A true hunter goes through distinct stages. The end stage in fact, maybe the entire process is what differentiates a hunter from a killer.

Let me first define the difference. A hunter enjoys the process leading up to the shot more than the kill. A killer just want to shoot -- kill something.

A hunter enjoys the hunt. The actual kill, the taking of an animal’s life is secondary. It is just a facet of hunting, perhaps the least important. It is the work that leads up to that moment that brings enjoyment.

For the killer, he cares nothing about the process leading up to that moment. His joy is all in the kill. Shoot, kill, take the pictures and go home. He wants to be assured of a shot before he ever leaves home. He wants the real work to be done by someone else.

For me, becoming a hunter was a process of learning and going through stages. If I can, in the next few paragraphs, I’ll try and outline those stages in a way that perhaps, both the hunter and non-hunter can understand.

First Stage: In my early boyhood, I stumbled loudly along behind good, true hunters. I watched, listened and learned. My goal then was to kill something. I felt, incorrectly, that my expertise would be proven by killing something. I wanted to kill one deer, a few squirrels, some ducks or doves or rabbits. The culmination would be to kill a buck deer. That would prove my worth.

Second Stage: In the second stage, the emphasis was still on killing. But now the focus was on killing a limit. I would prove my worth by “limiting out.”

Today, quite often, I hear someone say -- usually with pride in their voice -- “I’m done. I have limited out.”

Third Stage: The third stage of the true hunter is often misunderstood. In this stage, the emphasis is on a trophy animal. This stage is about killing a trophy and this is the most dangerous stage for it is in this stage, some hunters lose sight of the hunt and become killers.

So much emphasis is put on the “trophy” aspect of hunting, the process of actually obtaining that animal is sometimes, short-circuited and deplorable or illegal steps are taken. Baiting, high-fence hunting, or outright poaching may occur. And then, the hunter is not a hunter, but a killer.

Fourth Stage: It is in the fourth stage that the true, pure hunter begins to emerge…if he is going to do so. It is in this stage that one begins to realize, it is the preparation before the shot that provides the enjoyment.

And this is where I am going to lose some readers. The next few words, I am about to write, are going to turn some away. For many years, I have enjoyed scouting, far more than I have enjoyed killing. The joy of hunting, for me, was in scouting and seeing new territory. Reading the “sign”, planning the ambush, placing the stand and seeing the results, provided the joy of hunting for me.

I was truly hunting, not killing. I often think that is why I became a successful guide. It was up to my hunters to make the shot. It was up to me, to put the stand in a place they could get the shot.

During my years as owner of Buckhorn Guide Service in Tennessee and as a partner in operations in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and to a small extent, in Alabama, I spent far more time scouting and placing stands than most people spend in the woods in their entire lives.

There are 365 days a year. I would routinely spend 150-175 of them walking the woods, scouting, learning. I used no feeders, no bait, and no cameras.

In an average year, I or my hunters would spend 90-100 days hunting. At Tri-State Trophy Outfitters, we spent 10 hours scouting for every hour a hunter was in the stand.

And I loved it.

In 1954, at the age of 10, I began hunting. I went through the stages. In about 1984 -- 30 years after I began -- I became a hunter. A true hunter. It was about then, that I realized, for me, the true joy of hunting was in the learning. The time spent walking the hills and hollers and woodlots was gold. Standing and seeing the signs and markers the game left for me was when I was most alive. I decried the advent of the “game camera”, the feeder, the high fence. I felt sorry for the people that booked hunts with me for they missed the true joy of hunting.

Sure, I understood their lack of time, lack of property, lack of geographical opportunities. But for me, that completely explained why I have never gone to Africa or New Zealand or a myriad of other places. On those type hunts, you are just a killer. The guide is the one who had all the fun. The guide points and says, “That is the one. Shoot.” That is not for me.

Fifth Stage: Today, sadly, I am too old. Recently, I was offered sole rights to hunt 210 acres I had never seen. Sadly, I am too old and unable to scout it. The owner said, “Before he died, my husband had feeders out. You can use them.” I politely declined. For me, that’s not hunting.

I hunt a couple small places. I know every trail, every bush or tree. I kill each year, a few does for my freezer and others. It is not really hunting. But at least, I do it all myself. I depend on no other person to do the work that defines a real hunter. From the time I step into the woods the first time to the time I cook the meat. I do it.

Killing is the least of the process. Anyone can be a killer. Few are true hunters. I have 19 animals that qualify for one record book or another. I have never sent them in. The joy was not in the killing and there are no record books for scouting.

Velvet antled buck season

Once again, the TWRA has a season for bucks with velvet antlers. The special season is limited to archery only and private land only -- August 23-24-25.

The bag limit is one buck per day no more that two for the entire deer season.

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