The debate between trophy hunters and meat hunters rages all around us. But is there really any debate?
Well, yes. There is a real separation between meat hunters and trophy hunters in the whitetail community. In my opinion, however, the debate is fueled more by miscommunication than it is by the gross obsessions trophy hunters are accused of.
We recently conducted an ongoing survey (which you can take) that asked the question: What is more important to you, trophy or meat? The overwhelming majority said meat. Even people who expressed an interest in trophies still identified as meat hunters.
But I consider it a “false” debate. If you trace the distaste for trophy hunters back to the source, you come to an image invented by the commercial hunting industry. All the television shows depict hunters with superior access to property, loads of free time, and sometimes hired staff responsible for scouting and preparation. It’s enough to make part time hunters, which is most hunters in America, feel like an afterthought. Why? Because the glamour of those television shows does not represent our experience in the least.
Most of us part time hunters can’t afford to be picky about what we shoot and don’t shoot. And depending on the region, some skilled hunters don’t even have the opportunity to go out and hunt so freely. It is the lack of time, not the skill, that gets people’s emotions running high and fuels the meat vs. trophy hunter debate. I’ll use myself as a demonstration of what I mean.
I hunt primarily in eastern Massachusetts where there are a lot of doe tags. As a result, I have plenty of opportunity to fill my freezer for the year. Because of so much available game nearby, I can be picky about the bucks I shoot. I can complete first goal: filling my freezer. This allows me to pass up younger bucks for bigger opportunities.
If I am hunting in northern New Hampshire, however, what I am willing to put a tag on changes. My time frame shrinks when I hunt camps instead of my own stomping grounds. Combine that with different deer demographics and game availability and no buck is safe.
We are all trophy hunting in a way. We set afield with a goal. The goal could be a challenge, experience, friendship, or meat. Regardless of the goal, we strive to achieve it and the goal is a personal trophy. Here’s this from my book, The Urban Deer Complex:
If you randomly picked a group of people and asked the question “What is a trophy whitetail?” you would get a wide array of answers. Some will tell you that it’s a deer with a 125” net score Pope and Young. Others will say it’s a deer that weighs 200 pounds or a nice doe for the dinner table—or maybe it’s a unique and rare looking deer. You’re answer does not really matter. What matters is the right answer. The right answer is this: whatever makes you happy as a hunter is a trophy whitetail.”
As an adventurer and hunter, the pursuit is still where the heart of the hunt lies. You come to learn that the trophy is just the anticlimax and the means by which we capture some small part of the fleeting memory of mankind.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.