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

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

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 a few years ago 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 that rivaled 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 was willing to 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 AR-15 (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)
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 over 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 that are 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 and that helps family ranches stay ranches instead of industrial plants and subdivisions. If you want to go out and pay $25,000 (an actual amount I’ve seen 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.

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

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.

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  1. 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. “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.

    • hey i assume you are trolling but just in case not, the wildlife belong to everyone and we all agree to share through regulation to prevent over fishing and hunting. it’s not rocket science, has nothing to do with politics. when someone selfishly hunts or fishes outside the rules it’s not cool and not something to cheer.

      • I’d agree with you, but what you are discussing is a system that is designed to keep the drunk in his truck from shooting 12 antelope in a morning and wasting all that meat.
        In doing so, it fails to account for the people who can’t risk the cash on the chance that they *might* get a deer this season.
        We aren’t condoning a wholesale ignoring of the system. Acknowledging that their are grey areas, and the importance of the “shoot, shovel, shut up” principle, is not the same as flagrant flouting of the system for pleasure.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

        • 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.

      • 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/

  10. 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.

    • TroutsBane,

      I always figured the objective of hunting is to bag the game you are after.

      And therein lies the rub.

      Here are some of many possible hunting objectives:

      Desperate to put food on the table

      Super-difficult challenges

      Getting away from home and spending time with family/friends at hunting camp

      Getting a trophy animal

      Going on a literal safari

      Honing their skills in case they need them for survival

      Spending time out in nature

      I do not have the audacity to look down my nose and suggest that any of those are wrong-versus-right or superior. And to be honest, many of those have been my objective at different times in my life during different circumstances in my life.

  11. 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.

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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

    • 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

    • “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.

      • 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.

  19. 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.

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

  21. Used to pack in with horses and camp for a couple weeks on private land by invitation from the ranch owner when I lived in Wy. Nowadays I hunt my own land, or on neighboring lands with the landowners. I also hunt hogs on public land up in the Blackwater delta. Accessible by boat only. Since the forest land to the north of my property is publicly accessible, with limited road access, not too many hunt there. Makes it nice since the hunters usually manage to push the bigger, older deer onto my lands. Which reminds me that I need to check the trespass signs again. Just to make sure the Ph# is visible. Ask me and I will let most folks hunt , but just jump the fence and you may have a problem.

  22. “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.”
    That’s poaching. How can you defend this? This also, like never happens. A poor single mom who shoots a deer because her kids are hungry? What world do you live in? The reality is that white mom is loading up her mullato kids with processed food from Walmart with her EBT card while she pops an Oxycotin. That’s what poverty looks like where I’ve lived: Greenville, SC; Sacramento, CA; Orlando, FL; and Santa Rosa, CA. What is it with you boomers and these weird fantasies?

    I’m sorry- but have you thought this through? Shooting a rifle inside? Now her kids will have lead exposure and hearing damage. Not to mention- who lives in a place where it’s safe to shoot a rifle out your window?

    Also- it’s weird that JWT chooses to throw shooting 3 year old LEGAL deer and people who hunt public lands under the bus, while defending high-fence and POACHING.

    The real problem where I live is Hmong shooting anything that moves with AR-10s. During archery season. Why don’t you write an article about that, JWT?

  23. I lost the “urge” to kill another living being, just for the sake of killing it, back in my late teens. I can see the exigency of hunting when killing means the difference between literally going hungry or not, but killing just for the sake of “experiencing the kill”…? It’s just so… ignoble.

    As always- to each their own (and I fully understand that I am vastly in the minority here) but, I do question if anyone else has ever reflected while taking a bead on another living being and asked themselves… why?

    Why do I want to kill it? What is so exciting about taking its life? Why do I want to spill its blood, witness its shock and panic after receiving the beneficent mortal wound I’m anxiously eager to confer to it, and to then watch its desperate yet hopeless struggle to retain the fleeting sanctity of its life force which I cravingly anticipate severing it from?

    Never given much thought to it?


    Well, I have, and after shining a light into that heart of darkness- I found I no longer had a need to kill for any kind of thrill… and I unequivocally could never again associate such a savage impulse with anything as estimable as… “joy”.

    But, again- that’s just me. And, as usual, JWT has provided a well-written, informative, and thought-provoking post. Thanks again, JWT.

  24. Good article. This is same concept that I use when I fish. Ultralight rods, barbless hooks, single digit lb.test. It’s not about how many fish you can haul in; it’s the fight.

    • “Ultralight rods, barbless hooks, single digit lb.test. It’s not about how many fish you can haul in; it’s the fight.”

      *Love* me some ultralight saltwater fishing. It requires much more finesse to land a Redfish, Snook, or Sea trout.

      High-modulus carbon fiber rod and the lowest stretch fishing line you can get. Hook a live shrimp on that and cast as far as you can. You can feel everything happening on the end of that line… 🙂

  25. My grandpa and grandma ran a farm in Kansas. Grandpa kept meat on the table with his .22 and 12 gauge. Squirrel, Rabbit and coon meat was common fare according to dad. They didn’t have gas money to constantly run into town. The kids kept fish on the table. Quail and pheasant were plentiful also. None of them had licenses either. Would that make them poachers? This still goes on around a great part of the country. I’m not upset about it in the least bit. Farmers love the land and take care of what they got. It’s not a lucrative business and 99% of the city dwellers would starve without them. Farmers are the hardest working folks out there. Everything dies. Nothing chooses the way it dies. To think it’s inhumane to kill something is just plain insanity.

  26. “To think it’s inhumane to kill something is just plain insanity.” Bingo! Guess what? Unless you live solely on milk and honey, something else must die so you can live. Plants are alive. Animals are alive. We cannot photosynthesize, ergo we must kill to live.
    My wife was anti-hunting as a young thing, and had an epiphany in a grocery store, looking at the nice cellophane wrapped steaks. She suddenly thought “is it more ethical to bolt kill a steer than to shoot a deer?” All meat comes from somewhere!
    And if you want challenging hunting, go afield with an iron sighted .357 and restrict yourself to 50 yards. Mine is an S&W model 66.


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