Back in Time: Deer Hunters Shouldn’t Miss the Forest for the Trees

April 2, 2019 | by Nick Pinizzotto

My friend Mike and I decided to do a little shed antler hunting and post-season scouting last weekend. It was an unseasonably cold and blustery morning, which made it a perfect time to wear out some boot leather and start our homework for the coming deer season. I had another motive for the trip that I didn’t share with Mike until we were well into our journey, and that was to revisit a place that I hadn’t been since my very first deer hunt.

As we stepped into the beautiful stand of hemlock, the memories started flooding back. I explained to Mike how my dad and I sat against one of the larger trees on opening morning while we peered into the openings with the hopes of seeing a buck sneaking through. That was 33 years ago and, at that time, the trees were quite a bit shorter and thicker, and I remember how they shielded us from the wind. I can also remember how quiet it was, and how I was wondering if the deer could hear me breathing. The way my dad would describe this area when I was still too young to hunt made it seem like a magical place, and when I was finally able to see it for myself, I learned that the stories weren’t too good to be true.

I didn’t get my buck that day, and looking back on it now I have to say that I’m glad. Had I shot one, I might have lost sight of the more important memories of that morning, which remain clear in my mind to this day. It’s funny how much you remember from the days that didn’t include dragging a deer out of the woods.

Making this trip was particularly important to me because just a few days earlier I was sitting in a hearing room in Washington, D.C., talking to a Congressional sub-committee about some of the challenges that deer and hunters are currently facing, like chronic wasting disease (CWD) and the need for more flexibility for state wildlife agencies to recruit and retain hunters. If someone would have told me on that morning of my first deer hunt that I would be doing that someday I would have likely said, “No thanks, that doesn’t interest me in the least!” Obviously, I take that responsibility seriously now, but going back to where it all started for me was important on this day because I needed to be reminded of why I fell in love with deer and hunting.

It’s easy to get caught up in the details of our sport and sometimes lose track of the reasons we are passionate about it in the first place. I sometimes struggle with this, and continually see examples of where others also veer off course. For some, it’s a disdain for state wildlife agencies who might be making a change to regulations or a management decision that is contrary to their beliefs or personal desires. I’ve worked with hundreds of state wildlife managers over the years I can’t recall one that was trying to make the lives of hunters miserable. Not all decisions are popular and it’s impossible to always be right, which makes being a wildlife manager one of the more thankless jobs.

I’ve talked with a few people who say they’re not willing to introduce someone to hunting because it would cut into their personal time. In some cases, it can be far worse. For example, I just read of a poaching incident in Ohio where someone shot an eight-point buck in the morning, but then spotted a 26-point buck later in the day and decided to shoot it, too. That hunter paid $837 in fines and court costs, and another $27,904 in restitution for the buck that scored 228 7/8 inches!

We probably all know family members or former friends who no longer talk to each other over a deer-hunting dispute. Even more disturbing are the too-common stories of physical altercations that happen during hunting season, including a few disturbing and unfortunate cases of someone being badly hurt or even killed.

CWD is the latest major issue that has put hunters at odds with each other as some choose to ignore the science and instead take steps to halt management of the disease. Others may take the issue too far by making statements that exaggerate what is known, which causes excess alarm and anxiety. Wouldn’t it be nice if all this energy could be used to work together to solve the problem as opposed to wasting time dividing into the various camps of believers, skeptics, and the willingly uninformed? The bottom line is hunters are the key to slowing and maybe eventually stopping CWD, and as a community we need to get focused and take the responsibility seriously.

The curious thing about why hunters can sometimes lose focus on what is most important about our sport is that the behavior is driven by passion. It’s hard to find a hunter that doesn’t have a love for deer and the outdoors, and that passion means that we all have something in common to build on. Hunting and wildlife management works best with an “us” mentality as opposed to a “me” mentality, and I think visiting, daydreaming about, or looking at old photos of the places that have influenced us is a worthy endeavor. I know my experience last weekend helped me once again see the forest for the trees, and I encourage anyone else who might benefit from some time to refocus to do the same.