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Heads or Tails?

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

different. If forced to choose between killing two or three does and small bucks every year for the rest of their lives or killing a trophy buck once every 10 years, they didn’t hesitate to say they would opt for a big buck every 10 years. As far as deer hunting is concerned, that is what’s important to them.

Gordon Whittington, editor of North American Whitetail magazine and one of the nation’s leading authorities on trophy deer hunting, said that big bucks fascinate so many hunters for many different reasons. In common for all of them, however, is the visceral reaction they have to the presence of a big deer.

"I believe most hunters get a surge of adrenaline when they get around a really remarkable buck, even when they aren’t in a hunting situation," Whittington said. "There are very few who, when they come on a 10-point buck with a doe, will shoot the doe. Those that would choose the doe are true meat hunters, and I take my hat off to them. We need more of them to manage growing deer populations."

Whittington acknowledges the temptation among trophy hunters to measure hunting success in terms of points and inches.

"There’s no getting around the fact that some people are competitive," he says. "They like to keep score and brag about an achievement. Well, there’s all kinds of bragging rights, from having a muscle car to making a killing day-trading on the stock market. Wanting to kill a trophy deer is just another manifestation of innate human competitiveness."

Some hunters find social status in killing a big deer. Whittington said this is particularly true in rural communities, where material possessions are less important and people are more connected to the land.

Among many trophy hunters, both rural and urban, Whittington has noticed something that transcends a quest for status. They hunt trophy deer because the animals are rare and extraordinary, and because they are more difficult to hunt.

"Trophy hunters certainly are proud of taking big animals, but many of them also are humbled by it," Whittington said. "For them, registering a deer with the Boone and Crockett Club is as much about honoring the animal as it is about gaining recognition for themselves."

Both hunters and nonhunters should find it easy to understand why rare, exceptional animals are central to the hunting challenge, he added.

Even so, the desire to harvest a big deer is not the only reason a trophy hunter goes afield, any more than it is for a mushroom hunter to go afield merely to harvest huge morels. Whether you’re a deer hunter, an angler or a mushroom hunter, however, it does reinforce your confidence in your abilities to know you can consistently find and harvest the finest specimens of your desire, and doing so adds another element of excitement to your pursuit.

When a mushroom hunter does find an enormous morel (a trophy hunter’s dream), or when he stumbles on a patch that yields a bushelbasket of mushrooms (the meat hunter’s dream), what does he do? Naturally, he shows his friends. He may even go to the local newspaper to have his picture taken.

Those who see his big find may envy his skill and perseverance compared to the lesser fruits of their own efforts, but they probably won’t consider him an egomaniac or a despoiler of the forest. They are much more likely to share the mushroom hunter’s awe at nature’s bounty and his delight in his good fortune.

That’s a comparison that seems to apply to all our outdoor recreations. Whether you are hunting mushrooms, bass, deer, turkey or magnificent nature photos, it’s the value of the coin that’s most important, not whether it comes up heads or tails.

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