by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges
I’m fortunate enough to be immersed in the hunting lifestyle. Being in the outdoor industry as an outfitter and guide, surrounding myself with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts for friends, as well as being part of a family that loves hunting and fishing, means I get to live my dreams 24/7/365!
As my son and my friends’ children got older, I decided to become a Hunting Education instructor. As anyone who has taken the course will remember, there is a chapter referencing the Evolution of a Hunter.
With the broad scope of hunters I’m so lucky to spend time in camp with — whether it’s in a remote tent camp for caribou, or out on the “Back 40” for an afternoon deer hunt — I get to see all of these stages. Sometimes, I am even around to see a hunter progress from one stage to the next.
Most of my Hunter Education students talk wide-eyed about trips shared with their mentors. Their excitement is a fine example of that first level, sometimes called the “shooter stage.” You know these first-time hunters are going to be ready to sling the lead once given the okay by their hunting adviser. Getting a shot at something legal will be the highlight of their early hunting years.
Once they’ve moved passed the thrill of just pulling the trigger, they find themselves obsessed with filling tags. Taking the shot is no longer the pinnacle of the hunt. Success for these hunters is about notching their tags and filling their limits.
While working alongside these younger hunters I learned that you can accelerate the progress to the next stage in a hunters evolution by having them involved with all aspects of the hunt: the harvest, the ‘dirty work’ of cleaning and processing the animal, and the cleanup of the space and equipment required for this work.
Trophy hunting has taken a terrible beating in the media lately, mainly due to lack of knowledge on the part of the general public. This is the mature stage of a hunter’s evolution and they should be proud of it. This does not mean shooting strictly for sport, size or pleasure. It means a hunter has become more selective, targeting older, more mature specimens of the animal they are hunting. And like all good hunters, they too use all parts of the harvested animal.
A trophy hunter generally puts more into the hunt and realizes similar satisfaction, kill or no kill, because they don’t need to fill their quota. They enjoy matching wits with a specific animal and don’t mind going home empty.
Once a hunter has gone beyond trophy hunting they’ll start looking for new challenges. This could mean going into new areas to pursue different animals, changing equipment preferences (for example going from a rifle to a bow) or changing hunting styles, like trying spot-and-stalk hunting instead of ambush style hunting.
These hunters put in time learning habits and habitats of new creatures, teaching themselves a new method of take, or broadening techniques used to get their game. They pour over maps of new areas, and spend hours practicing their new styles and equipment. They know that they may not succeed at something new right away but they’re okay with it, because it’s more about the journey than the destination.
Finally, my favorite stage in the evolution of a hunter: the “it’s all about the experience” stage. This is where hunters care more about what they saw, who they spent time with, and what new adventures they experienced, than the actual kill. They realize time spent in the outdoors is the reward.
They cherish the friendships created or maintained through these adventures and success is not measured by inches of antler or pounds of meat in the cooler. Now, don’t get me wrong, these hunters can be as successful as they are at any other stage and take home their fair share of game. The difference is that they share memories of the whole experience, rather than just the size of the animal or the difficulty of the hunt.
It’s great that in my line of work I get to spend time with many hunters at different stages of their hunting evolution. Sometimes it’s good to have a youthful, energetic Shooter Stage hunter in camp with a group of fully evolved hunters.
You can see it in their eyes, when they’re looking back to their time at that first stage.
And they’re full of good memories.