I remember the hunt like it was yesterday. Though I didn’t kill the massive buck lying on the ground at my feet that day, we were there filming a hunt. Another camera crew was there from an entirely different media group, and the hunter who shot the buck was a super nice fella, honest, he was. He wasn’t arrogant, and I’d enjoyed conversations at the dinner table with him for the past few nights, but I could see something missing in his eyes.
There are 1,000 hunters, maybe 10,000 whitetail hunters, who will grow up, live a full hunting life, and die having never even seen a buck this big with their own eyes on a fair chase hunt—and he’d just taken it down.
He had accumulated too many trophies on his wall to count from expeditions all around the world. The deer he’d just killed was a 182” monster, and you could see him trying to find ways to be thankful. Full disclosure: I admired him for trying. It was, though, nonetheless a sad moment, ironically sad because he couldn’t find the song that once lived in his heart. He was tired of hunting.
Johnny Lee, that famous country poet from the classic country era, said it best, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”
This hunter was basically at the end of his journey. No, not in terms of age, but energy. He’d hunted the world over and still, he couldn’t capture “it” for as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, “I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind.”
The situation was sad because, from where I stood, this good-hearted soul fell into a trap that every hunter must face at some point and overcome: the idea of how to define a trophy. He was on a chase for antlers, and friend, let me promise you this: this is not a sustainable expedition for even the strongest human heart.
I often wonder what would have happened if this man had recalibrated his standards years earlier. Would hunts have been sweeter? Would the journey have been richer? Would he have grown so tired of hunting as he then seemed to be?
The cold hard truth is that you can get tired of hunting, and shooting sports in general, especially if you aren’t growing as a person. I’m not saying that hunting ever gets old, or that you out-grow it fully. However, the reality is that all of us can tire from doing something we love. It’s just the way life works.
Chasing A Muley In Oregon
I believe the major contributor to a loss of passion is that we leave ourselves void of the right kind of challenge. I know… some of you are thinking, “Wow? Ever tried hunting giant mule deer?” Actually, yes I have. Often. Here’s my first muley hunt. It was in Oregon. I still have the sheds I found, which were trophy enough, to be honest.
Nothing is more challenging than a big whitetail or muley buck – but that’s not my point. I’m not talking about animals here.
I’m simply saying that as you get older, hunting, and shooting, eventually grow beyond just killing animals or collecting guns. At least you better hope it does.
“So, what’s the answer then?” you might ask.
I think only you can answer that for yourself.
I hold no right to tell you how you should approach the vast expanse of hunting, gun collecting, or the shooting sports at large.
I would like to, however, challenge you to open up your mind for just a second as you consider this upcoming year and what it could mean if you only approached your expeditions and passions just a few degrees differently.
Force Yourself To Hunt With An Out-Of-The-Box Mindset.
I’m not saying that you should go rogue and be this weird version of your former self, stalking through the woods with a knife instead of your favorite bolt action. No, I’m proposing that you do something creative just a few times during the upcoming season.
I grew up in the South, which means that deer hunting was done from a treestand. Even as a youngster working in my daddy’s store listening in on the hunters that came through his doors, I quickly observed that most hunters had no clue how to hunt a deer if it wasn’t done from a treestand. I could tell by the way Dad’s customers talked that many of them were good at patterning a big buck successfully, only eventually to say, “But I can’t hurt him because there’s nowhere to put up a stand.”
Circa 1980 at my dad's store The Sportsman
Like any kid who doesn’t know when to be silent, I remember on one occasion interjecting amongst these seasoned hunters, “Why don’t you hunt him from the ground and just hide well?” You can imagine the look in their eyes.
Yet, I knew that you could do it if you were willing to go against the status quo. And, I suppose that started me down a path of becoming a non-typical hunter when it comes to strategy.
For you antler addicts, I propose this: try hunting on the ground instead of a stand. Hunt the middle of the day. Hunt in the rain … on purpose.
If you’re looking for inspiration, especially when it comes to chasing whitetails in the late season, I wrote a short piece on a late-season strategy I used many years ago that has paid off time and again in catching bucks on the move just before sunset.
The main thing is, try something that you’ve never tried before, and I’m telling you, it’ll pay off.
Here’s a short video on how I shot the buck of a lifetime that might just give you an incentive if you’re still a doubter.
Introduce A Total Rookie To Hunting Or The Shooting Sports.
Often we think of youth and kids when it comes to introducing someone to shooting a shotgun or taking someone on their first hunt. Believe me, there’s a ton of adults, I mean a ton of adults, that would love to shoot a shotgun or rifle for the first time.
Do you know why they haven’t done it? As weird as this may sound, they don’t know where to start.
I’ll bet you at least 4-5 times a year I’ll have a parent approach me and say something similar to, “Hey Jason, I’d like to take my kids to a gun range, but man I really don’t even know how to get moving in that direction. I’d even like to do it for myself just for the experience, but I don’t have any real knowledge of guns, where to go, and I don’t want to look like a moron, so I’m sort of stuck.”
I think we are afraid that people will become needy, latch on to us, or that somehow we’ll gain a new hunting or range buddy that we didn’t need.
Most of the time, though, that doesn’t happen. People are just asking for a kick-start in most cases. Plus, the excitement that lights upon their faces when you introduce them could reinspire your passion for the hunt.
No kidding, there are few things out there today that make my heart feel warmer than to know that I invested in people who are invested in a cause. So pick one, save a little money, and give it away … just because.
It’s good for the soul.
Conservation of wetlands makes sense to any waterfowl hunter, so talk with Delta Waterfowl or Ducks Unlimited about where you could spend some money. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has all sorts of projects in constant percolation for shooting sports. The National Wild Turkey Federation uses your money for great causes that grow turkeys and habitat in every state.
Talk about a great story, how about that of a CEO of a well-known optics company who left his well-paying job to reach fatherless boys?
John grew up without a dad. So, he formed Fathers In The Field, which offers incredibly great avenues for you to invest time, or money, or both, into the life of a boy who doesn’t have a father; and, he uses the outdoors as the stage where you can make it happen.
The list is endless … but pick one and do it.
You weren’t created to be an island unto yourself, and I promise you, you’ll never regret being a giver. The return on investment is far beyond the costs.
Go Back To School (Sort Of)
It’s been proven time and again in cognitive theories of learning that there is a vast, vast difference in what motivates children to learn as opposed to why adults learn anything at all.
Children, up through the teenage years, learn because they are told they need to learn. If they don’t learn, they will fail in life. That is, as a 12-year-old kid, you learn because you have to, literally.
Adults are far different when it comes to why adults learn anything. The reasons are opposite and planets apart.
Adults only learn if they see value in the subject. So, therein we find the reason why I know nothing about Quantum Physics. I have no reason to learn depths about the Theory of Relativity, or the innermost workings of the Second Law Of Thermodynamics. Knowing anything in the world of Physics doesn’t enhance my life on any real level.
Yet, when you care about something or see value in it, that is your motivator. Plain and simple. You must care about it, and see value in it before you are willing to learn it on the adult level.
We have more opportunities for personal growth than ever before because the information is at our fingertips with today’s web technology.
So, if you are into long-range shooting, study some of the amazing history attached to how the role of snipers came into being. It’s really neat what you’ll discover, and you’ll be better at it.
If turkey hunting is your thing, read some of the classics like Tom Kelly’s The Tenth Legion, or read Ben Rogers Lee.
Any waterfowl maniac would do well to read anything from the pen of Nash Buckingham.
Whitetail hunters nationwide would up their game exponentially by reading Brad Herndon’s Mapping Trophy Bucks.
Let me share something that has happened to me personally in this very area.
I recently started researching ways to improve the land on which I duck hunt. Which means that I’ve had to learn a lot about agriculture. Now, I’ve been around farmers my entire life, but I’ll be the first to tell you that hanging out at the Co-Op occasionally doesn’t make me “Ag Smart.” Knowing what a header implement is, and what it does, is a far, far cry from actually using one every day as a career farmer would do.
No joke, learning more about agriculture has been fascinating. I have learned so much about farming, crops, soil, and just land in general, because I’ve invested a little bit of time at night reading instead of watching Netflix.
I have so far to go, and yet I feel so much more confident when it comes to managing wetlands for ducks; and, it’s caused me to look at my hunting property differently. In short, I’ve grown; but, I’ve only grown because I was forced to read about wetlands and habitat management if I ever wanted to get better at it.
Going back to school works. The best part? It’s free these days because we all live in the digital age.
Take Time To Take Photos.
You’ll never regret it. Seriously. You’ll be so glad you did. The reason that most of us never take photos is that we just aren’t willing to take the 3 minutes to set up the shot.
I can promise you, those photos become pure gold when you get old. And with smartphones today, all you need is to build the habit. There’s a free eBook we’ve put out at Mossberg that can teach anyone how to take better field photos with a smartphone, and you can read it in about 10 minutes. It’s so worth it.
Your pictures . . . those are the trophies your grandkids will treasure. Those images of you with that beard or that funny plaid shirt. Those images are timeless, but only if you take the time to take them. It gives your loved ones the chance to see the journey through your eyes, and believe me, the eyes matter.
His eyes told the whole story.
I’m talking about my friend, the guy who had just shot that 182” deer. Our paths crossed on that hunt, and I often wonder where he is at today.
As I’m writing this, I can’t seem to get the image of his eyes out of my mind. Everyone at the camp was patting him on the back. Cameramen were filming the b-roll of us looking at this buck of 10 lifetimes.
Yet his eyes seemed lonely. He had a strained grin, like that of a man who’d hoped that this one would be “the one” that made it special again.
He was a good man, just a bit empty I suppose.
“Chasing the wind,” said Solomon.
Chase. Yes, we all love the chase. Man, I do love it. I’m getting a bit older now. I want my hunts to be special, and for that to happen, I’ve got to grow.
I’ve got to grow, and it must be for reasons, for people, and purposes, that out-live me if I ever want the fire to stay lit.