RATON, N.M Looking back, it held all of the ingredients for a great hunt.
Buddy Justin Bremer and I spent months planning and preparing for our early December hunt in New Mexico. That included comparing travel lists, saving money, honing skills and sharing time together at the rifle range.
Our stalks were challenging, successful and satisfying. Despite pulse rates elevated by excitement and the mountain’s elevation, our shots had been good and the two elk were down quickly.
The meat from both animals was worked up from field to frozen packages with our own hands. Our wives are enjoying the meals as much as we are and urging us to go again.
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Yet there are those who would think the event a waste because our elk weren’t carrying antlers.
“Stupid is, as stupid does,” is how one hunter referenced my going all the way to New Mexico to shoot an elk without antlers.
Frankly, I’m beginning to enjoy my hunts for antlerless deer and elk even more than when those animals are packing antlers.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a basement full of shoulder mounts, European skull mounts and corners stacked with antlers and horns of a variety of big game. I’m proud of them all, and remember every story of every hunt.
And through the years I’ve written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about bucks and bulls with giant racks. I can quote state and world record antler score statistics better than most.
I dearly love bowhunting Kansas bucks during the November rut, and the sight of a big-antlered whitetail or mule deer that time of year gets my heart racing.
But I as much enjoy hunts where antlers aren’t even a possibility, like during the special Kansas January season for whitetails without antlers. It is fun not worrying if the target animal qualifies for some record book or would impress my friends. The fun is in the hunt, itself. The success is based more on fun and pounds of great meat in the freezer than record book inches.
And I’ve noticed that once antlers are out of the equation life gets easier. I get access to much more property for hunting does in Kansas than during buck seasons. There is no worry that I’ll shoot an animal that could have been shot by a trophy hunting family member or paying client. As well as with less stress, hunts for antlerless deer and elk come with less financial investment, too.
Justin and I were guided on our short cow hunt, and that rate was less than 10-percent the cost of what some trophy bull hunts run at the same ranch. Even the licenses to shoot the cow elk were about half what they would have been to hunt a bull. My only regret for not getting to have shot a bull, of which we saw some dandies, was that they carry much more meat than cows of the species.
I guess as I age, I’m also getting increasingly frustrated with what antlers can do to hunting.
A lot of otherwise good men have done dumber things to get big antlers than they would have for money or women. Careers have been ruined when someone got caught stretching the law, trying to illegally get some high-scoring buck. Families have been split when, say, one brother shot a buck another brother thought should be allowed to grow another year.
I know of too many cases where too much time and money spent hunting trophy bucks led to divorces.
But I also understand that trophy hunting is an individual’s choice. I have no more right to tell someone they shouldn’t hold out for a huge, old, high-scoring 10-pointer than they have the right to tell me what I should consider a good hunt.
But I know that the past two bow seasons I haven’t shot an animal with antlers, nor do I have any desire to take one with a gun. Yet my freezers have held plenty of fresh meat and my mind great memories of the doe and cow elk hunts from those same seasons.
Trophy hunting has lost a lot of allure to me these days and I doubt it ever comes totally back. I’m at a stage where every hunt, every animal and every meal it provides are trophies.
I like where I’m at.