Confessions of a Meat Hunter

The thought never crossed my mind to let the forky walk.  By the time I could have asked myself to begin the debate, it would have already been too late.  The thrill of seeing a buck – any buck – still grips me after 15 years of repeated exposure, and with great effort I calmed my nerves, steadied my rifle, and let it bark.  I’ve never been one to patiently sit behind the trigger of a loaded gun with a buck in the crosshairs.  I headed over to my downed buck and enjoyed the culmination of another successful hunt that would provide tasty steaks for my family.  It was opening day, and the rain drizzled down at the end of the exhausting hunt as it had been doing for most of the day.  The small buck, and the doe he was with, had been the only deer I’d seen in the rugged canyon country.  A small buck, sure, but one for which I had endured the elements.  The canyon I was in – an extension of the deepest gorge in North America – had provided the foundation of a difficult hunt and the area had experienced some flash flooding a few years prior stripping the land of vegetation in many places.  This made for difficult footing and combined with the rain, it made hiking a challenging task.  I was provided with more than one incident that caused me to consider the possibilities of trying out for the Olympic luge team.  All told, by the end of the hunt I had hiked, and slid, 7 miles and experienced nearly 5,000 feet of elevation change.  Proud?  Excited?  You bet I was.  Apologetic for shooting a small buck?  Not in the least.

I’ve been a meat hunter since taking my first steps in the woods.  Raised on a staple of mashed potatoes with white country gravy and venison, I had never been able to accept the thought of a year without venison.  And, coincidentally, I had never given myself a chance to suffer through a year on domestic meat.  My father had shot his fair share of nice bucks, having hunted south-eastern Oregon prior to Measure 18 that banned the use of hounds for cougar hunting, but I don’t remember much about the antler size of the animals he brought home from his hunting trips.  Mainly, my memories are centered around the dining room table the night he was scheduled to return.  I would fix my eyes out the big picture glass window on the one lane gravel road in front of our house in anticipation.  Each car that would rattle noisily down the road – which was not many in our part of the country – would raise my hopes and my heart would leap thinking,  “Maybe this is the one that will turn into the driveway bringing Dad home with his week old beard stubble, meat for our table, and stories.”  Yes, the stories.  It was these stories, magical and mystical stories from the backcountry, that fed my hunger for the outdoors.

Loaded and ready for the pack out – a forked horn from 2005.

Long after the stories were over, my imagination would put me in the woods with my dad and the experiences that were never mine, but shared with me and locked away in the imaginative part of the human brain that is especially large in an 8 year old, drove my passion for hunting.  That, and, of course, Mom’s delicious meals of venison rolled in flour and fried in a hot skillet of butter.  There were pheasant hunts in the fall, of course, and getting up at the crack of dawn in the summer to sit in the old shed overlooking an abandoned pile of barn boards in hopes that a rabbit would feed out from its haven and within range of my bolt action, open sight .22.  Those experiences were the driving force behind my interest in hunting, and they’re the moments that all these years later I look back at with great fondness in recognition for what they instilled in me: a passion for the outdoors and a palate that craves wild meat.

Roll the clock forward to the present, and I’ve begun to rack up an impressive amount of kills for a one-state hunter with a tight budget.  I’ve shot a buck every year I’ve hunted in my home state of Idaho excepting one.  And, every kill has been a tender forky.  I’ve managed to be successful elk hunting as well, but included in my collection of elk kills, among the spikes and cows, are a smattering of mature bulls.  I mention this to point out that when it comes to deer, I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything larger than a forky.  And this had never bothered me.

My 2010 mule deer, was shot at dusk near the same place referred to at the beginning of this article.

In the past couple years, I’ve noticed a subtle change.  Every year I’d unabashedly shot the first buck I’d seen, and never had that been larger than a forked horn.  A couple years ago, I noticed that when talking with fellow hunters, I tried hard to avoid telling them that I’d never shot anything but a forked horn.  To do so without lying became somewhat of a trick, and sometimes led to having to come out with the bare naked truth, although I always admitted it with a sheepish shrug to hide an illusion of embarrassment.  It never bothered me before, but suddenly I was trying to hide this fact because when I faced myself with the truth, I decided my being a meat hunter made me, somehow, less of a skilled hunter.  Where did this feeling come from?  Why would I begin to feel like less of an accomplished hunter because all I’d ever shot were forked horns?  It isn’t like my hunts had been handed to me on a platter.  Some of those hunts that had netted me a forky had been gruelling hunts physically.  Take the forky on that rainy day in the canyon, for instance.  That had been a miserable day full of rain, cold wind, steep sidehills, and rocky bluffs.  I know many hunters wouldn’t have attempted that hunt in those conditions.  It certainly wasn’t a ten day pack-hunt, but it was a far cry from driving the backroads and shooting the first buck that I spotted.  A few hunts had taken a fair amount of mental discipline and better than average stalking.  I’m not ashamed of my abilities – I am confident, having grown up in the outdoors, that I am at least a hunter with average skills.  Yet, the admission of my killing small bucks was making me feel like less of a hunter when measured against my peers.  And, that, more than the act of actually shooting the small bucks, was making me uncomfortable.

As I have ventured into writing about my outdoor exploits and then started to receive compensation for typing out memories from my excursions, I began to feel like I had an image to protect.  What would readers think if they found out the articles they’ve been reading were written by a guy that has never had the discipline to pass up a forked horn?  And, therein, I believe, lies my answer. I’ve never felt bad upon pulling the trigger on Disney’s favorite son – a small buck gets me just as excited today as it did when I shot my first buck as a wide eyed 14 year old.  I’ve built a life in the outdoors and have dabbled with a career in it, and, yet, I’ve packed this admission around like a dirty habit for no real reason.  I’ve been afraid that admitting my meat hunting style would destroy any credibility that I’ve spent valuable time building despite the fact that I’ve never been verbally attacked by another hunter, and I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually known another hunter to chastise my practice of shooting the first legal animal I see.

My 2012 spring bear hunt produced a thrilling experience – and this small bruin.

A person can hardly watch a hunting show anymore without noticing a clear emphasis on antler size.  The same could be said for many publications and websites.  Our society is infatuated with large animals.  And, when it comes to hunting shows and publications, I’m part of the crowd.  I love seeing big animals as much as the next person, but I think it is also important to keep in mind that meat hunters make up a large percentage of the hunting industry.  Meat hunters buy camo, bows, and gadgets.  I know that in an age where the hunting industry has boomed due to TV shows, magazines, and websites devoted to antler worship, I am not the only one that has fought with feelings of inferiority.

My name is Tom Sorenson, and I’m a meat hunter.


6 Responses to “Confessions of a Meat Hunter”

  1. Chris on August 23rd, 2012 5:27 am

    Great post! There is a huge emphasis on big racks these days and that emphasis makes many people feel disappointed or apologetic for anything other than a trophy buck. The majority of hunters are just like you and I think we will soon have a Renaissance of meat hunters throughout the community. My hunting partner and I were discussing our fall hunts on the phone last night. He said he wasn’t sure how he would react if a big buck walked in front of the stand. I told him I didn’t think it would change much for me. I get the same feeling from killing a doe as I do from killing a buck. Both of them make me weak in the knee!

  2. Tom Sorenson on August 23rd, 2012 6:19 am

    Thanks Chris – well said.

    I think a lot of my meat hunting ways stem from an article I read today, actually, that talks about sacrifice and making sure our priorities are still on our family.

    Hard to hold out for a trophy when you know a spouse and kids are waiting for you to come home.

  3. Neil on August 23rd, 2012 10:30 pm

    Nice post, Tom.

    I’m lucky to also come from a family where hunting is completely about food. For me whether I take a shot or pass comes down to the quality of the shot opportunity, not the size of the rack. I certainly have no objection to big deer, but all things being equal, I have to say I’d take a good sized forked horn over some older, mossy buck.

  4. Tom Sorenson on August 23rd, 2012 11:25 pm

    Thanks, Neil. I agree with you 100% – I’m not passing up a big critter if I get the chance, but just the same, I’m not passing up a little critter, either!

  5. The Delightful Agony: My 2012 Forked Horn - Base Camp Legends : Base Camp Legends on October 24th, 2012 10:52 pm

    […] mentioned before that I’m an unapologetic meat hunter.  I’ve also mentioned that I would someday like to shoot a buck that is legal fermented […]

  6. Does Venison Make Financial Sense? - Base Camp Legends : Base Camp Legends on February 28th, 2013 2:31 pm

    […] My quick answer, now, is no, it doesn’t make sense to hunt for food.  That isn’t to say that a juicy elk tenderloin isn’t a wonderful benefit of having hunted and been successful, but if your sole purpose for hunting is to obtain food – I repeat, stop it!  We live in America – well, I live in America and I shouldn’t presume where you live – but here in America, food is not hard to obtain.  If it is, well, cut your internet subscription for starters.  Despite popular belief, healthy food is not even hard to obtain – expensive, yes, but not difficult otherwise.   So, in my estimation, to say, “I hunt for food,”  is a cheap way to lie to yourself.  It’s an automatic answer that someone who hasn’t examined one bit why they hunt might give.  Not that I’ve delved deep into the recesses of my heart to find the answer to this question either, but I can firmly say I do not hunt for food – and I say that as an unashamed meat hunter. […]

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