by Johnny Mack
This last weekend I had the blessing of shooting my very first buck. Something that I had waited a very long time for. It was a wonderful late season rifle hunt for whitetail in the upper northeast part of the state of Washington. I was hunting in a game management unit (GMU) that was open for any buck (meaning if it has antlers, it was legal to shoot).
Going into this hunt, I was faced with a question from multiple people that I felt prepared to answer. That question being, would I shoot the first buck that I see and possibly have it be a spike or would I hold out for a mature deer? As this question rolled around in my head, I knew after arrowing a mature bull elk in the 2018 archery season that a mature antlered animal brings with it a certain type of grandeur and respect amongst the hunting community. As much as I wanted a mature animal to show off to my friends and family, something just didn’t feel right.
As I chewed the fat on what I wanted to shoot, I kept coming back to the stance that I went hunting to shoot a deer. Being selective as to the age range and maturity of the buck meant nothing. If it was legal to shoot, I was going to fire. Deep down inside, I knew that any buck would be a dream come true. Yet, here I was mulling over my position once again.
In May of 2013, I completed my hunter’s safety class and finally decided to step into the unknown world of hunting. I was 29 at the time and had zero experience or knowledge on how difficult hunting actually is. Being raised a multi-sport athlete and always dedicating myself to sports, autumn was never a majestic time spent in the woods getting closer with myself and my creator. Instead it was filled with Friday night lights and a severe dissatisfaction and frustration for losing.
This is where becoming a hunter has changed me. It has transformed my life. After 6 years of buying licenses and tags, I finally was able to shoot my first buck and I am only starting the good ol’ days of my hunting career. How many other things can you say in your life that you tried for 6 years before you were able to seal the deal?
Even though I was filled with joy, excitement and relief. I quickly found myself reflecting upon how I shared my hunt with others along with how they would respond. Without hesitation, I found myself calling my wife and telling her that I finally did it! I shot my first buck. Quickly followed up with it’s “just” a spike.
Instantly I felt a drop in my stomach and a sense of guilt and shame. How dare I qualify or quantify my deer and the animal that just sacrificed its life for me and my family. Somehow through using the word “just”, I instantly devalued my harvest. To use the word “just” is short for justify, yet I had nothing to feel bad about or need to justify. I found myself in shock that such an ungrateful attitude surfaced within me, that I quickly tried to eat my words. From that moment on, I would never quantify or qualify a hunt or animal ever again.
After loading up the deer before daylight disappeared and darkness reigned, I headed into town to host a hunter community building event. Leading into the event, I knew that I would have the opportunity to meet new hunters and build relationships with some really cool people all while being able to share my story of my first buck.
As people started to gather and stories started to flow, there was a response from almost every person that I met that night in regards to my deer. “At least it’ll eat good” started to roll from peoples tongues without any awareness of the power or gravity of what they were saying. Everytime I heard it, it stung a bit more.
As I gathered my thoughts, I came to the realization that even though these people meant no harm, they were judging the deer that I shot. They were quantifying and qualifying my animal. But where were their judgements stemming from? What was the source? Some of the people I spoke with were experienced hunters with multiple pictures of their mature quarry, while some were brand new and have never taken an animals life.
It wasn’t until I came across President Theodore Roosevelt’s quote of “Comparison is the thief of joy” that I understood why people would say what they did or why I would say “just” a spike. We as humans love to compare ourselves to others. We love to see how we measure up and where we fall short. Call it a flaw or human nature, but as hunters and ambassadors for what we love, this is something that we MUST be aware of when speaking of the animals that we kill.
The tenderloins that my family were blessed to eat for dinner would not have tasted any better or worse based off of antler size or if the deer had any at all. We all hunt for multiple reasons. For me, I know that I hunt for what it does for my soul along with the food that it provides. Anything else is just icing on the cake.
My challenge for you when you get your opportunity and share the story of your hunt, is to pause and reflect on if you use the word “just” while sharing with others. At the same time being aware of people responding with “at least it’ll eat good” or some other form of justification. It is time for us to reinvent and reimagine hunting for ourselves and the world. Don’t let comparison steal your joy. Life happens the way it is supposed to happen. It is up to you to view it with gratefulness and joy or you will be left constantly comparing and eternally unsatisfied.
Johnny Mack, the Soulful Hunter