Hunting Is What You Make of It

Catalina hunt with revolver(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Without a doubt, the easiest hunts I’ve had were on public land.

In Pennsylvania, I sat in a tree stand in a wooded area between a series of farms. A local friend of mine told me the strategy: “Just be quiet and everyone else making all their racket will drive the deer right to you.” And he was right.

The tiny patch of public land available for hunting was packed with people. All I had to do what not be as loud as everyone around me. The deer weren’t afraid of them, just annoyed. After all, those deer had lived their entire lives without natural predators. They saw people on the farms and in the surrounding suburbs, every day of their lives. It was fish in a barrel.

In the end, I decided not to shoot any of the harried deer I saw underneath me. They were all just too young. That night I described the deer I saw to my buddy and he told me that if I was going to pass up on four-year-old deer, I was never going to get one around there. Again, he was right. The majority of deer pulled out of those lands were three years old or under.

Alabama whitetail (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Maybe the western states would be the savior of my public land hunting experience. Years ago I envisioned the mystique of public land antelope hunting in Wyoming. I thought I’d be walking long distances over grass and snow, taking long shots at fleet-footed speed goats.

Instead, what I got was a line of trucks parked down the road in the parcel I drew, with hunters who had stepped as little as they legally had to away from those trucks to shoot the antelope standing and staring at them. The game warden drove back and forth on the road, ensuring that people would actually get out of their vehicles before shooting. In my observation, many did not. I got out, followed the path through the snow left for me by the guy that was walking in, “missed”, he said, and shot a doe with my scoped rifle. That first antelope took longer to cook than to hunt.

I’ve hunted quite a few different states now. Like me, most folks with any experience have politely listened as people who hunt this way say it was “real’ hunting.” That this was “ethical” or “fair chase.” I smile and nod. Bless their hearts, they just don’t know any better. Back then, when I started hunting those areas, I didn’t know any better either.

I didn’t realize it didn’t have to be that way. I could have prepared for the hunt better. I could have hunted a different area, or not at the absolute peak of hunter activity. I could have chosen another date, another weapon or another method. For instance, in Wyoming, I now only hunt with an iron-sighted revolver or flintlock. And although I’ve struck out for three years in a row, I put in tags for areas not by the number of antelope taken, but for how difficult it is to get to.

Hill Country Blackbuck with flintlock (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Like many thousands of hunters, I’ve learned to make the hunt better, more intimate, and more challenging.

I’ve done the same with hunts under high fence, again, as many other hunters do. Thousands upon thousands of hunters, even “high-fence hunters” choose to spot and stalk with a bow and arrow. Some take it to greater extremes.

For instance, a friend of mine finally got his Nilgai antelope, after two years of going to the same high-fenced south Texas property almost every single month. He chose to spot and stalk hunt for one specific animal. Not a specific species, but that one specific bull. He chose to do it on a fairly small piece of property, barely even 1,000 acres. Have you ever tried to hunt 1,000 acres of solid cactus and mesquite thorns, on foot, in July? Try it, and you’ll get a lesson in “fair chase.”

I was dealt a bit of a blow this year when I was told by a friend that he found a ram I have been after laying dead at the bottom of a ravine. I’ve been heading out to get that ram at least twice a year for four years straight. Old age, another ram, or predators beat me to it. Oh, and yes, it was all on a high-fence property.

The only hunt I’ve ever had rival the difficulty of a few of my private land west Texas ram hunts was a Colorado elk hunt I took, unguided, in an area I was unfamiliar with, with only a mesquite bow. If I had chosen to take a rifle with me on that elk hunt, it would have been over within half a day. In the same vein, if I would take a younger ram or ride around on an ATV, those west Texas hunts would be easy too. Instead, each time, I get a week of hard hiking, failed stalks, endless spotting and, more times that not, no shooting.

High Fence sheep hunting (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

The truth is, no matter if it’s on public land or private land, or how high the fence is, hunting is what you make of it.

According to the research done by the Quality Deer Management Association, the average deer, in an ideal natural environment, lives on less than 350 acres its entire life. Many never wander more than 60 acres. Considering that, any suggestion that a hunter who is stalking deer on a 6,000 acre high-fence property isn’t practicing “fair chase” or is somehow unethical is ridiculous. That deer has far more predators and far fewer interactions with humans than the farm and park deer of the northeast, forced to live out their lives dodging their only real predator; cars.

Are there people who just buy the opportunity to sit in a blind, still half drunk from the night before, to shoot a deer under a feeder that somebody let out of a 10-acre pen just days before? Yup, and I’m glad there are. They cover the paychecks of cooks, ranch hands, guides, butchers, taxidermists and outfitters. They pay the top dollar that helps keep family ranches stay ranches instead of industrial plants and subdivisions. If you want to go out and pay $25,000 (a real amount I’ve witnessed paid) to shoot a pen-raised white tail deer, well it may not be for me, but I’ll surely shake your hand and say thank you.

The same goes for those men and women in a muster line on that same road, every year in Wyoming. I’m glad you’re at it. I mean, I’d like for you to at least put your beer down and get out of the truck, but I’m glad you’re out there hunting at all.

For every one of those people, there’s a whole lot of folks in between, somewhere on their personal journey with hunting. Those are the people challenging themselves for no good reason other than to challenge themselves. Those people are on public land, those people are on private land. Those are the people inside every kind of fence there is.

Every single one of the people I’ve mentioned above are ethical hunters, (except maybe the drunks) and we should welcome them all.

Oh, and one more.

That mother…shooting the deer in her yard right through the window screen. She’s never had a hunting license and the season ended a couple of months ago. But her kids need food and she fed them. I say good job, ma’am. Of all the hunters mentioned, our ancestors would have welcomed you the most.

Moring deer hunt (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

comments

  1. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

    I know a guy in Montana. He’ll straight up tell you he ain’t a hunter. He drives out on his land in a pickup. This doesn’t spook the deer. He then shoots the animal of his choice without leaving the truck.

    He’s an eater. And he likes animals that ain’t full of chemicals. I’ve never enquired as to his license status. It’s his land and his business.

  2. avatar New Continental Army says:

    Good article. What’s that revolver in your first picture?

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Ruger Blackhawk Bisley Hunter .44Magnum

      1. avatar Lance F says:

        What is the length front to back of the grips? I am in Africa and gathering a few pieces of wood blanks to make grips for my redhawk.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          I’m not sure what the original is, and this has been modified since then. Also, the Red Hawk grip is different than the Bisley.

  3. avatar ironicatbest says:

    I don’t know what kinda goat that is, but I had one that looked like that only not as big. He was a mean bastard and the guy that owned him gave him to me because he’d charge you. I knocked him out twice but he’d still take you. I think all that did was make him meaner. The next time he came at me I got him down and held his nose and mouth shut for awhile. He finally got enuff of that a quit that charging shit.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Catalina

  4. avatar Hunter427 says:

    Amen to you brother, we have to stick together on our rights to hunt. I might like you way of hunting as long as it’s legal I support it. I like challenges, the harder the better.

  5. avatar Bloving says:

    Good article.
    An articulate response to Kat’s article the other day… different Hunter, different perspective… neither is more right than the other…
    There are a lot of game animals out there and way too few hunters, particularly young ones… if our ranks were filled to overflowing I might agree more with some of the arguments of which type of Hunter is the “real” one, but frankly, we need all of the people we can get behind a gun (or bow, or atlatl, or spear) and out in the field to reeducate this nation on what it means to be self-sustaining.

  6. avatar Ralph says:

    “That mother…shooting the deer in her yard right through the window screen. She’s never had a hunting license and the season ended a couple of months ago. But her kids need food and she fed them. I say good job, ma’am.”

    Bravo, JWT, for that breath of fresh air. And for not calling her a poacher because she shot the King’s deer without the King’s permission.

    1. avatar Toni says:

      yep F the king and all his men….. sideways….. with a concrete house foundation

      1. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

        Kinky girl.

  7. avatar Arandom Dude says:

    As someone in Michigan, high fence ranches are a 5-10 acre affair where you go to shoot a fat, barn-raised deer (or exotic ungulate) or birds with clipped wings. I can’t respect that. Are those people keeping taxidermists in business? Sure, but it’s still nasty. A 1000 acre ranch in Texas where you hunt feral animals that have a real chance of evading you is an entirely different kettle of fish.

  8. avatar strych9 says:

    I’d never given much thought to whether or not some form of hunting was or was not “real”. Growing up a lot of the people around me filled their tags, “poached” or went hungry. With our winters, #3 was probably a death sentence.

    However, where I grew up alcoholism was also a serious problem. People getting blacked out at deer camp and shooting anything that moved (or power transformers) was a big problem.

    Those kind of people are why I picked up safer hobbies. Fly fishing, diving, motorcycles.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Why not skydiving?

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        I haven’t really had the opportunity or the money.

        A good parachute isnt real cheap and it won’t pay bills on the side the way my dive gear does. Also, every time I think I’m gonna save up for a chute I end up buying a gun or two.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Meh, diving feels like exploring a new world. Skydiving feels like falling for a long time, just while you are throwing piles of money out with you.

  9. avatar Gordon in MO says:

    I went hunting a few times after I got out of the Marine Corps and it wasn’t the same as before. Little challenge since they were not shooting back.

  10. avatar Shim Jockey says:

    As someone smarter once said, “Gentlemen talk about fair fights because gentlemen don’t really intend to kill one another.” For any serious life-and-death situation, fairness goes out the window in moments, as it should. This applies in a similar vein to hunting. Much of our modern ideas about “hunter ethics” are borne of false 20th-century narratives about native hunters “using every part of the game” or “thanking the All Father for the spiritual gift of their food.” Too many people watched the opening scene of “Last of the Mohicans,” where tribal hunters prayed over their every kill, and take this as gospel. The real archaeological record shows something completely different. There have been mass buffalo kill sites discovered out west where upwards of 300 buffalo were driven off an escarpment and only their tongues were harvested. If you believe that in a time when man DEPENDED on his hunt to eat for the evening that he was ethical about it, I have some fabled oceanfront property in Arizona… . If your stomach is empty and you live in a time when a quick kill means not wasting endless energy and sweat wandering the opening prairie for hours on end, you will kill as ruthlessly and unfairly as you possibly can – you’d take a 10 gauge with cylinder bore and two-hundred #8 shot out to kill a squirrel. The endless debates about hunter ethics of the last 25 years were needed at one time, yes, but have become nuanced to the point of absurdity now. They drive honest kids who would love to just hunt a little and might screw it up out of the woods. One shot kills – when WEREN’T people aiming for this?? Quick kills – wonderful – but cave men were seeking those!! Pretending that your superior state of consciousness makes one bit of damn difference to a deer who feels a longbow arrow go through his rib cage vs. a .338 Win Mag bullet from a guy who brought more Bud Light than ammo, however, is in YOUR head.

    1. avatar Jaykob Owens says:

      The Buffalo slaughters were to weed out the Indians. Ethics do matter.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          http://www.jstor.org/stable/971110?origin=JSTOR-pdf&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
          Read the full history here for free.

          The federal government was not the big killer of buffalo in the 19th century. That was definitely the thousands of commercial operations that almost completely eradicated the buffalo in the span of only 10 years.
          However, the federal government, and specifically the US Army, vocally encouraged this practice specifically to pressure the Indians to move onto reservations, as well as occasionally inflating the price of hides in key locations, intentionally not regulating the practice, providing security for those commercial outfits, assisting with scouting and tracking, a well as helping to keep the prices of equipment down.
          Later, I will try and make a run-on sentence go the entire page.

      1. avatar Shim Jockey says:

        Buffalo were absolutely slaughtered needlessly by settlers and commercial interests. However, gentlemen, that is not what is being referenced here. What is at issue is the pervasive American mythology about natives “using all of an animal kill.” Many NATIVE buffalo jumps and kill sites have evidence of extraordinary, almost revolting levels of waste. Here is an obligatory internet article on the subject. His sources are very good, especially anything by Colin Galloway. https://knowledgenuts.com/2014/06/25/native-americans-didnt-always-use-the-whole-bison/

  11. avatar TroutsBane says:

    I always figured the objective of hunting is to bag the game you are after. You can choose to hunt from an enclosed tree stand, or you can low crawl though snow with a longbow on your back. As long as you are killing the animal cleanly and not driving it to extinction, then it is okay in my book.

  12. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Good, thought provoking stuff Jon.
    That Blackbuck with the muzzle loader? 1st place trophy!
    I so want to hunt blackbuck. I understand they are about as tasty as pronghorn.
    I put in for pronghorn and many other plains game. Silently, anxiously awaiting draw results.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      I really enjoyed Flintlock hunting. Black buck is indeed delicious. I like pronghorn, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the black buck.

  13. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

    If JWT would like to go on a memorable hunt in Wyoming, then might this one suggest that he puts in for elk or mule deer in the upper Greys River? The area has several fairly remote sections that are only truly accessible by hiking or horse back. There are also some very large mule deer in there.

    Either bow or rifle should provide for an adequate adventure. Watch out for Grizz though, as they are quite abundant up that way.

    Esoteric Inanity has a cousin that works for one of the local outfitters that do guided hunts in the Greys and Hoback. Judging from what he says, most clients don’t care to get too far off the beaten trail. This one has been out in the remote sections a few times. The terrain is pretty rough and tiring, without a horse, but breathtaking all the same. Best of all, once one gets in, there are few encounters with other hunters. Only the most dogged of them tend to go in that far.

    The Big Horns and Wind Rivers are other prospective candidates for memorable hunts that are “off road”.

    Lycka till min bror.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Thank you for the suggestion.

  14. avatar GS650G says:

    I have to hunt public lands. The past 10 years the number of hunters has increased while the deer population dwindled. 63 hunters in a 2400 acre area and 4 deer came out. The same area in 2007 you’d get 15 hunters and 12 deer or more.
    Then there are the rules and regs. I won’t list them all but it’s quite a chore to follow the inane ones. I like tree stand hunting and being out in the woods but it’s much more lick than hunting now in these public areas. Scouting used to yield results, now it’s a waste of more time.
    I’m goi ng this year again but looking for either public land or out of state. The ridiculously high license fees are another deterrent but if there is good hunting they can charge it.

  15. avatar RidgeRunner says:

    I always start the season going after one particular buck, often one I’ve watched for several years. Often I get him; many times I don’t. The buck has a say in it, too.

  16. avatar Joe R. says:

    Good article. Good pics.

    I haven’t hunted high-fence, but I’ve struck out enough on other land to want to. I like when people with more money than me hunt high-fence, rather than them joining me in the ‘woods’, that way there’s less chance of their “pastime appropriation” on me. I don’t like to think of what hunting would be if tags were only available by auction.

  17. avatar MIO says:

    The joy in the hunt isn’t always about the kill and the trophy. Too many don’t know or have forgotten in the selfie world

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      The joy is never about the kill. The joy is everything else. The kill, or at least the intention to kill, must be present to give context, a meaning to all of the other activities of the hunt.

  18. avatar miforest says:

    come hunt Michigan public land , in the northern part of the lower peninsula or the upper peninsula. the plots are large, the deer are spooky, and the terrain challenging . There are not a lot a lot of really ole ones , but the challenge of getting a buck make a 3 yr old a trophy . It’s a challenging hunt even with a 308. in beautiful scenery.
    The area I hunt is over 3000 continuous acres with limited roads. its forest with bears and coyotes, so deer numbers are a lot lower than farm areas. Doe permits are rare here. there are a lot of places like this here.

  19. avatar Lance F says:

    I am a lifelong hunter, I have taken deer with rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, and bow. I have never hunted a high fence property. I am not against others doing so, but I don’t think those animals should be admitted to B and C or P and Y. My biggest deer, the biggest to ever come off the farm I grew up on (300 acres) did not make B and C (152). They have a 160 minimum. I would love to go on a nilgai hunt like yours, and that was high fence. Just my 2 cents. Also could someone help me out with the grip size of a redhawk, front to back and height are the measurements I need. Thanks

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      “I would love to go on a nilgai hunt like yours, and that was high fence.”
      Although there are Hhunts on portions of the King Ranch that are high fence, that section is not. It runs right to the ocean, with miles and miles of coastline. It’s hard to high fence the ocean.

      1. avatar Lance F says:

        I’m sorry, i must have miss understood your description of that ranch, I do realize it is more then 100,000 acres. It is impossible to force a breeding program in that environment. Those places with breeding programs and specialized diets are what I don’t want admitted to B and C.

  20. avatar Phil LA says:

    Count me in that category. I have never hunted because it has been elevated to mythical status; an impossibility for an average guy like me. I want to hunt (hogs or deer) but the law seems so complex that I don’t know where to start, so I just shoot the paper and buy the packaged meat. Pity.

  21. avatar Warren says:

    I just around to reading this, and man. You’ve really given me a new perspective on what “ethical” hunting means.

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