Six Things You Don’t Need to be a “Real” Bowhunter

I’ve been watching a lot of hunting shows recently.  That tends to be my mid-summer trend.  The archery seasons is getting close, but not close enough to feel impending.  I’m looking for anything to satisfy my bowhunting urge.  If I can live vicariously through a TV host’s pursuits, I’ll do it.  As a result, for better or worse, in our house, hunting shows have gained the unfortunate nickname of “hunting porn”.

Outdoor media absolutely has a place and plays critical economic and educational roles for our tradition, but like the nickname, if not tempered with reality, it can skew a person’s understanding of what it means to be a bowhunter.  We have to guard against media unintentionally defining what a real hunter is.  To address this, I put together a list of assumptions a person could get by simply internalizing common themes on hunting shows.  I cringe at the thought of anyone feeling like they aren’t a real hunter because they haven’t met some imaginary litmus test.  Perhaps this will save someone from chasing that wind.

1.  Your life doesn’t need to be dipped in camo.

I love camo.  I have a favorite brand and type too.  If you’re really that interested or just that bored, you can ask me what I wear, but you won’t find me in a camo wrapped vehicle with camo seat covers sporting camo screened sunglasses.  Nor will you see me out in public (unless I’m on my way to or from the field) clothed in it.  I get why people enjoy wearing the stuff though.  It’s a statement that says something.  How you wear it probably determines just what it says to others, but nonetheless, you’re identifying as a hunter.  I choose not to wear it outside of hunting scenarios just because I’m trying to avoid fading and unnatural scents.

But square inches of camo is not a test for being a hunter.  TV personalities wear it a lot because it’s part of their brand and many of them have promotional deals that require it.  Wear as much or as little as you like, just know that you don’t need to have a single bit of it to be a real hunter.  Ever see pictures of Fred Bear clad in a flannel shirt at full draw?

2.  You don’t have to shoot next year’s bow this year, every year.

My dad used to drop pretty consistent groups at 90 yards in the 1980’s with his wood limbed Golden Eagle while shooting finger release.  I’ve seen guys in the present day with rigs that put their children’s college fund in jeopardy fling a shotgun pattern at 20.  They spent more money on their setup than they did time becoming a proficient archer.  Buy the best bow that you can, but don’t feel like you aren’t a legitimate hunter unless your bare bow price was four digits.

Guys in the business are compensated to shoot the bows that they do.  In some cases, they may even prefer to stick with an older bow that’s dialed in and comfortable, but due to agreements, are obligated to shoot the newest model.  Be proud of your rig no matter what it costs.  You make it shoot well.   The sticker price on a bow won’t make you any more or any less legit.

3.  You don’t need a pickup truck.

Contrary to hunting shows and a lot of the music coming out Nashville, you can get to and from your hunting spot, and transport your game back home in a non-pickup truck vehicle.  The utility a pickup affords and the ease of cleanup makes it the perfect hunting ride, but most regular joes have other considerations besides hunting when buying a vehicle…like kiddos or MPGs.  In fact, when I see a deer strapped to the trunk of a Honda Civic, I can’t help but admire that guy.  If you’re waiting to feel like a “real” hunter gearing up and spraying down at the tailgate, quit waiting.  You’re good no matter what you drive, except maybe if you’re rolling in a Prius.

4.  You don’t need to record every hunt.

Not everyone needs or should have a hunting show.  Just visit Youtube.  Admittedly, I’ve cycled through a number of search results for “archery hunting” or “bowhunting whitetail” and some clips are really great, though most make me want to step on whatever Flip video camera they’re filming with and flag their user account.  Grainy video, bad audio, lifeless facial expressions, Blair Witch camera work, weird catch phrases, monotonous voices and risky shots are all showcased online.  Maybe it’s another manifestation of the social media generation, but not everything needs to be on video, nor does every hunter need a show.

Having pictures and videos of your time in the woods is great, it’s just another version of a photo album (see 1839 to the 1990s) but you can be an accomplished bowhunter without uploading all of your exploits.

5.  You don’t need to apologize for your deer.

Taking any animal with a bow is a trophy.  When people feel the need to start downplaying their animal, it sends a message that only certain deer “count”.  In some parts of our country, guys are just happy to see something with hooves and a four chambered stomach, let alone put one down with an arrow.   Not every trophy is recorded in the Pope & Young books.  The ten pointer I have above our fireplace certainly wouldn’t qualify, but my pulse still spikes when I look at him and relive those tense moments when he materialized out of the October woods.

I’ve written before about the awesome responsibility we have as hunters to value the lives and sacrifice of the animals we harvest.  Antler scores or sex don’t impact the amount of dead that deer had to become for you to harvest it.  Acting disappointed about your animal doesn’t mean you’re a real hunter.  It just means you haven’t learned the art of appreciation.

6.  You don’t need to bash other bow manufacturers.

Most people who hunt for a living are sponsored by a bow company.  That income is part of their compensation.  If you were to ask, I’ll bet many would say that it’s really hard to buy a bad bow these days.  Some bows are better than others and most have applications they are better suited for.  Jumping on the brand wagon with blinders to other products is one level of ignorance.  One level deeper and you’re in “Insert brand name sucks!” territory.

In no instance has this pseudo-elitism ever made anyone a better marksman or hunter.  In most cases the person hasn’t even ever shot another brand or has only heard second hand feedback of someone’s negative experience with one bow, then extrapolated that out beyond the reach of logic.

You can believe in and support a particular bow, product or brand all day long.  I certainly have my favorites.  Do keep an open mind about what else is out there.  Blindly criticizing other bows doesn’t automatically award you credibility with other hunters.  It only screams that you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

There’s probably one question remaining after you’ve read through this list.  ‘If all these things aren’t requirements for being a hunter, what does make a real hunter?’  The problem now is that I have to recognize that I too am a (small) component of outdoor media.  It’s kind of like when your internet goes down and the customer service rep wants to send you an email with instructions on how to resolve the issue.  It won’t work.

What I can say is don’t worry about being a real anything.  Simply do what you love, learn from those you respect and the rest will come naturally.