May 26, 2022
My 50-plus year journey to bowhunting maturity has been a wild ride — and hopefully it isn’t over yet!
Even now, I stand amazed at the never-ending, constantly evolving montage of my life as an outdoorsman. And if there’s one big thing about it all that has never changed, it’s that everything changes.
This stark reality has really hit home hard with me over the past few years as I’ve left the middle-aged hump behind. No longer goal orientated, I’ve gone from being one of the most hardcore bowhunters to one of the biggest goof-offs imaginable — a metamorphosis I never thought possible. Nowadays, without an insatiable ego no longer leading me around by the nose, it has finally become all about relaxation, fun and solitude. So, if you’ll kindly give me a few minutes to ramble, I’d like to give you my take on a grand, new opportunity I’ve been afforded lately — land ownership.
Making the Big Purchase
For more than 40 years, I scrapped and fought hard for places to bowhunt. I trekked all over our Western public lands and knocked on a thousand Midwestern doors. And for about three decades, this line of pursuit served me well. Yet, all this time, a small voice was crying out inside my head, longing for a hunting place of my own. I dreamed of working the dirt, enhancing the habitat and watching my big-buck dreams come to fruition. I was certain of how it would all turn out!
When Peg and I signed our names on the dotted line a couple years ago and took possession of 320 acres of prairie in the Flint Hills of Kansas, I still had visions of large-antlered bucks bouncing in my head. Little did I know, but my “old ways” were about to fade fast. A lifetime of running and gunning was about to give way to a sense of settlement. Unbeknownst to me, my fetish for big antlers would soon be replaced by compassion for the animals that grow them. I never suspected I would soon be experiencing emotions that had never flowed through my heart before. Soon, my very definition of “success” would be upended.
When I first hit the ground on our new property, I was still functioning on past ideas. All my thoughts, hopes and plans revolved around attempting to make the place a big-buck utopia. Tackling the tasks at hand, I began to add and subtract from the habitat. A few food plots went in and some water sources were created; old growth timber was thinned and new trees were planted. Yep, I was going to “grow a few big ’uns.” Soon, I’d be partaking of the fruits of my labor.
As I meticulously explored every nook and cranny of my private haven, I set my sights on spots where Peg and I could harvest big bucks. Soon, however, a new and exciting metamorphosis began. I was falling in love with this entire place, this entire experience. Suddenly, the pursuit of another set of big antlers became much less important. Yep, I was getting into this “thang” real deep.
One September day, I sat in quiet stupor under the shade of a hillside oak. In a moment forever frozen in my mind, I finally wrapped my head around the fact my bowhunting future was going to be far more about the means than the end. A peace settled into my spirit. Yes, going forward everything was going to be different. I’d finally exorcised the big-antler demons that had yanked my chain for decades. Lightheartedly, I headed for camp, anxious to share my spiritual experience with Peg.
Over lunch, I attempted to move my wife with my epiphany, but I only received a blank stare in return. Realizing my efforts to touch her were getting nowhere, I jokingly inquired as to whether she might have had a stroke.
“Not at all,” Peg said. “I’ve known that forever. Your revelation is exactly how I’ve always felt about bowhunting. Big antlers mean little to me and never have. Us girls just want to have fun.”
From that day forward it seemed a heavy load had been lifted from my chest. There would be no more pushing myself, no more stressing over big antlers and no more big plans. The upcoming hunting season was going to be a riot — a little bit of hard hunting, a lot of goofing off and even more so, a take-it-as-it-comes sense of satisfaction. The winds of change that were now blowing through my soul had provided a fresh, light air in my life. Even our dog, Lulu, could sense as much.
Peg smiled more and life was better. This was what property ownership was supposed to be all about.
Asking the Right Questions
As I write these lines, two full bowhunting seasons have come and gone on our Kansas property, and not a single large-antlered buck has been harvested by Peg and I. For most of my previous days, this sort of result would not have been acceptable. I simply demanded more productivity. As a matter of fact, prior to purchasing our hunting property, I’d rarely gone a season without harvesting a trophy buck — or three — and I’d never gone two consecutive seasons without gripping big antlers. So, how was I going to handle this strange, ironic reality I now found myself in? Well, let me tell you a few things that I’ve learned about land ownership.
In my humble opinion, purchasing land solely for the purpose of having a place to bowhunt big bucks is starting off on a flawed foundation. Ask yourself, “Is it really worthwhile to spend your life savings on a piece of ground in order to attempt to kill big bucks?”
The answer is, “Probably not.”
If big bucks are your primary motivation for purchasing a property, maybe you’d be better served to simply consider going on a top-end guided hunt each year. After all, there’s certainly a lot less time, effort and greenbacks involved in that line of pursuit. Need proof? Do the math!
But what if you’ve made your mind up, and you’re all-in on the land ownership idea? Well, let me ask you a few more questions:
- Can and will you supply the tremendous amount of time, effort and extra money necessary to accomplish growing your own big bucks?
- When and if you accomplish your goal of growing and harvesting trophy bucks consistently, will you be happy?
- Just how long do you think that warm and fuzzy feeling will last?
- After that, what’s next?
You can always tell yourself you’ve made a good investment and that you can always get back all the time, money and effort that you put into the place. But, then again, is that really the reason you started all this work?
Coming at it from a different perspective, allow me to ask a few more questions:
- Have you considered buying a place simply for the recreational value that it will supply you, your family and friends over many lifetimes?
- Can you be happy with this being the foundational reason to consider becoming a landowner?
- And besides, doesn’t it make much better sense to have such a firm starting point anyway?
Think about all this. Then, if you are still moving forward, ask yourself whether the property checks off most of your desires as the perfect outdoor destination. Would you love to spend your retired years on the place?
If you can answer “yes” to these last two questions, then you are finally and definitely on the right track. As a matter of fact, you just defined the place as a trophy property in your mind. And you just established the absolute best reason to move forward in the pursuit of your dreams.
But wait! That old issue of bowhunting just reared its ugly head again, didn’t it? After all, you are still a bowhunter, and you want this to factor in to how you select your property. The big question, however, is how much should deer-hunting potential and trophy potential influence your overall decision to buy?
Well, only you can answer that one. Ask yourself whether you’ll be happy bowhunting the place for the rest of your days, and whether you’ll be satisfied hunting for the types of “mature” bucks that are typical or average for that area. Can you handle and enjoy taking on all the challenges involved in managing a property for wildlife? Can you accept the fact that mature whitetail bucks are transient creatures that are prone to finding ways to die away from the sanctuary you provide them? Can you accept that no matter how much you desire to harvest a trophy whitetail buck each year, or what steps you take toward achieving that goal, such a reality probably isn’t going to come to fruition?
Again, if you can answer “yes” to all these questions, you’ve not only found yourself a trophy property, you’ve acquired a trophy attitude and outlook about the endeavor. Go for it!
The Sum Total
For Peg and I, the learning experiences and changing emotions tied to land ownership continue. Certainly, in our book, we are winners. We no longer feel pressured or hurried by other hunters or landowners; we no longer feel the need to kill the first big buck that appears. Rather, we now find ourselves talking about everything except big antlers. Incredible solace has been found in simply watching the local deer herd instead of fretting over how to kill a big buck. More importantly, we have developed a personal attachment to the land and its inhabitants, and that can and will change your perspective on the entire outdoor experience.
As we began to view the animals — everything from deer and badgers to turkeys and quail — in a totally new light, they became something much more than quarry to be pursued. Now, we enjoy and appreciate them for the gift that they are — we feel a sense of stewardship toward the wildlife that calls our land home.
Finally — and it still amazes me to admit this — but I honestly get more satisfaction out of working and piddling on my land than I do from bowhunting on it. Working on my tractor makes me happy, and building up a sweat while doing a habitat-improvement project does my heart and soul much good.
So, am I still a bowhunter? You bet! Has this old man finally gone soft? Probably. But that’s OK with me, because I’m sure loving this new adventure called land ownership!