Milk River filming 2010A fellow named Jim stopped by to appraise my property. He looked around at all the bucks, elk, bears and other stuffed critters hanging on the walls and scattered on the floor and grinned. He didn’t say anything, didn’t have to. I knew he was a hunter.

Jim, gray and in his mid-50s, opened up and told me he’d gotten into bowhunting a few years ago. “I like it because it’s fun and exciting, even if you don’t kill anything most days. I’ve shot enough deer in my life. Now just being out in the woods is what I like.”

Jim has arrived as a true hunter. He is at the point where the hunting of a buck is more important than the killing of it. When you get there, all the pressure of “getting your buck” every year goes away, as if a gorilla is lifted off your back. Then you can take a deep breath and enjoy the pink sunrises, the frost glimmering on the grass, the dank smell of a scrape a buck pissed in last night, squirrels scampering near your stand and driving you crazy–all the little things that make being out there so cool.

As you’re enjoying the day and all that feel-good stuff, a stick cracks…an 8-pointer or a fat doe comes in…your heart jumps…you raise rifle or bow and shoot it dead, with a tinge of regret. The predator in you has never left and never will.

The morphing into a made hunter is different for everybody, but it generally occurs sometime in a man’s 30s or 40s. (I don’t know about the female hunters, they’re a whole different animal). Thanks to my dad, who dragged me along more days than any pop can possibly find the time to now, I shot a lot of squirrels, deer and other critters when I was young, so I got the blood thirst out of my system pretty early.

BTW, to all you young guys and newbies who have found our sport later on in life, the killing of a good many animals in the formative years is a good thing and a required part of the transformation.

By the time I turned 35 or so I didn’t really care if I got my deer every year. But I still went hard for a buck in the years after, and still do. It’s why we do what we do.

So what about you? Are you still a killer or a made hunter or somewhere in between?