For years, friends and I had been going to Fetla's Trading post in Valparaiso, Ind., to watch deer roll in on Saturday night of opening weekend. We'd eat chili and watch an endless line of trucks pull up to have deer checked and weighed.
Finally, after years of trying, it was my turn to bring a deer to the scale. The little doe in the back of my uncle's pickup wouldn't weigh much, but I couldn't have been prouder. Then I was deer shamed.
As I stood by the truck waiting my turn to have my doe checked and weighed, my chest a little more puffed out than usual, a group of young men walked by and looked in the bed at my first deer. One, who never slowed down, said, "It's just a doe," and kept walking. Then another quipped, "Yeah, a baby doe." They all laughed. I was deflated. My pride sucked away in an instant.
Then all hell broke loose in the hunting world. Outdoor television came into prominence, bringing with it this false sense of accomplishment through the accumulation of antler inches. A competition arose around hunting like never before.
A new breed of hunter consumed with image and gadgets came into existence. Companies began marketing hunting like it was a war against bucks. And warrior face paint was needed to succeed in this battle.
Social media came into play. Now everyone can be Insta-famous. "Likes" define the value of deer for too many. Lines defining ethics and morals have become more blurred as hunters, especially "celebrity hunters," continue to be exposed for poaching violations committed in the pursuit of the business side of deer hunting.
It all needs to stop. We need to see a return to our hunting roots, and it takes all of us working together to make that happen.
First, don't ever do to anyone, especially a kid, what those men did to me. You have no idea what that person might have gone through to take that animal.
For me, it was three years of freezing through cold sits in empty woods and missing multiple shots with my bow.
I learned the hard way before finally connecting with my muzzleloader at 14 years old. I'll never take an animal that is more of a trophy to me than that yearling doe. She might not have looked like much, but to me that doe was everything I had worked for and dreamed about.
A lot of deer are going to be killed in the next few weeks. Remember every deer is a trophy. Remember that when talking to another hunter and when talking about another hunter's deer.
Before you pull the trigger, commit to being proud of the animal. I don't want you to ever say, "It's just a doe." Don't ever belittle a buck by saying, "He's not that big, but ." A living, breathing creature died as the result of being hunted. That deer deserves the utmost respect.
Hopefully, the venison will find its way a dinner table where it will be celebrated. When you take a bite, it doesn't matter if it was a giant buck, a button buck or a doe. A sacrifice was made so food could be had.
Hopefully the harvest was an honorable pursuit. Treat the result the same. Build other hunters up and respect the animal. Don't ever deer shame.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler, the director of communications for Roeslein Alternative Energy, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected].