Choose Hunting Partners Wisely

By Richard Bernier

In our enthusiasm and zeal to capture the biggest whitetail or fill the meat pole with numerous fine stags, have we perhaps misplaced the things that matter most in life? Has the quest to fulfill our whitetail desires become so consuming that little else can satisfy us beyond another dead pile of deer flesh beneath our feet?
Has the perceived need to possess another set of antlers become so strong that our actions have become misguided? Sadly, some of the most un-endearing human qualities routinely rear their ugly head within the deer hunting community. Jealousy, envy, strife, lying, misrepresentation, unethical practices and unlawful acts are a few of those often-demonstrated traits. In most cases, the beginning deer hunter’s interest in the sport was spurred by the romance of the hunt, the camaraderie of those he shared a camp with, the lure of matching wits with a worthy opponent, providing fine table fare and the enjoyment of the outdoor experience. All of these reasons are noble reasons to pursue whitetails. As each new participant begins to realize success, their achievements bring the necessary confidence to establish and set new goals. No longer is just shooting any deer enough to satisfy. For some, only taking a buck will now do, and for others it might be imposing a specific methodology in acquiring their kill. And then there are those who have honed their deer hunting prowess to such an extent that by only taking a mature buck can they fully experience fulfillment in their deer hunting quest. All of that is normal and acceptable as the deer hunter progresses. Where the problems start to surface and priorities become clouded is when the passion to hunt whitetails turns into an all-consuming desire to succeed at any cost. The need to excel supersedes rationale and in most examples alienates the hunter from all that was once endearing. Far too often, marriages have suffered irreparable damage, relationships are severed and integrity is compromised because of the lure of a big set of antlers. I believe Charlie Alsheimer summed it up when he wrote, “It appears that the drive to gain notoriety among friends and peers by killing book bucks has fogged the reason why many hunt.”


 Despite how many friends you may think you might have, it’s usually far less. Filling a Facebook page with those requesting to be friends isn’t validation for a definitive friendship. Popularity is much different than a relationship, and social networking can never hope to replace genuine time spent in each other's company. A true bond between comrades requires an investment from both parties, where the other places greater emphasis on the friend rather than themselves. Sadly, we live in a busy culture filled with people desperate to succeed; one that is fragmented to be radically individualist; a culture where dissatisfaction produces constant striving; and one where self-fulfillment and self-promotion has become the norm rather than the exception.


 Acquaintances are many, but friends are few. Choose wisely. If you’re to enjoy the solitude of the deer woods and effectively hunt without interruption and drama, you’d best define and choose your hunting pals with the greatest of care. The choices you make in whom you share a deer camp with will ultimately determine your level of satisfaction. Trust me; it only takes one immature malcontent to ruin a hunting trip. Outdoor writer Ron Spomer aptly states in his article, Going Deep, Everything You Need to Know to Hunt Your Way Into the Backcountry — and Survive: "Choose your mates carefully. You don’t need whiners, wimps or quitters.” Perhaps you’re cold, fatigued and frustrated. Get over yourself. Your partner probably is, too. Don’t whine. And as Madson wrote, “Whining will ruin everyone’s day, and stamp you as a gutless wonder who has no business afield.”


 “Deer hunters give much to their hunting partners, to others who witness their actions, and to the game of hunting itself. And in giving advantage, rather than grasping it selfishly, you’ll richly reward yourself as well.” — Madson A young man 20 years my junior came to me saying he wanted a mentor and someone who could teach him the art of still-hunting the big woods. I began to sow into this man's life, sharing a lifetime of deer hunting wisdom and behavioral insight. At his insistence, I took him 1,600 miles away on a wilderness whitetail hunt where he spent most of his time in my back pocket. What I did not understand or see coming was his use of a facade of sincerity to conceal his self-centered agenda for gain and notoriety. That all changed when he, from just to my left and a bit behind me, let loose with a muzzle blast that reverberated in my left ear. He'd taken something that did not rightfully belong to him and did so without regret. He shot the buck I'd worked diligently to capture, even as my crosshairs were pinned to the animal's shoulder. Because of my genuine desire to help and mentor, I was unable to discern the self-centered purpose and motives behind his veil of sincerity.


 With each tug of the giant beast, I wished that my partner was there to help. I’d shot one of the heaviest bucks of my career, 253 pounds dressed, more than a half-mile from the road, with only a couple of hours of daylight remaining. It was physically challenging to drag this buck out alone, as he outweighed me by at least 75 pounds, and I was dragging on bare ground. Ultimately, the chore took five hours to accomplish. So where was my hunting partner? Back home, 1600 miles away. Because of his limited vacation time, we determined it best for him to fly out and meet me, hunt the final two weeks and ride back home in my pickup. So, there I was with my tag filled, four days into a three week hunt, and my partner not scheduled to arrive for three more days. What would you do in that situation: Head home and save a pile of dough, strike out for another state or province to hunt, or wait for your partner as planned? Neither of the first two options entered into the equation. Months earlier, he and I had discussed all of the potential scenarios, and my resolve to stay and hunt with him was never in question. (Party hunting is legal where we were hunting.) In fact, the first morning of what ultimately turned into nine hunting days before my partner shot his buck, I shared this with him, “Regardless how long it takes for you to shoot a buck, even if it takes the full two weeks I’m here, I'm fully committed to you. And you decide what buck to shoot. Don’t be killing one just because you’re feeling pressured about me being here longer than necessary.” Making that statement and meaning it was as natural to me as breathing. After all, this was my friend, a treasured relationship that has weathered time and storms without the least fracture in the foundation upon which our friendship was built.


 Being gracious is not a trait that comes easily to us. In this highly competitive world, we tend to strategize and position ourselves in the most favorable situations as they relate to us. I heard a quote the other day that had such an effect on me I was forced to pull my vehicle over and write it down: “The measure of a man is not in his strength, it is in his nobility.” We get so caught up in our own selfish desires to lay claim to the biggest buck in the woods that we fail to see how damaging our actions become to those we share our camp with. A whitetail, despite however large it might be, can never replace the significance of a relationship. The deer is only part of the experience. Without friends to share the hunt with, the journey becomes stale and tasteless. May we never forget to place the value of our comrades above personal agendas.


 Fortunately, the ugly side of deer hunting has not found its way into every deer camp, club, fraternity or family. There are still many enthusiasts of the sport who cherish the time they spend afield in the company of fine comrades. Many who have killed their share of big bucks have never compromised their value system nor surrendered their integrity. Rather than placing their all-surpassing value on what does or doesn’t hang from a meat pole by season's end, they invest in building, nurturing and most importantly, retaining relationships. They keep the whitetail in its proper perspective, which is to be admired, appreciated, enjoyed and hunted in a fair-chase manner, but never at the expense of or elevated above those they hunt with.


 It has been written, “For a man to have friends, he must first show himself friendly.” Building relationships with deer hunting comrades will not only make each hunt more fun, but as the years begin to amass, memories will accumulate; treasured times that all can look back upon with pleasure. Madson wrote, “A hunt may be a grim trial to endure together or a dream trip to remember. In either case, it is a mutual enterprise to be shared without selfishness — sharing shooting opportunities, hunting techniques, food, equipment, and something of each other. It must never be competitive. No good thing should be hogged by one person. The only place for selfishness on a hunt is in taking more than your share of work, discomfort, or disappointment.” And when you discover such a hunting partner, we're reminded, “Mark them well, whenever you find them. They are proper folks with whom to share your campfire.”