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.







7 Responses to “Is It Hunting?”

  1. Kat on April 7th, 2014 14:18

    Since we are lucky enough to live in a place where deer come right onto the property I have to admit, the hunting is pretty easy. I don’t buy all the latest gear and gadgets. I usually just borrow one of Phillip’s camo shirts or jackets and wear my jeans. I don’t have to get up at 3 AM and drive far to get to the spot. And I don’t have to pay a guide to show me where the deer are. Am I not hunting? Whatever, the venison tastes the same to me.

  2. David on April 7th, 2014 15:15

    As always Phillip your words are thought provoking and for me personally, very timely.

    I have shared before that I have muscular dystrophy and as it progresses, so have my thoughts on this topic.

    I started hiring a guide for duck hunts a couple years ago. Like you mention in your posts about some of your easier hunts, these hunts tend to be “easy.” What I mean by easy is that my particular guide literally drives me right up to the blind, helps me get in and then he does all the calling and retrieving. All I have to do is shoot. As a matter of fact, he does all the scouting and decoy placement too. If the birds aren’t there, he cancels and he calls me back when they are there in great numbers. In other words, it is as close as you can get to a high fenced hunt in the bird world. Everytime we go out, we murder them. And when we don’t it is only because we miss our shots. This year I went goose hunting with him. He scouted and scouted for a week to get on the birds. And just like the duck hunts he help me into my lay out blind and out again (and believe me getting this lumbering body up off the ground isn’t for the weak). Anyway, my point is for me, the hunter, these hunts certainly aren’t hard and I never go into them wondering if I will have opportunities.

    I hired a guide for hog hunts and it is about the same result. These are all fair chase hunts, no fences at all whatsoever. I have never had a trip where I had to do much work to get on a hog and heck, for a few of them I darn near didn’t even need to get out of the truck. On one trip, the guide had the hogs patterned so well that he actually put out lawn chairs and tripods for us. We literally walked about 100 yards and then sat in the comfort of lawn chairs under the shade of a giant oak tree for the morning hunt.

    I didn’t always think this way, however. It took my own limitations to bring me to hiring guides and gaining access to prime land/habitat. After doing so, it brought me to realize that this wasn’t much different than some of the high fence hunting that is out there.

    I remember having a talk with a hunter a couple years ago who was all about finding one deer in velvet and then hunting that single deer down with archery equipment even if it took him both archery and rifle seasons to finally out-smart it and kill it. He thought that was the only way to hunt. I remember telling him half-jokingly that I was good with bagging any random deer that was blind in one eye, walking with a limp toting an oxygen bottle so long as it was on the up-hill side of the road so I could easily roll the carcass to my truck bed. He didn’t laugh.

    It is all about what you want to get out of the experience I suppose. For me, it is all about spending precious time with the people I love out in the field getting wild meat for the freezer. And the way I look at it, you can do that in any number of ways. You had a great time with your brother and to me that is what it is all about. So good on you!

  3. Jim T. on April 7th, 2014 15:50

    As usual Phillip, you’ve done a fine job getting to the crux of the issue. I’d love to share your essay on the Fair Chase blog if that’s okay with you. And a fine comment too, David, I really appreciated reading about your experiences.

  4. Is It Hunting? | on April 7th, 2014 17:43

    […] Is It Hunting? […]

  5. Phillip on April 8th, 2014 06:21

    Thanks, all.

    David and Kat, you both make the point perfectly. It’s not about what someone else thinks hunting should be. It’s what the individual hunter thinks it should be, at the time.

    In a world where I could do anything I wanted, any time I wanted, I expect I’d do the majority of my hunting in the rough places. I can’t deny there’s a level of reward that comes from getting into an area where humans rarely tread, and the beauty of this country’s wild places is something to behold. I love it for what it is, and if you add in the aspect of hunting to that kind of experience, I think it’s near perfection.

    But even if I had that luxury, I’d still hunt high fence. I’d still hunt the feeder out at the back of my pasture. I’d still enjoy the thrill of sitting with my finger on the safety, or the release clipped to my bowstring, even if the setting is as familiar as my own backyard. Because it’s all “hunting” to me.

    To me.

    That’s really what it comes down to. To you, maybe it’s something different. I don’t fault your trophy hunter, David, who is dead set on hunting and killing that singular animal. I admire the commitment, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to follow the same path. That’s his experience. Yours is different. Mine is too.

    I can’t stand to hear someone announce, with a broad brush, “that’s not hunting.”

    But if they’d just add that little modifier at the end… “to me,” it would be perfectly fine.

    Jim, absolutely, feel free to share. I started to write this one over on Fair Chase directly, but as usual, my own blog won the coin toss.

  6. robb on April 8th, 2014 09:21

    A great post Phillip.

    I’m glad that I’ve become less judgemental of late. High fence used to be on my dismissive list. There is none here, or none I’m aware of, and long ago I realized that there’s a vast difference between a one acre high fence and a hundred thousand acres. High fence is only one of many types of hunting I don’t do, through lack of opportunity or lack of interest it’s hard to say. I also don’t do guided hunts, or catch and release fishing, or baiting, not saying I never would or even that I prefer not to hunt like that, just saying I don’t. I will say I try with more success all the time not to look down on other sorts of hunting.

    I’ll also say I wish you and all you hunt with to have a very enjoyable time.

    Thanks for writing.

  7. Phillip on April 8th, 2014 16:00

    Thanks for the note, Robb.

    I really wish more folks would take your position. Don’t judge, especially if you don’t know what you’re judging. Too many folks in the discussion make some really vehement condemnations of high fence hunting based on nothing better than preconceived notions.