I am a hunter. Before I was old enough to hunt, I longed to be a hunter. My Dad hunted, and I wanted to be just like him. My maternal grandfather hunted. My paternal grandmother hunted. My uncles hunted. My cousins hunted, and all of my friends’ families hunted. Being a hunter was the most natural thing in the world for me. The time period was the 1970s and 1980s, and recruiting hunters was easy. That situation is very different today. It is no longer the most natural thing in the world for the majority of today’s youth to want to be a hunter. Rather, it’s a foreign concept to many and a difficult undertaking for most.
In our recruitment efforts we tout many reasons for hunting. The current craze is to secure your own locally raised meat. Spending time afield with family and friends always ranks near the top on a motivation list, as does the opportunity to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of nature. These are all noble reasons, and we should continue to highlight and promote them. However, they collectively don’t capture the entire essence of hunting. For some, hunting’s premiere attribute is the challenge it provides. Some increase the challenge by hunting more wary species, less abundant species, specific sex or age classes, or by hunting with more primitive sporting arms and bows. To some potential new hunters, a challenge may be the perfect enticement necessary to get them involved. This is especially true for millennials.
Let’s use golf as an example. Everyone has friends who take the game very seriously. They spend abundant time at the driving range, practice putting at every opportunity, and talk endlessly about their new molded alloy, space-age, expensive, poly-something-or-other driver that looks and performs a whole lot like their last driver. These folks love golf for its history, traditions and challenge. Now, everyone also has friends who play golf a little differently. Their idea of a fun 18 holes is to load the car with cold beverages, maybe add a cigar to their golf bag, and spend the day hooting and hollering around the course with their friends. Of course, there are also a lot of golfers in between these two groups. They all enjoy golf, even if their motivations differ.
Many folks head afield not to relax but for a challenge and an adventure. Hunting could fulfill this perfectly. My hope is we more openly promote this incredibly exciting aspect of hunting when talking to potential new hunters.
Further, their motivations can change depending on the weekend and who they are playing with. This analogy is exactly the same with hunting. Sometimes I want to be away from my phone and computer, and a treestand is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Or maybe I have my young son with me and looking at a tractor magazine in a ground blind creates the perfect evening. I enjoy hunting in both scenarios. However, there are many times I’m looking specifically for a serious challenge. I may push myself to literally crawl through low cover on the edge of a field to reach a distant stand. I may target a specific buck and spend an entire season hunting only him. Or I may intentionally get as far as possible away from a road or camp for the experience of packing an animal out of the woods. Some of my favorite hunting trips have ended hours after the shot with me being thoroughly exhausted from the task of getting my trophy back to camp – and my use of “trophy” has absolutely nothing to do with antlers.
The challenge of dragging a harvested whitetail a mile through the woods or packing an elk two miles off a mountain are incredibly appealing to me. I am at a point in my hunting career where I enjoy preparing for such hunts and relish the comradery of friends during such outings. More than once I’ve gladly exited a stand with an unused tag in my pocket to help a friend track, drag or pack their trophy out of the woods or off the mountain. I don’t expect all hunters to share my motivation and many have called me crazy. That’s fine. I am crazy – crazy about hunting.
At some point in my hunting career I won’t be able to cover the ground or drag/carry the weight I can today. However, I can assure you there will be days I go hunting specifically for the challenge. I won’t be interested in relaxing. I’ll be ultra-focused and acutely aware of my surroundings. I’ll be a predator, and that’s okay. We don’t need to apologize for that. I’ll also have hunting trips where I’m less serious and I may even take a nap on stand, and that’s okay too.
My point is, one of the most appealing aspects of hunting to me gets little mention for fear of being criticized by the hunting and non-hunting public. That’s wrong. I am a more avid hunter because I choose to pursue a challenge in the woods rather than the golf course. There are many others like me. Some currently hunt and some don’t. Take a look in a Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s magazine and what do you see? In addition to hunting and fishing items you see a lot of equipment and apparel for hiking, camping and exploring. Many folks head afield not to relax but for a challenge and an adventure. Hunting could fulfill this perfectly. My hope is we more openly promote this incredibly exciting aspect of hunting when talking to potential new hunters.