Here's the main idea I want to get across to a new generation of land stewards, conservationists, and hunters: don't miss the point.
"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
As hunters, we have a responsibility to honor the land in which we use, to ethically harvest the animals we pursue, and, ideally, to leave the environment better than we found it.
Those all may sound cliché, and perhaps even obvious. However, it seems that there has been a dramatic shift in the opposite direction. It's hard to determine the real reasons why folks are outside, why they're hunting, and why they're sharing their ideas. From what I have observed, it can get pretty negative at times.
It begs the question: Is hunting headed in the direction of digital gratification rather than the traditional passion of self-reliance, sustenance, and conservation?
I was born in a small town in southern Ohio, the youngest of three boys, and my father taught us the importance of our harvests. From a conservation aspect, he taught us the value that each animal has to the environment and to us as hunters, the value of what it takes to sustain that particular animal's existence, and essentially, to remove this idea of trophy hunting from our lives.
The rise in popularity of social media and this desire to gain "likes" for our own gratification (not to mention monetary gain by what could be described as "hunting influencers") has turned this wonderful lifestyle of hunting into an industry with a lot of self interest.
Now, most people will likely view what I am saying as harsh, possibly even regard it as a "holier than thou" attitude. But that is the furthest thing from what I am expressing. Growing up in what most would consider the mecca for large whitetail deer and trophy turkey, I am not immune to the desire to chase magazine-quality animals. After all, isn't hunting an activity that should be enjoyed, and shouldn't the work that we put into our scouting, strategies, and preparation reap benefits? Absolutely.
There is such a great feeling that comes with harvesting a buck that you have scouted all year for, setting up trail cameras to pattern him, planting food plots to bring him in, and to finally close the chapter on him and see how your season-long plan came together. It truly is incredible, and it's something that I have experienced several times. To this day I enjoy reflecting on it.
However, that feeling shouldn't overshadow the idea that these animals are a treasure to us, not something to be used for vanity or monetary needs.
My message to the younger generation of hunters would be to never lose sight of your responsibility as an outdoorsman. Whether you're just starting to get into hunting, or maybe you've been hunting for years, your actions should be driven by your passion for wildlife and the outdoors.
For the most part, we have rarely experienced land without wildlife to hunt, and we need to conserve that fact. The hunting community is such a wonderful group of people who share a love for something that is often forgotten.
Each and every one of us has some sort of instinct that urges us to get out and experience the wilderness and the resources it has to offer. Resources that are meant to be used to enjoy life, provide for our families, and connect with our ancestors. Resources that were not meant to be used for followers on social media, sponsorships from companies, and bragging rights among the likeminded.
My message to a younger generation of hunters is to be present with your adventures. Taking pictures and uploading them to Instagram is actually pretty great, and there's nothing wrong with doing it. But if that's the only reason you're out there, you're missing the bigger point.
The wilderness is something that we have been graciously blessed with, not something that we are entitled to.