January 31, 2023

It Ain’t the Trophy, Is It?

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Milt Inman Photo

I’ve always wondered why some people get all hung up over trophies when it comes to game animals and hunting. By hung up, I mean it from at least two distinct perspectives. On the one hand, you have hunters who are hung up on bagging a trophy…..it HAS to be a trophy. Nothing else will do. On the flip side the environmentalist, animal rights pretenders think that trophy hunting is all that hunting is and they mix that in with a whole lot of proving manhood and blood lust. I have also always wondered if these animal perverts who are hung up on game animal trophies are also as much hung up on other kinds of trophies, i.e. competition in general, winning a prize trophy, earning valedictorian or magna cum laude, etc.

I know some are because I heard one coughing up bile out of her mouth one night on a radio interview. The subject matter was why men play sports. I heard things from men playing baseball because they envision that little baseball coming at them at near 100 miles per hour as their mother’s head and they want to bash it in with a wooden bat. Along with that was my favorite (I nearly went out of the road in laughter), hockey. Men play hockey because the puck is the penis and the goal net is the vagina. Uh huh! Okay, I’ll ask the question for you. How do you explain women who play these sports? I’ll leave that answer to you.

Swimmers are imitating sperm, basketball is similar to hockey. I tried my best to come up with an explanation as to why, since I was a little boy, I skied. How did that pervert me?

I’m afraid that anything I might have to say will have little effect on those kinds of trophy aversionists but I’ll attempt to explain to anyone interested that there is more to “going hunting” than blood, killing and collecting a trophy.

For purposes of this article, perhaps I should define my idea of trophy. A trophy, as it would pertain to hunting, in my thinking, is a wall hanger. It might also be a personal best. Everything in life is about trophies. I think my wife is a trophy and I’m blessed to have “captured” her.

I have often written on my websites about my hunting experiences; not a lot because much of what I experience while in the field I find quite personal and not something I would share with strangers. Over the past few years I have shared experiences that relate to some topics at hand, such as predator pits, absence of deer herds and the overall status of the “ecosystem” (why do we use that term?) where I hunt in Maine at hunting camp.

I’ve made no bones about the fact that deer in this area of hunting camp are very sparse and I’ve offered my own educated guesses as to why it is that way. Because of this, I have been asked more than once why I keep going back to this place to hunt if there are no deer. Just today I received an email that said, “Might you explain/describe on your blog how and why you hunt a rural Maine area with few deer.”

I know the person who sent the request and I know that he wants to read my explanation and is not questioning my sanity……I think. Most people who ask that question don’t hunt and they probably wouldn’t understand my explanation if I walked them through it and holding their hand.

As a boy, I recall I couldn’t wait until I went hunting with my father when I was old enough. I might have gone before I was of legal age but I honestly cannot recall. Without taking up too much of your time in writing out a full explanation, I will just say that from before that first day in the woods, the tradition of hunting was becoming engrained in me as a way of life. I’m not sure anyone taught me directly the value of this tradition but it was learned and learned well.

It is this tradition, this culture, a family institution, yes, this heritage that forms the rock solid foundation of what hunting is. As the Bible story goes, if you build your house on a solid rock there is little fear of it crumbling to the ground. From that foundation, the design of the structure on top varies much according to taste.

If deer hunting at my Maine hunting camp was about the need to wall mount a trophy, I would have quit after the first year there. No, there’s something, perhaps inexplicable, about hunting camp and why I choose to hunt an area where there is little game.

Aside from all the traditions of hunting camps themselves, the effort to go into the woods when the odds are slim to none, is aroused by many things. As I have said, some defy explanation. I become motivated by the memory of sights, sounds, smells, assurances of unchanged things, interest in the few that have. Even knowing there is little to no game, excitement still builds, anticipation is there, a bit of an adrenalin rush happens when sounds make you believe there might be a deer, followed by the chattering of an upset red squirrel.

Off in the distance, a lone gun shot. Too far away to be one of ours, and yet the mind begins telling you that perhaps the hunting is better over there. Perhaps tomorrow.

Birds usually flutter about. Chick-a-dees are my favorite that time of year. I love to sit on the sunny side of a beech ridge, quiet as can be, still as a tree, and allow the chick-a-dees to land on my hat’s visor; once on my gun barrel; another to share my bologna sandwich.

An examination of the trees, some of which I have seen for the past 36 years, display something new each year. It’s been a few years since I’ve visited my favorite spruce tree looking for a chew of bitter gum.

What few deer there are around, they do leave their markings; a rub and a pawing. It is one more small thing that brings you back. My mind is saying, “By the size of that pawing and rub, I think that’s a big deer. I hope I see him. Wouldn’t it be fun to see him. Just see him.”

The forest and fields offer something new and exciting each year and it happens when I’m not there. It is the draw to find out what did happen, to be a part of it. To feel your heart race when you flush the grouse, unexpectedly. I might curse for a moment, angry that my keen focus was interrupted by another game animal I wasn’t expecting.

For 36 years I have walked the same hillside looking for deer……well, really I am hoping that just one more time I might spy the two cub bears playing in the beech leaves while momma stood watch among the rocks below the ledges. Now that I think about it, just up from this spot is where I encountered the cow moose – she on one side of the tree, me on the other. Heart pounding. Mine too!

Trophy? I already have my trophy. As the sun edges upward on a frosty November morning, I plunk myself down on a small flat rock that is bathed in brilliant sunshine. A not-so-typical November day in Maine. Nearly cloud free. A day to bask in the glory of the day the Lord hath made and be glad in it.

Suddenly, before me, stands a four-point buck. He is beautiful. Not a wall-hanger but a magnificent animal. He knows not that I am there. At this moment his life is in my hands. I slowly raise my rifle and bring the young buck into my scope. He’s only 15 yards away. My heart is pounding. It’s been at least 5 years since I’ve even since a deer in the woods. I take aim……….

What a glorious day. What indescribably marvelous things are going on around me. They do every year in this place.

I wish the young buck a long life and tell him to be on his way. That was my trophy. The mountains, the hills, the rocks, brooks, rivers, ponds, lakes, every creature that shares this earth, is my trophy.

Why do I go hunting in a part of Maine that has no deer? Oh, gosh! I couldn’t really say.