Full circle: A deer hunters journey

Hunting started the hard way for me. For my first deer hunt, Dad took me out to a friend’s house. I was 12, and I wanted to get one badly. It didn’t happen that day. Tears rolled down my face quietly as the December sun set and I tried not to let my dad see. Yes, I wanted it that bad.  As a matter of fact, it didn’t happen at all that year, or even the next.

By Josh Isabell, guest author

When I was 14, I got my first bow, and every day after soccer practice I couldn’t wait to stalk around the farm I hunted; making desperate attempts to get in bow range of a deer.

I missed my first deer that year. I could check my journals to see how many more I have missed in the years to follow – there were several. I have kept a journal of every deer hunt I’ve been on since 1992.  It was 1996 when I finally got one. In ’97 I got another. In ’99 I got my first deer with a bow.  I also got my first bear that year.  The hook was set deeply.

In 2002, antler restrictions were instated in Pennsylvania; I now had to be more patient. I got my first big buck, a beautiful Keystone State eight-pointer. Each year I tried to learn from mistakes and get better. I’m a competitive guy, and better for me was measured in the size of the buck I got.  I was morphing into a trophy hunter. It took more than a decade, but I was consistently getting big bucks, finally.

The author with a Pennsylvania whitetail buck

I began to work as a hunting guide in Maine. I would sit behind a booth for the outfitter I worked for, selling hunts at sportsman’s shows over the winter. We were offering bear and deer hunts primarily, so I’d hang some of my Pennsylvania whitetail mounts on the display. This way, we didn’t have to haul too much taxidermy from Maine to the hunting shows.

It was then I noticed a problem. I’d see young hunters looking at 135″ bucks and saying things like Oh that needed another year, coyote bait or I’d never shoot that.

I’m speculating here, but most of these hunters were just reiterating what they’d heard or had seen on every major hunting media outlet. They seemed to apply Texas or Illinois outfitter logic to Pennsylvania public land.

People were experiencing the growth curve by turning on outdoor channels on Saturday morning, not by spending hours in a tree stand. The result can be a snobby crop of ill-informed, inexperienced hunters who think what they pass up makes them a better hunter.

I’d hear people, who had never killed a buck before, brag about passing up a 115″ deer. My not so humble opinion is this: If you’re inexperienced or new to hunting in the northeast, and a 115″ buck doesn’t get your heart rate going – you’re watching too much television.

Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot from other hunter’s experiences; but I learned more from my own. I started to see that it wasn’t all about inches. It was about the hunt itself. I realized that while I was putting pressure on myself to shoot a certain caliber of buck, I was missing the things that I so loved when I first got started.

But not anymore. I value the experience far more than the inches these days.  I still try to drag a good buck out every year, but I see the beauty in bucks that pure trophy hunters would pass up. It also gives me more time to help younger hunters get into the sport. I’ve had the pleasure to set up 6 or 7 kids over the last couple years and watch them get their first deer.

And I can tell you this; there is no high that can compare to that in the entire hunting world.

Josh is a Registered Maine Guide and the owner of Freedom Outfitters of Maine in Mariaville, Hancock County, Maine. He can be reached at josh8880@aol.com


John Floyd

About John Floyd

John is a freelance writer and lives in northeast Maine. His background includes work as a hunting and fishing guide, certified firearms instructor and as a United States Army Non-commissioned Officer. He covers outdoors topics and the politics and policies that affect traditional, rural lifestyle. He can be reached at john@tuckerridge.me or on Facebook @writerjohnfloyd