On The Ridge: Making a choice whether to hunt

Published: 06-21-2023 2:56 PM

I recently found myself in deep conversation with my longtime friend Jay Herron from Shelburne. We talked about tree-stand placement, a conversation deer hunters often find themselves in during these early days of summer, with those cold and frosty days of fall and winter just hanging out there with thoughts of better, or perhaps worse, days to come. Jay and I started reminiscing back decades ago to when deer hunters were always abundant in the West County area during the opening week of shotgun season. But now, those days of the fall and winter “exodus of hunters” simply aren’t happening anymore. Instead, eastern hunters now prefer those deer rich regions to the east, from Interstate 495 all the way down to the Cape Cod Canal where hunters regularly harvest the greatest number of whitetail deer. North Shore and Worcester County are also “hot beds” for deer hunters today.

But sadly, there are other reasons that contribute to this major change in hunters making the long trek up to the Western Mass. and Berkshire County woods. Many long-time resolute hunters are simply no longer with us or have just stopped hunting entirely for reasons only they know. But that thought followed me all the way into the evening from my conversation with Jay, eventually drifting off to sleep thinking that the answer is probably inspired by the same reasons people everywhere often stop doing things they love simple — because they have to, and for reasons that are important, and often known only by them.

Personally, I believe it must be a combination of many things that cause a person to just stop doing what they love to do, while also realizing it’s no longer a priority for them. I mean, who among us doesn’t have, or will have someday, issues that we must deal with in one way or another? And tell me that you’ve never had a day when you didn’t feel like heading out and into some wet, nasty, frost-bitten morning not fit for man nor beast! When that happens, do we quit, or do we simply push through it and keep going? And if we do keep pushing, the question becomes, are we still having fun doing it?

In my lifetime I have talked with thousands of hunters and non-hunters alike, and I have listened to all kinds of stories, revealing all types of scenarios. This past spring I understood completely when a hunter approached me after a turkey hunting seminar to share her thoughts with me, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what she said.

“Joe, for the first time in at least 20 years, I won’t be hunting deer or turkeys in 2023-2024.”

At first I was a little surprised as I knew her to be an above average hunter, and while I didn’t need an explanation from her, she felt compelled to give me one just the same. And the fact that she felt the need to assure me that she hadn’t become an anti-hunter was even more telling. In fact, she mentioned that twice.

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She had shot a beautiful gobbler in the spring of 2022 and when she walked up to it, something felt completely wrong to her. She hesitated a bit, trying to explain to me what she felt, and I didn’t push her to continue. That’s when I realized, again, just how deeply ingrained hunting really is with some people, because these moments happen for reasons only they understand. And at that moment, especially when it comes to hunting, they realize it’s no longer fun or necessary for them to hunt anymore.

This is not to say she won’t ever hunt again, because she just might. But for now, she’s no longer a hunter, and that’s perfectly OK with me. She made a personal decision about her own life, just as others have made personal decisions in their lives. To her, this doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t hunt, nor does it mean that we should think any less of people who don’t. And for me, that’s just the way it should be.

In the end, all of us must someday come to terms with what we do or what we can’t do in all things. Hunting, for those who choose to participate in this lifestyle, is often deeply entrenched in a family’s history as a cherished place that carries powerful and deep traditions. But it’s also a major undertaking that warrants serious, and at times, even critical thinking,

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.]]>