Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On measuring success

The satisfaction of participating.
Bear camp this spring was a success. I didn’t get a bear. I was however part of a successful hunt where my friend took his first (he is an otherwise very experienced hunter, just not with black bears). My proposal for the hunt was that seeing as he had never hunted bear and I had taken one in the same area last year, he should have the first opportunity. I was happy to attempt any subsequent opportunities and was keen to attempt it with archery gear (perhaps with some temerity!).

The joy of being in camp.
After our success on the first evening I was thoroughly enjoying being out and being a part of the bear success. The camp was great, we were shooting our bows, my partner was having her first big game hunting experience, we were philosophising in camp chairs and skinning/butchering a bear over cups of tea – damn grand if you ask me.

 After my friend’s bear was tagged I had this feeling that the trip was a great success and began to feel that it no longer mattered as much if I got one or not. I have had similar experiences while fishing my favourite runs for Yellowfish, on the Vaal River in South Africa. At times, after making a number of successful pocket casts and getting into a few fish in a rapid, I have felt like I have been granted my fair share of success and harassed the fish enough. I have then retreated to watch birds and Monitor Lizards and laze on rocks – often even in the face of a likely looking eddy imploring me to try and cast a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear into it!

Sharing success with friends (ignore the socks...!).
I realized on this trip that my avidity for being out hunting had been satisfied and that success for me, at that moment, had been defined. Of course had I not had some success the season before I would have been far more compulsive about filling my tag. In part the reason may be that although I find Black Bear meat wholly palatable (and would not hunt them if I didn't), I still don’t really treat it like an ungulate, in other words a primary food animal, and thus perhaps don’t feel so driven to be successful with regularity. Of course I love being successful but realized that all of the vicissitudes of hunting success can all be rewarding. I wonder if you feel the same?

Enjoying camp down-time.
This, I should make clear, is not an indictment on hunters who feel the need to fill as many of their annual tags as possible; I certainly think it’s good to try too. This brings me to my next, and juxtaposed, point on success – how much is enough in order to feel like you have been successful? To be honest I am not a fan of ‘body count’ wing shooting for example. I would love to shoot doves in Argentina but definitely lack the desire to shoot thousands, as seems the norm there. However, in contrast, I do counter the assertions that hunting a few head of big game in a season is ‘too much’. “Why would someone want to hunt elk, a couple of deer and waterfowl in one season? It’s greedy!” is a common accusation. Our regional fish and game magazine ran an article last year where a local hunter described how he and his partner hunted 24 head of big game that year. They filled their legally available and fairly granted provincial tags in Alberta and then embarked on a hunt in Namibia. The size of this bag met with howls of dissention from some readers, who labelled their hunting success as greedy and excessive. One reader stated that after his successful Elk hunt that year he felt ‘guilty’ if he continued to hunt, implying that others should too. This is a large bag, facilitated in no small part by having two seasons in places where there are fewer restrictions on individual hunting opportunities due to robust wildlife populations, combined with relatively low hunter pressure. As long as the hunting was done ethically and legally (here is what I mean by ‘ethical’), with no negative conservation impact, and the animals properly processed and consumed, then I fail to see the excesses in this case and take a more clement view of these hunters’ success.

That which defines success, it seems, is personal but I would like to think that it is the function of a suite of experiences and phenomena. We all love to seal the deal and fill tags, but sometimes just participating has a satisfaction all of its own.

© Brian Joubert


  1. Last season I asked myself that same question when me and my hunting partners (three of us in total) bagged our fourth and final deer. Four started to feel a little excessive to me – only because I wasn't sure we knew enough people who would want to eat that much Venison. Its certainly not as excessive as 24 though! That just seems wrong.

  2. I appreciate your thoughts here. I find that I also think along those lines at times. After all, a successful hunt doesn't always end in a kill, but in the "hunt" itself. I have referenced this quote many times, but I think it is helpful here as well...

    “It’s paradoxical that the death of your quarry is besides the point and at the same time the whole point. A chase without a kill as its object is like a journey without a destination; a kill without a chase employing all the hunter’s craft is killing, not hunting.” - Philip Caputo

  3. Thanks Mark, thats a great quote and adds a little more depth to the often quoted Ortega y Gasset one.

  4. Brian,

    You are my brother from another mother.

    On my blog, thepathlesswoods.com, I post under RenaissanceRedneck! Working on my Masters in Lit, soon to go on for my Phd. Stumbled across your blog, read a few of your posts, and loved it. My most recent post echoes many of your sentiments about a successful hunt...that doesn't end in a succesful harvest. Look forward to following you in the months and years to come.

    Will Cunningham

  5. Will,
    Renaissance redneck! I love it. I am now following your blog too.


    PS I should have more content soon....working on some ideas that need some research!