Antlers for Supper

“You can’t eat antlers!” My dad used to say to me when I was a kid and complained that no big bucks ever came our way. I was not impressed by shooting does, I wanted that big 30 point buck to come my way so I could prove to the world that this 11 year old was a force to be reckoned with!

Looking back on my dad’s simple wisdom, I see how much times have changed. Back in the 1960’s Dad would load up his buddies in a renovated school bus with questionable breaks and head out to Buffalo, Wyoming for their annual mule deer hunts. They didn’t go out there to bring home trophies, they went to enjoy the camaraderie of deer camp and to bring home meat to fill the freezer, and memories to fill the year ahead.

Black and white photos from back then often depicted A-framed structures lined with deer harvested. There were no photos of a guy and his 40 point, non typical, mineral fed, selective bred, food plot deer. Just photos of rangy men standing by decrepit shacks in red wool and tattered hats.

What changed? How did the age old tradition of hunting become so glamorized, so Hollywood? Is it the TV shows featuring people in perfectly clean expensive camo always getting monster deer without breaking a sweat? The female hunter has morphed into women on the screen so perfecty coiffed that they look nothing like the women in my life who grew up hunting. Meanwhile, guy hunters show up to events in bedazzled jeans. It’s all about the big show, who is better, who gets more ratings.

These days, it seem like the whole atmosphere of the sport has changed from fun and camaraderie to a cut throat competition over who can shoot the biggest deer. Social media is littered with images of guys and gals posing strategically behind behemoths of the forest so as to make them look even larger than life. It is all about the size of the rack and even that is not real anymore. Not even deer could escape man’s constant quest to alter nature and now there are whole industries dedicated to producing products to “enhance” antler growth to the point of absurdity. Selective breeding on deer farms is also a norm and people pay thousands of dollars to get the opportunity to bag “trophies” inside fences. Why?

Because it is not good enough anymore to be common, to be that redneck hunter in dirty, blood stained orange who hunts on instinct and the will of God. It is not “glamorous” enough to come home with your tag limit of does and a small (by today’s standards) buck to fill the freezer. The network and code of honor among hunters too has died in the sense that social media is filled with trolls waiting to pounce on anyone, man, woman, or child for shooting anything under 14 points. Hunting has become a competition to see who can bag the biggest and the best.

Is that really what it’s all about? I think not, but that is my opinion. I’m old school and to me hunting is all about the unknown. It is about going out into the woods and waiting for days and not seeing one deer. It is about freezing and sweating and pushing yourself and your patience to the absolute limit then going out and doing it all over again the next day. It is about no guarantees, it’s hard work, intuition and skill not gleaned from watching TV but from years of training, years of disappointments followed by years of victory. Gadgets and equipment can’t make a hunter, they may make things easier but is anything really worth having ever easy?

I have probably hit a nerve with this post and pissed some people off but I’ve never been one to mince words or worry about offending others. All I am saying is that we can learn a lot from those old deer camp photos. Namely that sometimes size doesn’t matter. Isn’t it supposed to be about tradition, bringing home stories, lessons, and if you are lucky, some meat for the table?

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