The Writing Huntress explores the topic of trophy animals.
Dear Writing Huntress,
I’ve only hunted with my dad, who is a firm believer in eating what we kill. Yesterday, when I told a guy friend I had only shot does, he started making fun of me about what a girl I must be for only killing does and that he passed on a bunch of really big deer last year because they weren’t “shooters.” This has me confused. I watch how people on TV hunting shows won’t shoot certain animals because they aren’t “shooters” aka “trophies.” They often pass on animals I’d love to even see, let alone shoot. What’s the deal with the term “shooter?” Can I only use the term “trophy” if I shoot a big buck?
Confused in Concord
I’m going to preface this entire column by noting this debate boils down to personal preference. That being said, I’ve had the same conversation you experienced. It begins with TV kills and ends with hunters focusing on unattainable antler goals, while mocking those who don’t.
Confused, hunting television exists primarily as an outlet for entertainment, not as the standard by which hunters should base their successes. Some shows use the term “shooter” to describe a deer that has big antlers — the type viewers generally enjoy seeing on TV, because they may never hunt one in reality. Utilizing this practice is advantageous for individuals who covet bigger antlers and want to allow their buck herd to mature. However, instead of using the term when applicable, it has taken on a life of its own, supplying ammunition for hunters to berate others for killing small bucks or does. Given these circumstances, it’s difficult to believe you’re doing anything right by not waiting for a “shooter.”
I’ve never killed a big buck; I doubt I’ll ever even see one considered a “shooter” by many in the outdoor industry. This used to bother me as a new hunter, because my influences mainly starred on outdoor television shows. However, every deer I saw, sans a mother with a fawn, became a shooter once I realized I hunted for food, not antlers.
Your definition of “shooter” should be a deer you feel comfortable killing, despite what anyone might say. Wait for a big one if you’re looking for a wall mount. Shoot for the venison burgers if you want to fill your freezer. In the end, celebrate your successes and never apologize for a legal target.
The guys who taught me the intricacies of hunting defined a trophy as “a world-class deer; the biggest in all the land.” If one of them took a trophy buck, we’d stand in awe at the size of his great antlers and spend the rest of the trip focusing on the big buck instead of the hunt, which never settled well with me. While I sat, enjoying the rustling of the leaves, my partners stewed in their stands, wishing the big buck belonged to them.
It didn’t take long to realize I, again, defined a hunting term differently than my peers. After talking with hundreds of hunters in the ensuing years, it appeared the term no longer defined a single deer; its definition gained more fluidity and increased malleability, like a big ball of hunting clay. Now, it seems many more hunters see a trophy as a first doe, an archery buck, an almost-tom, the triumphant tale of what it took to shoot it or the unfortunate story of how it got away.
Confused, use your hunting experiences and character to figure out how you define the hunt. If you hunt for food, anything you see (that is legal) is a “shooter.” If you hunt because you love to amass experiences and memories, each hunt or precious memory is a trophy. Remember that while everyone hunts and defines the process differently, no one has the right to judge or mock the way you take to the field. I’d usually advise you simply walk away from such bullies; sometimes it’s not a bad idea to explain why you hunt how you do — maybe you can help expand a few hunting horizons.
Oh, and if hunters “must be a girl” if they shoot does, my husband must be a girl too!
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