West Virginia’s deer seasons will end soon, and the measuring season will begin.
All across the state, hunters fortunate enough to kill big-antlered bucks will be having them measured. If the antlers are large enough, they qualify to be immortalized by a single line of type in record books maintained by the nation’s two major big-game hunting organizations — the Boone & Crockett Club for firearm-killed animals or the Pope & Young Club for bow kills.
Am I the only one who thinks a single line of agate type, buried deep in the nether pages of a thick book, is a pretty puny reward for all the time, effort and money expended in securing the demise of a deer with oversized headgear?
Every year, from mid-August to the end of December, most of the chatter in hunting-related social media sites centers on trophy bucks. People post game-camera pictures of bucks, often accompanied by the question, “Do you think it’s a booner?”
A booner, in case you missed the reference a couple of paragraphs back, would be a buck with a rack large enough to qualify for the Boone & Crockett record book. The term has been bandied about for quite some time, but lately its use has shifted into hyperdrive:
“Look at the size of that rub. That bad boy has to be a booner!”
“I’ve been after a booner since the season opened, but he hasn’t given me a shot yet.”
“Did you hear about [insert name here]? He finally got that booner. I hear it green-scored 190.”
“I’ve got some bad news, guys. Someone snuck onto my lease and killed that booner that’s been hanging around.”
Booner, booner, booner. It’s all about the booner. Don’t smaller bucks count anymore?
Don’t get me wrong; hunters’ pursuit of trophy bucks isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hunting’s true value is that it gives enjoyment to those who pursue the pastime. If someone finds joy in the ethical pursuit of a big-antlered whitetail, who the heck am I to criticize?
At the same time, I worry that deer hunters’ obsession with Boone & Crockett-caliber bucks might discourage young people from taking up the pastime.
Given the average attention span of today’s youth, what’s the chance a kid would choose to take up deer hunting if he or she thought it might involve buying and maintaining half a dozen game cameras, spending untold spring and summer hours planting and maintaining food plots, spending day after day in a blind or tree stand waiting for the moment when Mr. Big finally shows, and having the discipline to pass on nice 8- or 10-point bucks that might wander by?
There are youngsters who have that kind of initiative, but probably not many.
Deer hunters have always valued bucks with big antlers. There was a time, though, when bagging a record-book whitetail was an event that just happened — not something that consumed hunters’ spare time (and substantial chunks of their incomes) for months each year.
How many more youngsters might be drawn to deer hunting if it were simply a matter of buying a license, heading afield and hoping the hunting gods smile upon them? Plenty, I suspect, because it would be more like play than work.
Hunting should be all about fun. For some, that involves the dogged pursuit of booners. For most, I suspect, a less obsessive approach would do just fine.