Is Trophy Deer Management Ruining Deer Hunting?
Sometimes I’m just not sure. Has the rise in attention to deer management among hunters done more harm than good?
It seems like guys can’t kill a small, or average, buck without feeling the imposing disapproval of our modern hunting culture. When he does, he’ll cling to excuses about “management bucks” as a kind of balm to soothe the embarrassment.
You probably know the scene. A newer hunter is talking with some experienced ones about the buck he killed. His excitement quickly fades as he sheepishly hears the deer describes as, “descent little buck” or, “just a basket rack” or worse of all, a “cull buck.” If I hear one more young hunter talk about how their deer is, “not bad for a ____” whoever he’s hunting with is getting a punch in the throat. ( <– sarcasm )
Call it “quality management” if you like, but what most guys mean is “trophy management”. Deer management has a lot more to do with buck-to-doe ratios and fawn recruitment than it does the scoreable points or age structure of older bucks. It appears the DNR’s in most states are doing a great job issuing tags, bag limits, specific area permits, antler restrictions, etc. The deer heard in North America is healthier than it has been in decades. So why all the pressure on the average hunter to manage beyond that point? My guess – guys want trophies.
Before you start writing that email, or your deer-biologist quoting comment, let me be clear: I love QDMA type organizations, and support several of them. I whole-heartedly believe it’s our responsibility as hunters to manage the resource of wild game in our country. It’s not, however, every hunter’s responsibility to manage for your definition of a trophy.
Of course we need to manage our deer. Absolutely. That said, I think there is also a side effect from the rise in deer management speak that we must address. Managing the health of the heard is much different than defining another man’s trophy for him. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? And, one man’s cull buck is another man’s wall-hanger.
It’s okay. You have permission. If it’s a legal deer, and you like it, you can to shoot it. You’re allowed to be proud of it! That, is a trophy buck.
An Honest Kill is a Trophy, Period.
If you watch enough hunting shows, and read enough of our magazines, you’re bound to end up drawing boundaries around a “trophy” animal. It may be defined by a number, a scoring club, a record book, or your buddies biggest buck to date.
Great! I hope you get your trophy; several of them. Just don’t impose your number, standard, or minimum on other hunters. If it’s a legal animal, killed by a hunter who put in the hard work, it’s a trophy. Period.
I’m afraid we don’t realize the disrespect we pay to fellow hunters and the animals we love so much. The hunter who killed that small buck probably put his heart and soul into that hunt. The deer suffered violence, pain and death. How dare we not consider every kill a trophy?
I know a young man who used to hunt a lot; he was passionate about it. He got a little older, and started taking hunting trips all over the place. Fast-forward a few years and now he’d tell you he doesn’t even “bother with these little deer in Georgia.”
It breaks my heart. Sure, it’s his right. He can do what he wants. Yet, I can’t help but to cringe when I see someone, lose their love of the hunt for the love of a trophy. There is no glorying, no riding around showing off “these little deer” for some guys. Are we missing the point?
Partly, I blame them for missing the point altogether. Mostly, I blame the rest of us for allowing it.
Some Hunters Just Need to Kill Deer.
How else do we learn?
Folks taking up hunting today are smothered in our media. They are scrapping up info trying to learn and teaching themselves a lot of this stuff. Unfortunately, most resources they turn to for help are not appropriate. It comes from guys who are managing (farming) large tracts of land to increase the buck scores. Again, that’s fine and awesome. Seriously. But that is not what needs to be in the mind of a guy trying to hunt his first deer, or his first dozen for that matter.
What about a hunter who’s not trying to get footage for a TV show or hunting on his own farm? What about the guy who’s going to be lucky to see 2-3 deer this year? Or maybe the next 3 years for that matter? Is he supposed to let those 3 year olds walk? What about the 2 year olds? Let’s say we’ll all give the hunter a pass for his first buck, what then? Can he kill a small 2 year old buck for his 10th deer and expect to escape the disapproving brow of our hunting community’s pop-culture?
The Side Effects: Bad for Morale?
Did you see that picture up at the top of this page? Go ahead, scroll back up there and take a good look, I’ll wait…
Ok, did you see it? That was the first buck I killed with a bow. It’s a trophy buck. The picture is grainy because I snapped it late in the evening with my phone after dragging it out of the woods into a clearing where my truck was parked. It was already getting dark and I needed to get it skinned out and on ice before the Georgia heat damaged anything. That deer’s death would sustain my family’s life. I wanted to treat it with respect and use as much of it as possible. I remember that hunt more than other bucks I’ve killed before, and since. The pic isn’t great, because I was in a hurry, but it is a trophy.
I’m not sure if it’s political/commercial implications, or if everyone is truly antler crazy. A hyper-management of deer has permeated into popular hunting culture and it’s effecting us. It’s rare to watch a show where hunters are after meat for the table. When you finally do see one, it’s usually filler between big-antler shots and lectures on culling the heard. When have you seen footage of a grown man smiling ear to ear holding a basket 8 like mine?
(At this point, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t point out that there is some great hunting TV like Steven Rinella’s MEAT EATER, or Randy Newburg’s FRESH TRACKS. There are guys out there doing great things, capturing the heart of the hunt and the reality of the average hunter. Hat’s off to them for making it real and helping learners to stay grounded.)
In case you missed it earlier, let me remind you again – I’m a supporter of quality deer management. I think we need to manage our herd. All I want to address are what seem like unfortunate side effects. Let me tell you a quick story…
My Dad plays the guitar.
Not the kind of “plays the guitar” that makes you think of school recitals. Think more like: he lived in Nashville and made a living playing guitar. He’s good.
I also learned to play the guitar growing up. Ironically, it was very hard for me to learn from him. You see, my dad was so good, it seemed impossible. I would imagine my fumbling fingers burning up the fret board, like his, and lose my heart for ever succeeding. It wasn’t until I was older and basically taught myself the fundamentals that I was able learn from him.
I’m afraid we’ve created a hunting culture that is too good. The barrier of entry is too high! We’re flooded with images of monstrous bucks, and we’re nit-picking our tactics to death. When a newcomer looks at joining our ranks, they’re at risk of feeling like I did trying to learn to play the guitar from my dad. Hopefully, they have enough resilience to wade through the muck alone, or find a level-headed mentor. But what if they don’t? What if we only have those first few opportunities to welcome them in?
Brothers, let’s lower the barrier of entry.
Here are a few things I’m committed to sharing with every hunter I have the pleasure of knowing. These ideas are not in contrast to quality deer management principles, but as a complement to them.
1. Take the pressure off. The hunting community is known for being an open family. We welcome newcomers and look out for one another. Well as we should. So why do we put so much pressure to perform on ourselves? Any deer is a success.
2. Celebrate every kill. Hunters need to kill deer. That’s the only way we learn, grow, and become the kind of stewards who manage well. When an animal has given its life, it will be celebrated. Any 6 point buck is going to get just as much appreciation as the 160” 5 year old on camera at hunting camp.
3. Support the guys who keep it real. It’s worthy of our rally. When we find shows, sources and hunters who have their heads on straight, we have to show our support. The community at large will notice what’s working and what’s drawing a crowd.
So what do you think? Has Deer Management gone too far? Is this idea totally off base and narrow minded? What am I not considering above? Why don’t guys celebrate the ‘basket rack’ like they do a P&Y? Speak your mind below, we want to hear!