“Hunting is a recreation and invigorating pastime that never should, through a super-civilized, over-artificialized state of living be allowed to die out.”
I can still remember Saturday mornings as a kid. With excitement, I’d sit spellbound before the television for hours watching my favorite animated super heroes. Before my very eyes they would perform acts of bravery, heroism and feats that no human could or should attempt. They were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, were faster than a speeding bullet, were stronger than a locomotive, and transformed into instant crime fighters with the mere utterance of, “to the bat pole, Robin.” Although cartoon characters, they portrayed a wholesome figure of character and justice to impressionable young minds. The focus was never about them, but rather about what they did to make things right, even if it meant putting their seemingly indestructible selves at risk.
Although those bygone days have long since passed when I was entertained by those fictitious characters, the message they personified is no less heroic even today. When I think of heroes, beyond my boyhood cartoon characters, the image that resonates within me is certainly not what is so often portrayed as today’s hero; especially when it comes to deer hunters. After all, just because someone has the ability to kill something doesn’t put that person in the mold of a hero.
A whitetail is an appreciably defenseless animal when it comes to our modern day weaponry. Yes, I will agree that a deer has incredibly elusive qualities and can run fast when necessary, but not fast enough to elude bullets or dodge arrows. With all due respect, even though a whitetail, with uncanny regularity, can humble even the most proficient of us, it does not have near the capabilities the hunter posses. And, take into account that we can make numerous mistakes during our seasonal quests, the animal only can make one. Yet, within the deer hunting ranks, much akin to how Hollywood turns actors/actresses into stars, musicians and singers into platinum, and sports figures into legends, we have found a way to elevate those whose prowess in killing the biggest male specimens with consistency into larger-than-life figures. Why is that?
Show me the money
There is always someone that wants to make a buck (no pun intended) off the success of another. These opportunists come in many forms and are essentially what is commonly referred to as ‘king makers.’ With the stroke of a pen, a cleverly manipulated ad campaign, and enough face time, before long, regardless of how much is embellished or hyped, a star is born.
And lest you think that those to whom fortune has fallen, being raised from obscurity and cast into the bright lights of stardom, have unwittingly been led like a lamb to the slaughter, think again. Conceit and ego, unappealing qualities that they are, play a role in one’s eagerness to attain and maintain such fame. Once the spotlight shines brightly, the slippery slope toward self-aggrandizement demands more and more attention and becomes similar to any other kind of addiction.
The quest for the best
Hunting for trophy quality deer is not new. There have always been those who thirst to test their metal and skill against no mean antagonist as both a challenge and adventure. Most do not; they are equally satisfied to take what comes their way with little discrimination all the while enjoying to the fullest their favorite autumn pastime. Those who cannot be satisfied with anything less than a legitimate wall hanger must be willing to impart upon themselves the stringent limitations this decision requires and work much harder and consequently face many more obstacles and disappointments. It’s a path they themselves have chosen and it should be motivated by self-satisfaction, as Dennis Dunn, author of the eloquent book Barebow, points out,
“They hunt only for themselves. They set their own standards as to what they consider a trophy, and–as they go through the various stages of life–their definition of a trophy animal usually undergoes periodic ‘upgrading’ or revision.”
Trophy hunting is all about a competition with yourself, and with a quarry whose much keener senses and greater knowledge of home habitat give it all the advantages. All, save one. Man’s only advantage is the possession of rational intelligence, and sometimes we even wonder about that–so refined are the self-preservation instincts of the older, more mature animals we seek. As a trophy hunter, you are trying to find–and then outsmart–a particular animal, or a particular quality of animal. Far more often than not, you return from the hunt empty-handed, not having taken a single shot. You have usually passed up opportunities at several (or perhaps many) lesser animals that don’t meet the standard you’ve set for yourself.”
If this is indeed the case, as it rightfully should be, then why the fascination with another’s success beyond sincere congratulations and inspiration?
Everyone, in all walks of life, wants to be recognized in some form or fashion for their accomplishments; it’s just human nature; from a pat on the back, a simple good will gesture, to being given an award commiserate with the difficulty involved in reaching the goal. Each autumn I see hundreds, if not thousands of hero shots depicting happy hunters showing off their fallen prize. Within the hunting culture this triumphant gesture is both acceptable and expected; if you’re a deer hunter it’s within our common interest and curiosity to look upon someone’s conquest and learn of the details. With that said, where, and better yet, why does the line get crossed that causes hunters to go from simple admiration to an all out fascination with another man’s accomplishments?
Tony Evans writes, “Men fantasize about greatness. We crave significance, influence, and impact…we want to feel the rush of the chase. Not only do we long to be great, but we also desire to be recognized as great.” And when that doesn’t materialize for one reason or another, the default mode immediately reverts to either envy of what another has accomplished or, living vicariously through someone else. Tony continues, “This shows up in the enormous number of sports fanatics [deer hunters?] we have in this country. I didn’t say sports fans-but fanatics. It is men who will wear another man’s jersey with another man’s name and number on the back of it. Regularly…and it is always the number of a player who is considered to be great. Any man who has to wear another man’s name on the back of his shirt may need to ask himself how he views his own manhood.”
Deer hunting is, at this point in history, primarily a recreational sport and to some it would undoubtedly be classified a sport of the finest kind. Like any other activity there will always be those that excel beyond the norm due chiefly to desire, talent and perseverance. And when they do, rest assured, despite the hype and marketing schemes bandied about, they are not superior, nor are they super heroes. After all, there is nothing super about killing a deer and certainly nothing heroic in whatever the manner the hunt was undertaken. Keep in mind, we’re not slaying dragons here.
The endearing part about deer hunting is that it’s parlayed on an equal playing field. While some may have distinct advantage derived from privilege and wealth, the animal is still wild and free ranging, offering opportunity for whomever the bell tolls. Hunting whitetails has been and continues to be a game of predator vs. prey, where the outcome is always in question. No guarantees. May it always be so. Let’s leave the ‘super heroes’ to Saturday morning television–we still need the mystery.
For more posts by Richard Bernier visit bigwhitetail.wordpress.com.
Images copyright Richard Bernier