Is It Hunting?
April 7, 2014
Last week, my brother and I spent two full days at Crystal Creek Bowhunting, a high fence ranch over near Del Rio, Texas. Our plan was to target axis deer and hogs. The package we paid for also allowed us to shoot a turkey. We could swap the axis for any other exotic we encountered, which could have included sika deer, blackbuck antelope, or various sheep (ramboulet, mouflon, aoudad, or hybrids).
Each of us spent one arrow, shot at wild hogs during the last light of the first night’s hunt (neither of us connected). Each of us also passed up a single shot opportunity at a “wild” sheep during the trip. I got caught flat-footed by a big tom turkey that snuck in through the brush and suddenly appeared, five yards away. Other than that, we had no shot opportunities and spent the majority of the time in the field enjoying the plethora of birds that flock through Texas during the spring migration. I may have napped a little in the warm, spring morning sun. Neither of us killed anything except time.
During the trip, the contentious debate about high fence hunting kept running through my mind. In particular, I kept thinking about the insistence by some folks that high fence hunting isn’t hunting at all. The argument centers on the fact that high fence hunting is easy, and that the animals don’t have a fair chance of escape.
So is it the difficulty of the hunt that makes it “hunting”?
I’ve got a spot at the Tejon Ranch, back in California, where I could guarantee a shot at a wild hog. Even better, I could just about pinpoint when the animals would appear, and where they’d show up first. Everyone I ever took to that spot had at least one shot opportunity. I am certain that, had I wanted to do so, I could have laid around camp all day long, driven out to that spot in the last half hour before sunset, and killed a hog (if I shot straight)… every trip.
Tejon isn’t a high fence ranch. There were no feeders, and no food plots. Was that “hunting”?
When I was guiding for mule deer out at Coon Camp Springs, in California’s eastern Sierra, my clients had a 100% shot opportunity rate. Once I learned the lay of the land, I had specific areas that almost always produced deer. By the time the clients showed up, I could usually have them tagged out within two days… often sooner.
Coon Camp Springs is about 7000 acres of unfenced land, surrounded by millions more acres of public and private property. With the exception of some habitat restoration work, there is nothing unusual there to specifically attract or hold deer. But the hunts were typically easy. Was that “hunting”?
A few years back, I joined my brother on his first elk hunting trip. The first morning, the sun came up on us about four or five miles into the Uncompahgre Wilderness. We were surrounded by elk. Fifteen minutes later, my brother had a 320″ bull on the ground. The next morning, I set up on the edge of some dark timber while the guide and wrangler took the horses down to pack out my brother’s bull. By the time they got back up the mountain to where I was, I had almost finished skinning and boning out my own bull. Sure, it was a fairly long hike in and out, but it wasn’t what I’d call a “hard” hunt. In fact, it was far easier than some high fenced, hog hunts I’ve been on. Was it “hunting”?
Enough with the redundancy, then.
Besides the relative ease of all of those hunts, high fence and low, they share one other thing in common. I enjoyed them. Even the ostensibly “fruitless” bow hunt on the high fence ranch was a great time. I had fun, and really, isn’t that what hunting is about?
There are people who would tell me that my visit to that high fence ranch wasn’t “hunting”. But I have to say, it sure felt like it to me. As I sat there with my release clipped on, waiting with ragged breath and racing pulse for the spotted boar to take just two more steps… it felt like any other time or place, sitting in the same position with the same apprehensive tension. Or leaning back in the stand, nearly dozing under the late morning sun… I could have been on any hillside in any place. And later, around the skinning pole with the guys who were successful, it was the same jokes and banter that I’ve heard around skinning poles in every state and setting I’ve ever experienced.
No, I was there… and I’m pretty certain I was hunting. I am also dead sure that I enjoyed the experience, and it makes me wonder; in what world ruled by reason and logic could anyone tell me that I didn’t?
Isn’t that a foolish thought… to tell someone else that they couldn’t have enjoyed an experience because you wouldn’t enjoy it yourself?
Is it hunting? It is to me. Maybe it doesn’t meet your definition, but that’s alright.