freedom. I do not hunt for the joy of killing but for the joy of living. And the inexpressible pleasure of mingling my life, however briefly with that of a wild creature that I respect, admire and value.”



It is my opinion, if someone, in some form or fashion is part of the industry and is not bringing back from their hunting forays tips, tactics and behaviorisms that can actually help fellow hunters, they are not educating, they are profiting. Some may believe they are in the deer hunting industry to get rich, but I’ll assure you, nobody is or will.

If you can control how many and what size bucks you are taking regularly, there is a better than average chance you are not doing it on the up and up.

If your deer hunting is for fame, you are doing it for ego. If you are taking short cuts, you are doing it to fan your own flame. If you think you are superior to the hunters that make up most of the deer hunting fraternity, you are arrogant. If you believe you are a professional, you are delusional.

“The best trophies are not things given or taken, but experiences that make us worthy of the game,” writes Christine Cunningham of Alaska. “The reward of hunting is individual — it’s what it means to you.”



If there is anything for the record, let it reflect that, although we are not paid professionals, may we always strive to act professional as deer hunters. And finally, may we always hunt for the right reasons. As Gene Wensel points out, “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.”

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer