By Jason Wright, Co-Host of Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV
As a television co-host with Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV, I have had the opportunity along with my business partners Kurt Schirado and John Arman to provide input through a variety of media. This includes hosting seminars during the off-season, outdoor articles, as well as radio segments with Dakota Prairie Outdoors throughout the past 8 years. I have jotted down a few of the most often asked questions and/or those questions that I found myself preoccupied with days or possibly weeks later while sitting on stand overlooking a cornfield, or as I waited patiently perched atop a high vantage point in hopes of catching a glimpse of a buck. Below is one of those questions which are oftentimes debated amongst big game hunters. I too find myself pondering over and now attempting to address within this article, partially for the entertainment of our readers. This is also an opportunity to put some of my own thoughts on paper, and I think that many hunters can relate to the topic through their own experiences in the field. Some will agree with my opinion(s) while others will disagree.
In your opinion, what is a trophy hunter, and do you consider yourself to be a trophy hunter?
Have you ever browsed the photo gallery of an outdoor website and found yourself drooling at the number of photos displaying hunters with “trophy” bucks and/or awed at the introduction of many televised hunting shows displaying colossal long tined bucks with mass similar to that of a Louisville Slugger. Do you ever ask yourself, “Do they live in the same world I hunt?” or “What am I doing wrong?” I do. Wait…I know…They must all be trophy hunters obviously passing numerous nice bucks only to have a monster walk by them the last day of the season; right?
It can deflate the self-esteem of the most experienced hunter after looking at photo after photo of monster bucks taken by fellow sportsmen/women, and for the most part they are just normal outdoors men/women just like us; weekend warriors. We all dream of wrapping our archery or rifle deer tag around the base of a 170” – 180” whitetail – at least those of us that live in the world I hunt do – but unfortunately, reality hits and the fact is there most likely isn’t a deer that big within miles of where most of us hunt. I know, with all that cover and wide open space, there must be at least one 180” whitetail or 200” mule deer that will eventually cross my path. Yes, and if we are truly lucky, he might just appear from the other world – the world of trophy bucks.
Ok, so I am being a bit sarcastic, and yes the possibility of a giant buck in your hunting unit does exist, and it’s this illusion that drives us to prepare, scout, and hunt as hard and smart as we possibly can while passing up numerous respectable bucks because we are searching for the dream. After glassing another buck, we find ourselves turning to our hunting partner and repeating the same phrase day in and day out, “Just another really respectable and heavy 4×4 with good brow tines,” talking ourselves out of shooting decent bucks that will supposedly grow to enormous proportions in two years if we let them walk. But, will this actually happen in the world you and I hunt?
Congratulations we have now become trophy hunters, but the real question might be, “Is this really the world we want to join?” When I looked up the definition of the word “trophy,” some words really stood out among the rest: victory, success and memento. But, I failed in finding any definition that stated anything about the largest deer in the woods or the inches of antlers required to be considered a “trophy” big game animal. So what exactly is a trophy buck? Is it a standard set by you/I or is it something that we feel we need to live up to in order to impress other hunters?
Most avid hunters that I know began their hunting careers knowing only what their parents had passed down to them; therefore, in their early to mid-teens the first big game animal was either a mature doe or small antlered buck. Then throughout the years these same hunters – me included – learn to appreciate the outdoors as well as hone their skills whether rifle or bow and become more proficient with their weapon of choice. As we go through these stages of hunter development antler size also becomes the goal from one year to next as we continue to raise the bar until the bar is nearly out of reach for most of us that call ourselves hard hunting weekend warriors.
I have watched many hunters go through the phases of becoming a proficient outdoors person, and listened to them tell me about how nothing ever seems to go their way anymore and/or how they have used up all their luck. Don’t get me wrong, nothing unfortunate happened to any of these hunters while in the field. Their outdoor adventures haven’t produced shots at anything but nice bucks, decent bucks, or respectable bucks; no opportunity at a monster or trophy buck. I begin to wonder if their inflated standards, while in search of a trophy buck, blurred their vision as to the real world they’re hunting. The reality for most of us hunting the great state of North Dakota is the unforgiving winters, amount of land we all have access to whether it is private or public, and the agricultural practices which assist with growing trophy size racks. It’s obvious that there are places that are managed for trophy bucks throughout the country which all of us have the same opportunity to hunt, but you had better have much deeper pockets than me if you want to hunt some of those ranches. There are some unique areas found within North Dakota that definitely do produce and/or grow big bucks, and many hunters throughout the state consistently kill big deer every year because they live near these areas and/or have access to hunt these particular “big buck” areas.
I am not saying that a bruiser buck isn’t roaming the area(s) that you and I hunt, but rather, what is the realistic opportunity of killing a 160,” 170” or 180” buck and should our inflated standards be condensed only to waiting for an opportunity of a “trophy” size animal. Is the prospect of killing big bucks attainable in the area/unit you hunt? But, before you answer that question, maybe we all need to figure out what a true trophy animal is and/or whether or not it’s actually the animal which should be measured or if it’s the time spent leading up to – including the successful kill and recovery which is the true trophy. I have my answer, do you?
When it comes to any big game hunt I prefer my Hoyt and broadhead tipped Easton Axis arrows over my high-power rifle; therefore, I spend countless hours on stand thinking about life. I also find myself asking the question, “Am I just enjoying the outdoors, or am I truly having fun?” I am a hunter, and I spend countless hours honing my skills and preparing for all hunts; therefore, just enjoying the outdoor moment isn’t enough for me; I want it all. All too often the aforementioned hunters head into the field morning and evening, day in and day out, but continue to complain and feel disappointed because once again nothing “of trophy” quality presented a shot opportunity. They’re not having fun! On a recent trip to Scheels in Bismarck, I nodded my head with curiosity as I listened to a bowhunter brag about not having killed a buck – or a deer for that matter – in the last 7 years because he is against taking any whitetail under 160”. Again the question immediately burst into my head, “Is he really having fun or is he missing out?”
I am not against anyone wanting to wait for a “once in a lifetime” buck, but I can’t help wonder if some of these sportsmen/women aren’t missing out on the incredible thrill of the adrenaline rush and uncontrollable heart pounding that begins immediately when the decision is made to take an animal; no matter the size and/or whether it is a doe or buck. I couldn’t imagine going years without the awesome pressure of drawing my bow or settling the crosshairs of my Nikon scope, picking out the perfect spot, and following through trusting I’ll make the shot knowing that this is what I have practiced and prepared for all year; the moment of truth. Then the immediate sensation of “after-the-shot” syndrome kicks in as you concentrate on the fleeing animal while replaying the shot in your mind over and over nervously asking yourself, “Was the shot good?” and just then the animal stops, begins to sway first to the right and then to the left; “Yes, good shot!” As the rush of adrenaline slowly returns to normal your knees begin to shake and a sense of weakness overrides your body forcing you to sit while you mentally note the entire experience from the preparation, scouting, and being thankful for the opportunity to be a hunter.
Those hunters that are so serious in their pursuit for the biggest buck in the woods oftentimes lose sight of the goal of having fun. I find myself thinking, “Then what’s the point?” “Are you enjoying your hunts, or are you having fun?” We may all answer that question with differing opinions based on personal experiences or hunting locations. Whatever the answer might be, remember we are passing our beliefs onto the youth of today who also need to be able to choose whether or not they should enjoy their big game experience and/or truly have fun. A word that comes to mind is “proficiency” and whether or not a hunter that has chosen not to pull the trigger for many years because he/she is waiting for something “worthy” of being a trophy will actually be able to make the shot – because of lack of real experience – if and when that buck does appear. I cannot blame them for waiting, but on the other hand, what about all the planning, preparation, and expense, not to mention early mornings/late evenings as well as dealing with Mother Nature. It’s fun to know whether or not you can put it all together and make it work.
Isn’t it everything from the practice sessions at the local range to scouting and gaining permission to hunt specific parcels of land, and everything in between leading up to the recovery and photo sessions to follow which is the trophy? Or is it simply determined by the sum of the measurements? Well, the answer is simple for this hunter! If you had the opportunity to hangout in my “room of accomplishments” you would quickly determine that it isn’t filled with “trophy size” animals according to some hunter’s standards. But, if you had the time and patience, it would become very obvious as I describe in great detail all the events that took place during each specific hunt. It isn’t the measurable size of the animal which determines its worth, but rather, it’s the entire experience and who it’s shared with that becomes the trophy.