The question as to why folks hunt holds a similar mystique and aura as when asking why anglers fish. The answers come in varying degrees of commitment, interest and expectation.
Like fishing, the average hunter could probably buy more processed meat for less cost than it takes to freeze back straps, breast cuttings and other cuts of game meat.
Hunters can be loosely divided into “trophy” and “meat” hunters. The dichotomy is not a solid separation of the two. Many a trophy hunter enjoys a good cut of filet mignon after harvesting a respectable wall mount. Many more meat hunters take pride in an exceptional buck, small-game, waterfowl or upland bird taken while trying for something on the table.
Competition while hunting is more personal than professional/public. While less than 5 percent of anglers enter formal tournaments and derbies during the fishing season, less than 3 percent of hunters, skillful or casual, enter contests to win trophy prizes.
In Western New York the competition figure might be even lower were it not for the annual Squirrel Slam in the Orleans County Town of Holley in late February each year. The event, which usually is sold out in advance, draws nearly 1,000 hunters and serves as a fundraiser for a charity the Holley Fire Department designates each year.
What constitutes a trophy depends entirely on the hunter and those with whom he or she shares the hunt and harvest assessments. For more than two decades we have covered the state Department of Environmental Conservation Deer Check Stations held in southern Erie County on the opening day of the firearms deer season.
Opening dates have changed from Monday to a Saturday. Only the Holland Check Station surveys deer now, but many a trophy whitetail deer, and a black bear or two, are checked for scientific purposes. Herd health and disease issues are a concern, but of major interest are the many kinds of big game brought through and the hunters’ sense of satisfaction.
So often, these columns have cited the trophy class of a buck or doe of any size or sprightly appearance. For all successful deer and bear harvesters, the legally tagged beast holds some measure of trophy status.
Turn the pages of a Safari Club International newsletter to the Trophy Room Series and one hunter’s collection of dozens of mounts often has one single mount most hunters would love to have as the only trophy hanging on the wall. The July-August newsletter also featured the heartrending house fire Joe Weiss of Clarence and his family suffered as a total loss that included a vast trophy room featured in an earlier SCI Newsletter.
Controversies of hunting aside, for the involved hunter the hunt has a heartfelt magnetism ingrained throughout the year, but especially when planning for the season opener and particularly the magic of opening-morning light. Being in a blind or beginning a trail stalk often sparks what Ernest Hemmingway called the “Moment of Truth,” or British poet William Wordsworth’s “spots of time” − a key moment when we access and validate our existence while communing with nature.
All that existential musing, done consciously or passively, adds to the experience of the harvest or simply a day afield and through the woods.
Record-keepers set all kinds of parameters for trophy status. Preserve hunting should be considered shoots rather than hunts, but many a youth or group of aging-but-active folk can enjoy the outing, harvest and consume the game animals or birds, see good bird dogs work fields, and share a bonding with young hunters or longtime friends and family members.
Same goes for hunters out to consume game. Cost effective or not, a venison roast, steak, burger or stew seems to have a nicer taste than cuts of meat from professional processors. Critics say we no longer need to kill game for subsistence, but the hunter’s legally harvested game that was managed to sustain healthy game-animal numbers has an aura only the hunter can fully understand and enjoy.