By Alex Comstock
We've got a problem. It's something that we don't like to admit, but it's there, right in front of us. There is a glowing problem that I continue to see within our community and our deer hunting industry as a whole. What we do about this problem could ultimately decide what direction our industry heads. Do we turn this into a positive, or let it dictate us and have deer hunting spiral out of control? It really boils down to you and me.
The Problem: Big antlers. Big bucks drive us crazy, and it's what a lot of people cut their teeth on. Everybody loves giant bucks, and that is totally fine - I do too. But there is a deeper problem lying behind the big antler craze. It's when you go from obsessing over big bucks, to letting them dictate your lives. What concerns me more than anything is seeing people lose friends, lose their families, and lose hunting privileges, because they are so engrossed by the ever captivating antler. It's easy to get lost in the moment, especially while marveling at a deer with a beautiful big set of antlers. But those antlers aren't worth losing friends over, or being overly secretive with people because of them, or violating the law to try and chase those antlers.
I have seen big bucks literally change people for the worse. There is usually a trigger in somebodies life that leads them down this road. Whether it's somebody shoots a buck they were after, or they are exposed to big bucks for the first time, it's simply not worth it. It's not worth fighting over. Why can't everybody root for one another? Like I said earlier, I want to shoot a big buck just as much as you do, or the next guy does. I am obsessed with them. But, when I see somebody shoot a big buck, even if it's a deer I was hunting, I will genuinely be happy for them. Sure, there may be a moment of sadness that I wouldn't be able to hunt a certain deer anymore, but I would never get mad at that hunter, because I'm not entitled to any deer. I think if we take time to think about how we carry ourselves as hunters, we will learn a lot about ourselves. This plays into the fact that people want to shoot big bucks so bad, they will even break laws, cross property boundaries to where they don't have permission to be on, or do something related that they will regret. The worst part is, these people can be overall good, down to earth people, that otherwise would never dream of breaking a law. Don't let big antlers change you in this way. There is plenty of ways to go about hunting big bucks hard, smart, on public or private land, and have fun, without stressing out about others. There are also ways to not go about it.
Here is a real world example: You and your friend do all of your hunting together. But you are the one doing a majority of the scouting, hanging stands and cameras, and hunting. Maybe your friend has a busy work schedule, etc. One day you go pull a card from a trail camera in a location your friend hasn't even been to, and boom - you've got a 180" deer on trail camera showing up daily. Now you've got three options. 1. You tell your friend about the buck, but tell him/her they can't hunt the deer, even though you two always hunt together, because you are the one who found the buck. 2. You tell your friend about the buck, be excited, and quickly figure out a way you both can hunt him. 3. You don't tell your friend about the buck, and go after it yourself. What would you do in this situation? I strongly believe a large number of people would choose option 1 or 3. And that is where the core of this problem lies.
Why you might ask, do I believe this? It's because I've been exposed to it. I've seen how easy it is for people to forget about what makes deer hunting so fun, and that's the people. The memories you create, the experiences you garner, the truly important things that make deer hunting so sacred. It's easy for people to become selfish, forget their friends, and only care about wrapping their hands around those giant antlers. But what happens when that becomes you? You usually turn into a loner, and then I have to ask the question, is deer hunting still fun for those people? If you were to ask me what makes deer hunting fun, it's everything I just talked about first, and then it's the big bucks. I'm not trying to turn this into a ramble, but it's something I feel so strongly about. The natural question then, at least to me, is what do we do about this?
The Solution: I wish there was a cut and dry solution, I really do. It would make everything ten times easier. Quite simply, it starts with you, it starts with me, it starts with our friends. If we go back to my real world example from above, it might seem harmless to not tell your friend about that big buck. But if that's the route you take, you are taking the first steps to becoming that guy/gal that you might not want to be. You are on your way to becoming selfish, and becoming that person that others won't want to hunt with. You are taking away the joy of deer hunting from yourself. So to start, I'd say we need to look ourselves in the mirror, and ask why do we deer hunt? Did you start deer hunting only because you were obsessed with big antlers? I'd venture to say that answer to that question is no. And with that, if we can remember why we deer hunt, and show others that even though hunting big antlered bucks is awfully fun, it's not the only reason it's fun. It starts there, and will then hopefully rub off on others, and the domino effect will continue.
With all of this said, it can be easy to agree with what I'm saying, but acting is the key. Heck it is easy for me to type everything I am currently, but then go out and hunt a buck fifty yards from a public land boundary on private land I don't have permission on because I know of a giant buck, and I might not get caught. Nobody would know, but I would know. I would have to live with the thought that I was so caught up with a big buck, that I went out of my way to break the law. It would be wrong to do. If we can act upon this problem, then will we only be able to head in the right direction.
Conclusion: I love hunting big bucks. I am obsessed with deer, deer hunting, chasing mature bucks, and everything under the sun that has to do with deer. Just as I'd imagine anyone reading this is as well. But folks, we need to keep it all in perspective. If we can just do that, we'll be just fine. So with that, I ask you to take a moment and ask yourself if you are able to keep it in perspective. Talk with your hunting buddies about this and realize the problem is not how much we love big deer, but how we go about hunting them. If everyone took a second for reflection, I think the problem behind the big antler craze might just have a chance at diminishing. Hunting is fun, we are supposed to enjoy it, remember that.