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Has ‘trophy’ hunting got out of whack?

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 15, 2015 at 11:35 AM

Another deer season is at hand, and with it comes a growing debate about trophy hunting -- referred to euphemistically as “quality deer management.”

There was a recent report on a national news outlet about “Frankenstein bucks.” They are deer that have been genetically altered and chemically enhanced to produce monster racks. Some of the antlers are so big that “the deer stagger under their weight.”

That’s unnatural and grotesque, yet it evidently appeals to some antler-obsessed hunters and -- in my opinion -- reflects a troubling trend.

“Quality deer management” is practiced on some TWRA Wildlife Management Areas, such as Catoosa. Bucks must have a minimum of four points on one antler or a 15-inch minimum outside spread to be legal.

I’m opposed to trophy-hunting requirements on public land. We already have enough government regulation without being told what size deer we can kill.

I support 99% of the TWRA's regulations, but not this one. The Agency has no business defining a “trophy deer.” What’s next, telling turkey hunters they can’t shoot a gobbler unless it has a 10-inch beard? Those decisions should be up to the individual hunter.

I can solve my Catoosa objection by simply not hunting there. But my deeper concern is that the "quality deer" regulation might eventually become statewide law.

I’m not opposed to “trophy hunting” per se. I have some antler-addled hunting buddies who turn up their noses at anything less than an 8-pointer, and if that’s what they choose, fine. But I don’t want to be forced to share their philosophy.

To me, defining the success of a hunt by the size of deer’s antlers defies the spirit of the hunt. I’ve never “scored” an antler or entered one in a “big deer” contest. If you want to compete for high scores, go bowling. Deer hunting is not supposed to be a competition.

My most thrilling and memorable deer hunt came when I was a teenager in 1963, when I bagged my first deer. It was a little fork-horn buck. It wouldn’t have been legal on Catoosa or other “quality management" areas, and so-called trophy hunters wouldn’t give it a second glace.

But that little buck was – and will always be – more special than any of the much bigger bucks I bagged over the years.

What accounts for today’s trophy buck obsession? I blame a large part of it on the influence of those absurd TV hunting shows. The TV hunters go after big bucks and seem peeved with anything less. That misguided message rubs off on their audience.

Another part of the equation is that society in general seems obsessed with “big” – the biggest house, the biggest car, the biggest TV … and some deer hunters want to brag about the biggest antlers. It's all about competition.

Also, some of it is generational. When I began deer hunting in the 1960’s, bagging a buck of any size was a big deal. Every deer was special, every deer was a trophy. Now with deer so common, a lot of Gen-X hunters take them for granted. They’re deer-spoiled.

Not me. I still thrill to the sight of a doe slipping through the frosty woods and working within range of my muzzleloader. When I harvest a doe, it's a satisfying hunt.

Over the years I've tagged some good-sized bucks, but I consider them a bonus, not a quest. Trying to kill a deer that’s bigger than someone else’s deer is not why I hunt.

The enchantment of deer hunting has nothing to do with antlers.

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