Along The Trail 2-27-14

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Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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The thaw is on, a few robins have been making visits to my back yard and tom turkeys are starting to strut. All sure signs that spring is just a few short weeks away.

Another sure sign, the annual Boat, Sport and RV Show at the State Fairgrounds. Each year, we make our pilgrimage up I-74 to the show in conjunction with the Indiana Deer and Turkey Expo.

This year’s show was much like past events. Lots of vendors, guide services and travel destinations to been seen. We made our way up and down the aisles, taking in the things that were of interest and passing by other booths.

On the back side of the vendor area was a wall of whitetails. Not just any whitetail deer display, but a large, portable wall with mounts of trophy bucks taken from all across the Hoosier state. It was quite impressive, but one deer blew them all away.

A non-typical whitetail at the center of the display looked more like a moose than a deer. His antlers scored an unbelievable 305-inches based on the Boone and Crockett scoring system. This deer was truly unreal and unique. An impressive animal from every angle, one that any deer hunter would love to have taken.

A true once in a lifetime animal.

As I stood there admiring the buck and the quality of the taxidermy, a fellow next to me struck up a conversation about the deer. We both oohh’d and aahh’d over the giant buck and paid respect to several other of the trophies on the wall. Based on our discussion, it was obvious that the man knew hunting and was an avid hunter. He seemed passionate about it and was definitely not a weekend warrior.

Our conversation went on a little longer and the topic of trophy hunting came up.

Up until this point, my new friend and I were on the same page, but once we shifted gears into the trophy hunting world, we began to part ways. My new friend was of the mindset that when hunting bucks, only mature animals should be harvested and that the state should set some sort of regulation that dictated as such.

I asked him what about hunters who aren’t interested in killing trophy animals or hunters that only have limited time to hunt and that they are happy with any buck, regardless of size? A long story short, we agreed to disagree and I watched him go back to a booth that was selling guided trophy hunts in a neighboring state.

I applaud the deer hunters who are devoted to only taking mature bucks. It is one of the most difficult tasks in all of hunting.

To target a specific deer or to say you’re only going to take a mature 5 1/2 year old buck is quite an accomplishment. I have tried to do it, to set that as one of my goals and have yet to be successful. I’ve taken my fair share of nice bucks, but mainly it was more about being at the right place, at the right time.

My hat is off to the guys and gals that can get it done, season in and season out and the discipline it takes.

But, here’s the rub for me with “trophy” hunting.

If the end all of be all for the deer hunter is a monster set of antlers hanging over your mantle, you’re missing most of the hunt. Sure, every devoted whitetail hunter would like his season to end with a nice buck, but the experience is so much more meaningful than a 150″ pair of antlers. The taking of a mature buck is the icing on the cake in my opinion.

The preparation, the scouting, the practicing, those are the things that help make a hunt. The sights, smells and sounds of an October woods. The crunch of the leaves, the chill in the air, the first hard frost. The stiff wind at your neck or the gentle breeze against your face.

Watching all the animals scurry and prepare for the cold of winter. Seeing things that you will never see anywhere but in the woods. Becoming part of the show that plays out every autumn. These are the things that hunting should really be about.

The creating of memories, the shared experiences, the quiet personal moments. The chase, the meat, the respect and humbleness and then, and only then, the antlers. If we continue to get hung up on the size of antlers or “what did he score”, we are, in the end, going to become our own worst enemy in an every increasing society that questions the need for hunting and sees it as a barbaric blood sport.

The late, great conservationist, bowhunting pioneer and businessman Fred Bear once said, “A hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be. Time to commune with your inner soul as you share the outdoors with the birds, animals and fish that live there.”

An idea lost on my conversation partner and many others it seems…

- David Hewitt