August 06, 2021
By Chuck Adams
I’ve always loved big animals, but I’ve also had mixed emotions about trophy hunting and trophy hunters. For me, it’s the motivation — the reason — for shooting big animals that counts.
Many years ago, my friend, the late Jim Dougherty, asked me why I had never entered a critter in Pope and Young. He was President of that organization at the time. I told him I believed going after large bucks and bulls was a personal thing, not a public accomplishment. But Jim changed my mind.
“How,” he asked, “can other bowhunters know what is big or small, unless animals are scored and entered in the books? It gives all of us some size comparisons to strive for.”
Shortly after that, I entered the handful of large archery animals I had at the time. I also set a personal goal — never public — that I hoped to harvest 200 official P&Y animals. I’m a goal-oriented guy, and this self-imposed challenge really turned me on.
Like most folks I know, taking an animal of any size was a huge accomplishment when I started bowhunting. It took me three years to bag my first archery deer…a smallish California blacktail. You never saw a prouder guy! I still believe any archery critter can be a genuine trophy, so long as it’s important to you.
For example, in 2014, I shot a rutting mule deer on property I own in Wyoming. Muleys around my home are never large, and it was absolutely thrilling when I drilled that little forked-horn buck a stone’s throw from my house.
That same year, I bowhunted mule deer in Montana. I saw multiple bucks each day, and I knew there were whoppers around. For that reason, I waited, glassed till my eyes hurt, and finally found a nice P&Y-class animal. My reason for waiting? It gave me more time to hunt. Had I shot the first legal deer I saw, I probably would have enjoyed only one or two days of hunting. Waiting for a trophy boosted the challenge and gave me more fun before I finally punched my tag.
Yet, I was just as excited over the little forky I’d killed near my house that same year. It’s all a matter of perspective.
I believe there are right and wrong reasons to hunt trophy game. It’s great to be proud of animals you bag, but the wrong reason, in my humble opinion, is only hunting so you can show off and brag later on. The right reason is enjoying the process; with big antlers or horns a bonus at the end.
A former president of a state outfitter’s association had a small high-fence area with privately owned bull elk. He told me the “hunters” who purchased his animals were after one thing and one thing only — instant bragging rights. He confided that some of his clients — particularly those from overseas — did not even bother to show up. They asked him to shoot the critters for them and ship them the antlers and capes. You can bet those guys spun some pretty exciting lies about the animals on their walls. Nothing illegal was done, but how could a real hunter respect such nonsense?
Trophy elk, deer, antelope, and other species are definitely easy on the eyes. Every large set of antlers or horns is a unique work of art, and the aesthetic value is worthwhile. I love to look at big animals as much as the next person. But such value is greatly diminished if the hunt was not genuine.
A high-fence deer outfitter showed me photos of amazing whitetail bucks at an outdoor expo a couple of years ago. He told me each deer had been tranquilized, precisely scored, and matched with a “kill price.” When the guy tried to sell me a spectacular 295-inch nontypical, I politely declined and walked away. What sort of memories would such a fish-in-a-barrel provide…trophy size be darned?
One trend in modern hunting disturbs me: Television shows displaying hunt after hunt, where only huge animals are shot. Some are inside high-fence sanctuaries; others are harvested in places where animals are coddled and protected until they get big.
As a result, I hear bowhunters — particularly young bowhunters — apologizing for the animals they have killed.
“That’s only a 135 whitetail,” one young man told me as he scrolled through photos on his phone. “Hope I get a big one some day.”
Excuse me? A 135-inch whitetail IS big in most places, my friend. The P&Y typical minimum is 125 for good reason. In most habitats, like the foothills near my Wyoming house, any buck is a trophy buck.
In my opinion, the current push to show huge whitetails hitting the dirt on TV is distorting and damaging the whole concept of being proud of whatever animal you shoot with a bow. Bowhunting should be fun, and the value of critters you are lucky enough to take should reside in the thrills and challenges they provided you. With the right attitude, I believe any archery critter can be a trophy in the eyes of the shooter. If it’s big because of good luck or hard hunting, so much the better.
As I described in my column earlier this year, I finally reached my goal of 200 official P&Y animals in 2020. But the value for me was not a bunch of heads on the wall. In fact, I have only mounted a half-dozen that were especially difficult for me. I own every set of antlers and horns that once sat atop every animal I’ve killed since I was a teenager, and I still relish handling and looking at each and every one of them on a regular basis. But the real trophies — mounted or not — are the memories of extreme challenges and great enjoyment along the way. My new goal is 300 P&Y’s. Who knows if that will happen, but I do know one thing: It promises a lot more hunting fun for me in the future!
Editor’s Note: Chuck has just launched an exciting new website. The site offers photos of incredible hunts, rare memorabilia, unique archery products, and a regular hunting blog that will include controversial topics. In addition, be sure to follow Chuck on Facebook and Instagram at Chuck Adams Archery.