Deer antlers on wooden plaques adorn the walls of my office. It is rare for someone to remark about them when they come into the office. That’s fine. I don’t have the antlers there to impress anyone. I just needed a place to hang them.
Occasionally, I’ll look up at the antlers, not to admire them, but to reflect on past times. I’ll recall on the circumstances that allowed me to cross paths with a wary whitetail buck and successfully kill it. But I’ll also think about my hunting companions on the day it happened and how difficult it was to get the heavy animal out of the woods. The memories matter far more to me than the size of the antlers on the wall.
It’s been years since the last time I mounted antlers on a wooden plaque, although I save the antlers from every buck I’ve killed. Many are heaped in a pile in the garage, along with shed antlers from moose and deer. I sometimes wonder what to do with this collection, but so far haven’t decided to part with it. Other hunters may feel the same way.
Since hardly anyone other than me ever sees these antlers, I’m not hanging on to them for bragging rights. In fact, if you ask a couple of weeks after deer season how many points were on the antlers of the buck I killed, most likely I won’t remember. But if you ask me about the hunt, who was with me and how hard it was to get the deer out of the woods, I’ll answer you in boring detail.
All of this leaves me scratching my head about the concept of “personal best” or “PB,” which is all the rage with hunters and anglers on social media. To me, if you take PB and add J, you’ve got the makings of a pretty good sandwich, which always confuses me when someone remarks “Got my PB” while hoisting a live fish or squatting beside a dead deer.
The definition of PB, if there is one, seems to be the specimen you are holding is the biggest one you’ve caught or killed. For too many of today’s hunters and anglers, equating “biggest” with “best” seems to be the sum total of their hunting and fishing experiences.
Too often, they go to great effort and expense to tip the odds in their favor. There is no end of gadgets and potions intended to make it easier to lure, fool and artificially fool a wild creature’s incredible ability to avoid humans and other predators.
You can argue that such devices have been part of hunting since an early hunter twisted some reeds together to make a duck decoy. You can also point out that it’s hard to draw a definitive line on hunting and fishing technology in a world where scope-sighted rifles and sophisticated fishing electronics are the norm. This is true, but many of us intuitively know when we cross a boundary, even if perfectly legal, that gives us an unfair advantage over our quarry. We may all choose to draw our personal line in a different place, but only some of us will choose to cross it.
There’s a couple of primary reasons someone will make that choice. The first is laziness. Someone with limited time, skills or even lackadaisical interest in the outdoors may choose to shoot a deer from a heated blind situated over a food plot simply because it is the most comfortable and easiest way to legally kill a deer. In a world where many folks are more at home in a box store parking lot than they are in the woods, so be it.
The second motivator is the quest for a PB. Call it antler worship or trophy syndrome, a lot of folks aren’t satisfied unless the big one doesn’t get away. While there is nothing wrong with being proud of a trophy-sized animal or fish, when it becomes the most important aspect of your hunting and fishing experience, you may be willing to cut some corners to achieve success. Provided you stay within the bounds of the law, you’re entitled to do so. But I probably won’t be impressed with the pictures you post on social media.
So often, it seems, those trophy pictures appear without a story, because there isn’t much of a story to tell. Watching a buck with your trail cameras so you can “pattern” its movements doesn’t involve much skill beyond camera positioning. If you lured it within shooting range with a scent potion you made yourself, you may have the makings of a good tale. If you bought the potion off the shelf at a box store, not so much. If it was impossible for the buck to see your movements or catch your scent on the breeze because you were hidden inside an enclosed blind, you performed an assassination. That’s not a hunt.
If that’s how you choose to use your time in November, so be it. I prefer to feel the cold sting on my cheeks at sunrise. When it is time for lunch, I like to find a comfortable place to sit in the sun and enjoy a simple sandwich. At the end of the day, whether or not I’ve killed a deer, I’ll have stories to tell.
You can never predict when it happens. A nearly imperceptible sound suddenly becomes the footsteps of an approaching deer. You catch a flicker of movement in the brush and the buck you seek steps into view. Often, you have just seconds to make the shot before he disappears into the dense forest. If he catches your scent or detects motion as you lift the rifle, he’ll be gone. It’s now or never as you squeeze the trigger. Whether or not you make the shot, those brief moments will be seared into your memory. I guess that’s what I call a personal best.