Recently I had someone ask me a question that was apparently a whole lot easier for me to answer than they thought it would be. “What if someone shot a big buck that you were after and after it was shot the buck ran onto property that you own or lease; would you let them retrieve it?” I didn’t hesitate to answer that I certainly would. The look on their face told me they were expecting a different answer and they quickly shot back a follow-up question; “What if it was someone you don’t like?”
The follow-up question didn’t change my answer at all but it really got me to thinking. First of all, I try to see the good in everyone and treat others the way I want to be treated no matter who they are. I guess I may have mellowed out some as I have aged but I have never had a desire to claim a deer someone else shot or to prevent any legal ethical hunter from retrieving their deer. The fact is I would likely help them retrieve it. Now let me make it clear that I am talking about deer hunters that are both LEGAL and ETHICAL in their actions.
There is really a much bigger issue here than just retrieving shot deer. It comes down to how we treat our whitetail bretheren. The hunting scene has changed drastically in my lifetime and not always for the better. The big-buck craze has caused many deer hunters to abandon all respect and compassion for other deer hunters. In the race to kill another giant buck I have probably been as guilty of poor judgement as anyone … but I have also been the victim.
Besides having treestands and trail cameras stolen and vandalized, in recent years I have had “friends” find out I was trying to lease a tract of land and slip in behind the scenes and lease it out from under me. I have had other deer hunters learn that I was hunting a particular spot and do everything they could to get me kicked off the property so that they could put their stand in the very tree where I had mine. I have sought permission to hunt places that were small and overlooked and not being hunted only to be denied permission and then magically those spots had a deer hunter in them when they never had before. I regularly get accused of illegal and/or unethical hunting behavior by jealous haters. The list of negative things that I have experienced at the hands of other deer hunters is quite long and I have had to begrudgingly learn to accept it as part of today’s deer hunting culture.
Lately I have become more aware that some people, some deer hunters especially, look up to me. It is not something that I ever set out to create but none-the-less it happened. The question that I have had to wrestle with is how do I handle it? It has been tough honestly as I have never been very good at turning the other cheek. For every praise, there is an insult. For every fan, there is a hater. For every good deed, there is a punishment. I think I have remained humble in light of the positive things that have come my way but my challenge has often been in handling the negative things.
Those who know me well will tell you that I am typically very quiet by nature, a loner really. Sometimes this is misinterpreted by others as being “stuck-up” or arrogant but that is not the case at all. It is just one of my many faults that I have to consciously work on, especially when I am at public events where people look up to me. In reality I am just a simple country-boy whose real life has far exceeded his wildest dreams … and in the process those dreams sometimes pushed and pulled me into situations far outside my comfort zone.
Today I realize that this situation is really an opportunity. Many deer hunters listen to what I have to say. Some are looking for information to improve their own hunting success and some look for an opportunity to discredit, insult or accuse. It is what it is. I consciously strive to be a better role model when facing all situations and all people.
As we near the 2018 hunting season I hope that every deer hunter will consider the fact that we are all part of a common brotherhood. The deer hunter on the property next door is probably someone you have a lot in common with. You likely share the same dreams and same struggles and are surely targeting the same bucks. Show him the same respect you want him to show you. It starts with you, not him.
When I hear of a local hunter killing a nice buck I offer a sincere congratulations and share any trail camera photos I may have of their buck. I also will give them any shed antlers I may have from their buck. Setting the right example starts with me, not them.
Recently I was at an event in Ohio where I had just given a seminar. People were forming a line for me to sign copies of my books and then somehow young Amish boys started getting in line to have me sign their straw hats with a sharpie. A few days later a middle-age gentleman called me “a legend” on Facebook, a title I certainly don’t feel worthy of. I suppose for some these things might be cause for big-headedness but for me it has caused some real soul-searching. I have never set out to be anyone’s hero or a legend. I have simply spent my life chasing my boyhood dream of being the best deer hunter I could possibly be. In the process I never considered myself an expert but instead have always seen myself as a student … a student of the whitetail just striving to learn more and be better today and this season than I was yesterday and last season.
Being a Christian in this position presents its own challenges and I often fail miserably. I forget that the spotlight is always on and all that I do and say is carefully scrutinized not only by those who like and support me but also by those who don’t. I try to lead by example instead of beating people over the head with the Bible in every conversation. There is a fine-line between being effective and being offensive. It is a line that I am still learning to walk.
When I look at the big picture, I know I will never have much of an effect on the sport of deer hunting or on other deer hunters. In fact most have never even heard of me and never will. That’s fine. I am old enough to realize that I can’t change the world … but maybe I can change someone’s world in some small way that is important to them. If that someone happens to be a deer hunter whose wounded buck runs onto my property, then that will be the time and place where I show my true colors. It starts with me, not him.
Copies of Don Higgins books can be ordered on this website