Your hunting journey is about you. It’s not about clicks on social media or spending countless hours stressing over what other hunters think of you. Find what makes you happy and understand that, over time, what makes you happy may change. Enjoy the ride, and make sure YOU do YOU!
by Scott Haugen
Staring at the buck through my scope, I took one last breath, let half of it out, and slowly pressured the trigger. A soft click was all I heard.
Happy with my stalk, I closed the scope caps, lifted my rifle from the tripod, and backed out the same way I’d snuck in. The herd of more than 100 animals had no idea I was there. It was the 11th pronghorn buck I’d passed, and this was the last one I even considered shooting. I’d just burned 24 preference points and will likely never draw that pronghorn tag again.
Was my decision the right one? For me, it was. But when I shared it with other hunters, most razzed me for not killing a buck. But they’re not me. They haven’t walked in my shoes, and they haven’t hunted for a living for the past 23 years.
Hunting For Me
Let me explain. I was hunting in my home state of Oregon. I’d killed nearly 30 pronghorns in my life, nothing over 80-inches, but I had many great hunts. To this point, each of my pronghorn quests was for the TV shows I hosted. It was always me and the camera crew on the hunts.
On my Oregon antelope hunt this past August, it was just me. No cameras. I stalked many animals all day, every day. I passed 11 bucks in the 72- to 82-inch range and lost count of the number of smaller bucks I saw.
The first buck I considered shooting was a whopper, 82 inches. I was confident after measurement, he would be close to B&C. The buck had the most giant cutters I’d ever seen. I passed him twice because he had weak tops. I’d seen a bigger one with that buck when scouting but never found that buck during the season. I was good with that.
The fact I had so many stalks that could have ended with a trigger squeeze was all the gratification I needed. I wasn’t hunting for clicks on social media. I wasn’t hunting to put meat in the freezer because other hunts were coming up in the fall. Though antelope meat is some of the best, I was after a trophy buck or nothing. I went home with nothing.
Oregon’s pronghorn bucks are the most striking in the country as their narrowing muzzle and jet-black facial features are distinct. I looked over many such bucks and wanted a monster for the wall. I wanted a genuinely exceptional buck that I could look at hanging in my office for the rest of my life and say to myself, “That’s what a truly magnificent pronghorn from my home state looks like, and it took me 24 years to get it.” But that didn’t happen.
How a hunter’s mind shifts over a lifetime of hunting is defined by their story. We all have a different story. For me, I’ve been on hundreds of big game hunts all over the world. Many of my hunts were filmed for television shows I used to host. Were it not for TV, I would have been going on only a few hunts a year, not 50 or more. I have TV to thank for making my dreams come true.
As a kid who grew up in a hunting family, two animals topped my wish list. A big male lion and a brown bear that squared over 10 feet. Even in grade school
I was aware of these feats and knew I’d likely never realize either. But I did.
The lion hunt was intense. I’d killed man-eating lions while helping the South African government sort out a problem pride, but they were all females. The last one of the four charged us. That lion died three paces from where I and the government official stood. My hunt for a male lion came years later, and I closed the deal via spot and stalk in late morning. The massive male tipped the scales to nearly 500 pounds and was 10′ 1″ from nose to tail.
Another Dream Comes True
Six years later, I was on a brown bear hunt on Alaska’s upper portion of the Aleutian Chain, a land known for big bears. I’d taken a 9-foot bear there before and, this time, returned with my sights set on a giant bear or nothing.
I was hunting with Bruce Hallingstad of Becharof Outfitters. I’ve hunted bears and moose with Hallingstad, and he’s known in the bear world as one of the top outfitters for trophy-class coastal brown bears. This hunt proved it.
In the end, I put my tag on a bear that surpassed my wildest expectations, a 10’9″ giant that aged out at 23 years old. It was the second-oldest bear ever recorded on the Upper Peninsula. It was a high record book bear, but I didn’t enter it in the books. I’ve taken many record book game animals with rifle and bow but have never entered any into the record books. That’s just me.
Walking up on that giant bear, I turned to Hallingstad and my cameraman, Ty Cary, and told them if I never killed another big game animal in my life, I’d be okay with it. I was sincere. They knew it. All was silent for the next several minutes. I admired the bear and relived scores of successful big game hunts I’d had.
Some of the most memorable hunts were when my wife, Tiffany, and I lived a semi-subsistence lifestyle in Alaska’s high Arctic. Here, we relied on Dall sheep, moose, and caribou for meat.
This was in the 1990s, pre-internet, and there were no stores in the tiny villages we called home. We were Alaskan residents for nearly a decade. Hunting for subsistence is unlike any form of sport hunting I’ve found. Again, it’s part of my story, something few non-indigenous men can relate to today.
Nine years ago, I got a hunting dog. Her name is Echo, and she changed my life, especially my hunting life. Two years later, I got another pudelpointer, Kona. He’s a half-brother to Echo. Their dad is Lon. Simply say Lon’s name to those familiar with pudelpointers and they know the dog you’re talking about. It’s like talking basketball and saying, Michael.
I was into sports from boyhood through college and never had time for a dog. Living in Alaska was not the time or place, either. Then, I spent 14 years filming TV shows around the globe, often going non-stop for 250 days a year. Sometimes more. Toss in two months of speaking appearances around the country, and still, the time wasn’t right for me to have a dog.
Then, I got out of TV and gave up public appearances. That’s when my hunting life changed even more. Now, I reveled in my boyhood dream of hunting birds with my dogs. If I had one day to hunt, it would be just me and my dogs sitting in a duck blind. If I had a 350-inch bull elk standing broadside at 30 yards and a teal coming into the decoys, I’d take the teal every time because my dogs would be a part of it. Oh, how they love to duck hunt.
Twenty years ago, that wasn’t the case. But 20 years ago, I wasn’t hunting elk a lot. Then, as TV opportunities came, three, sometimes four elk hunts a year were the norm. I loved it, but I have had my fill of big bulls. The year after I hung up my TV hosting hat, I killed a cow elk. It was one of the best-eating animals Tiffany and I had ever had. I’ve not killed a bull since, but it’s a choice. Maybe one day, if it feels right, I will harvest another elk.
Another thing to understand is Tiffany used to be a full-time cookbook author, columnist, and recipe developer of all things big game, birds, and fish. She still writes columns and develops recipes, and some of her books have been among our top sellers over the years. We still fill our freezers with venison, fish, upland birds, waterfowl, and more. Wild fish and game are all we eat, and we never buy store-bought meat for our family table. It’s a life we love.
As hunters, how our minds progress is unique to each of us. Our stories and experiences set us apart from one another, which dictates our desires and peace of mind. For me, having taken more big game animals in a season than many folks I know have taken in a lifetime is part of my story. It’s not a bragging point, nor is it justification. It’s a simple fact that tells my story, and I’m happy with how my story is turning out. It’s not over.
Do I regret burning that pronghorn tag that took 24 years to draw? Not in the least because when I’m dead, my tombstone won’t read, “His life would have been better if he’d filled that Oregon antelope tag.”
I know what makes me happy. What makes me happy may not be what makes fellow hunters happy, and that’s something we all need to recognize, appreciate, and accept. After all, we’re all on the same team, sharing the same passions.