Trophy Hunting

I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard this comment: “It’s ok to hunt for meat, but trophy hunting is just wrong.” These statements have come from both the anti-hunting side and from other hunters. Many believe the practice of trophy hunting is unethical and morally wrong. It remains a highly controversial and misunderstood subject that is not likely to be resolved in the near future.

First, let me start off by saying that I am a trophy hunter. But exactly what does “trophy hunter” mean? The truth is, there is no exact definition, because trophy hunting means different things to different people.

Some people (mostly non-hunters) believe that trophy hunting is killing an animal strictly to take some part of it, such as the antlers or hide, while simply discarding the rest of the animal. In my book, this is poaching, illegal, and has nothing to do with true, ethical hunting. Others believe that trophy hunting is taking the largest specimen they can find of whatever species they are hunting with the goal of qualifying for the record book. Still others define trophy hunting as being selective of their target, with each hunter setting their own parameters on what constitutes a trophy for them. I personally fall somewhere within these last two definitions.

When I hunt, I go out with a particular type of “trophy” in mind. However, that trophy is different depending on the situation. For example, I have taken many mule deer over the course of my hunting career. When I first started, my goal was to get a “nice” buck. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I did know that I didn’t want to shoot the first little fork-horned buck I saw. After hunting for several days and passing on a several small bucks, I took a decent buck that I was very proud of. He wasn’t huge, but for my first deer I was thrilled; to me, he was a “trophy”. In the years that followed I set a personal goal of taking a buck that was larger than my first one, even if it meant passing up many lesser bucks and ending the season with an un-punched tag. For me, I would prefer to hunt a full season, have multiple opportunities to see animals and end the season without ever taking a deer, rather than shoot the first legal animal that crossed my path. It’s not the kill that makes the season for me, it is the experiences that I have each and every time I go out hunting.

A person’s idea of what constitutes a trophy can change according to the species or the method of hunting they are employing. My own idea of a trophy changed when I started bowhunting two years ago. I started the season with the goal of taking a nice whitetail buck, but I quickly learned that the increased challenges in spot-and-stalking hunting whitetails with a bow would not make this easy. As my first archery season progressed, I adjusted and readjusted my definition of a trophy. My “big buck” became a “respectable” buck. Then any legal buck was ok. By the last few days, even a doe was fair game. I ended the season with nothing in the freezer, but I have to say it was one of the most exciting seasons I had ever had. I hunted nearly every day of the season, had many awesome encounters, and gained invaluable experience. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest that I didn’t harvest a deer that year. I knew that I had put in my best effort. Sometimes the cards just don’t fall your way.

Heading into my second archery season and having seen some very nice bucks on my trail cameras, I was eager to try to take one of these beauties. However, it appeared that those big bucks had learned to read. I am convinced they had read the hunting regulations and knew when the season opened because despite frequent sighting on cameras prior to opening day, not a single one of these bucks ventured my way during the season. Having learned from my previous year’s experience, I decided that I would set my sights on a legal buck during the first half of the month-long season, but if I didn’t fill my tag, I would take a doe. But once again, I ended the season without taking a deer in Washington. However, like the year before, I had a fantastic time with many sightings and even some shot opportunities that just didn’t pan out.

Later in the fall, my husband and I headed to Nebraska to hunt whitetail with our bows. Of course, I had heard of the legendary deer that lived in the Midwest, so dreams of taking one of these monsters prevailed. In Nebraska, hunters can take two deer on one tag, only one of which can be a buck, plus could purchase a second tag (for a total of 4 deer), so this opened my options and made me less selective. Long story short, I never did see one of those legendary monsters, but I did take two small bucks, one 4-point and one spike. Neither were big deer in anyone’s book, but both were trophies to me. They were my first deer taken by bow, my first whitetail bucks, and my first Nebraska deer. And they are darned good eating!!

So, why do some hunters “trophy hunt?” First, it increases the challenge of the hunt. By setting certain standards for the animal you are looking for, the odds of finding an animal to fit those standards decreases. Older, larger animals are simply more difficult to hunt because they are more seasoned, experienced and wily, which further increases the challenge, which translates to an increased personal sense of accomplishment when the hunter is successful.

I usually see a lot of animals when I hunt, many of which are legal animals by the regulations of the season in which I am hunting. But if I shoot the first legal animal I see, which could be on the first morning of my hunt, my season is over. I hunt not just for the meat, but for the entire collection of experiences and memories that lead me to that point. I personally like the fact that when I “trophy hunt” with a specific type of animal in mind, it potentially extends the length of my hunt and increases my opportunity to spend more time in the woods. There is greater satisfaction for me in a full season of experiences than in an opening day kill, whether the season culminates in a harvested animal or not.

“Trophy hunting” is one of the most misunderstood and criticized subjects in the hunting world. However, the pervasive notion that trophy hunting involves the killing of an animal just to have something to put on the wall couldn’t be further from the truth. Hunters, even “trophy hunters,” use the meat from their kills. Individuals who kill animals strictly for their antlers or other parts are not hunters; they are poachers whose actions are punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.

The definition of the word ‘trophy’, according to Merriam-Webster, is “something gained or given in victory or conquest especially when preserved or mounted as a memorial.” By this definition, all hunters are trophy hunters, for each of us retains something from each of our hunts, whether it is meat in the freezer, a photograph, antlers, or heads mounted on a wall. Or simply the memories we carry in our minds.

Mar 29, 2013 | Category: Blog | Comments: none


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