We’ve all done it, shot an animal we've later regretted. So what were you thinking? What went into that decision making process?
Now meat hunting is meat hunting, we can’t argue with that. If you’re going to fit it all in the freezer then I don’t care if you shoot that velvety stag, it’s your choice at the end of the day (although we would all rather you take that young female for meat). Jan and Feb is often when the venison is at its best and there’s nothing like butchering up an animal with an inch of fat across it’s rump.
There’s a heap of different motivations for why we hunt, from the freezer filler to the wall hanger and various combinations of the two. What I’m talking about is that usually short period of time you have to make up your mind about whether that bull, buck or stag is decent enough that you should close the bolt.
Obviously that decision is going to be pretty dependent on what you’ve previously shot. If you’re yet to shoot a stag then by all means get at it, enjoy carrying out your first set of antlers. But if you’ve now shot a stag or two you’re more than likely going to start using those previous stags as a bit of a bench mark which is great.
Judging trophy potential can be difficult with so many variables, not just with the head gear. It’s also the time pressure, group dynamics and experience. Investing in a spotting scope really is the turn around point for most people, it really is an essential piece of kit. This is especially true when it comes to Chamois and Tahr where an inch can make all the difference.
We still stuff things up. We had what was the biggest case of ground shrinkage I’ve ever been involved with this rut. We all decided that a particular bull was worth shooting, all the signs were there. We even sat around for a few hours waiting for him to get off the skyline and into a shooting position, only to roll him and discover he was barely 12 inches. Disappointment, remorse and more lessons learned. It takes a long time to become “tuned”, especially with our alpine species. It’s hard to be exact, but the further we can be from that “measure them on the ground mentality” the better. In hindsight it's quite likely that we had this bull confused with a bigger one sighted earlier. So when seeing "him" with just the nanny's to compare to, we managed to talk ourselves into this being the bigger bull.
The truth is that we are always going to see a bunch more not fully mature animals, and in our minds we can easily talk ourselves into believing that somethings bigger than it is. It's only natural, as we so badly want to be seeing that truly big one and no doubt have that "fear of missing out" in case we've judged him wrong. It's true what they say, if you do see that big one you will know instantly. If your second guessing, then you've probably answered your own question.
The hardest thing is to back off and make clear decisions, as usually you've already invested all the time and effort involved to get within shooting range.
When animals are mobbed up together it can really help you size them up, this is especially true for Tahr. The flip side to this of course is the confusion that can be created with a number of animals moving around. All to often there's also time pressure involved.
Just the other weekend we had another bull we weren’t so sure about, in fact it was this bull that provided the motivation for writing this article. My hunting partner wasn’t interested in shooting anything under 14 inches, and personally I’m still yet to crack the 13inch mark. After about ten minutes on the spotter, numerous photos and plenty of discussion we decided that this guy would go 12 inches for sure. But would he go 13? What we could see was that this bull was still young enough to have plenty of potential, so we shot the hell out of him with the camera. Hard decision at the time but now looking back at the photos and thinking about it without all the other pressures of the moment. We 100% made the right call and avoided what was most likely going to be another case of “ground shrinkage”.
There’s still quite a few hunters with a bit of an old school mentality on this. You know the type, we’ve all seen it….The bone collector. You walk into the garage and there will be a large assortment of shitty heads, stacked up or hanging from the rafters or something. This a number of years ago was just what people did… shot stuff. What was the point? There wasn’t one. It was just the culture at the time.
I was lucky enough to have a chance meeting with one of our local NZDA guys. Catching a glimpse of inside his garage was impressive. 35 years’ worth of hunting and a collection to be proud of, hardly an average head amongst them. Even more impressive is that he has obviously carried this ethical approach to hunting for a long time, even back when it wasn’t the norm.
Hunters in general these days seem to have a bunch more respect for their quarry, and we all need to take responsibility for maintaining a good public perception of our sport. We are now seeing young guys pulling out the camera instead of the rifle, it’s just as rewarding not to mention a hell of a lot less work.
Facebook, YouTube & Instagram is loaded with people enjoying posting those photos and videos of their hunting missions.
A reasonable camera isn’t that expensive these days, so as long as your freezer isn’t empty then why not “let him grow”. It’s almost a bit of a karma thing, you’ve got a much better chance of bumping into that big bugger if you’re prepared to leave all those not quite mature animals.