I remember my low point well. I was heading west on I-80, hot cup of coffee in hand, with seven days of chasing Iowa whitetails in my rearview mirror and another week of the rut ahead in Nebraska. If you’d asked me a decade prior how that sounded, I’d have told you it was an absolute dream come true. But here I was, living that whitetail hunter’s dream, and all I wanted to do was wake up and be home. I was miserable.
In 2021 I discovered the secret to making hunting not fun, and let me tell you, it’s not something you want to do. Here’s how I made it happen and how to make sure you don’t follow in my footsteps.
My fall from deer hunting paradise was a long time in the making and the result of a long list of ailments that, when combined, became toxic. And based on conversations I’ve had with many other diehard deer hunters, this is not unique to me.
But let's get one thing straight. I love deer hunting. And I still loved it most of the time last season, despite some low moments. My problem might be that, at times, I’ve loved it too much. I love things hard.
About 15 years ago, my passion for deer hunting took a turn into the fast lane, as I dedicated myself to successfully hunting mature bucks and started documenting my experiences on my platform Wired To Hunt. All of this led to my passion turning into an obsession.
January through December, for years on end, I was reading, watching, listening, and then writing or talking about deer hunting every single day. My time in the field was extreme too. I wanted to be scouting, prepping, or actually hunting every single possible hour I could for as many days as I could possibly slip away. My then-girlfriend, now wife, could attest to this and to the fact that this not only burned me out but very nearly ended our relationship too.
As the cliche goes, you can have too much of a good thing. I have repeatedly bumped into that reality over the years but rarely learned my lesson. Somewhere along the way, hunting shifted from something I simply loved to do to a mission I felt obligated to pursue at all costs, at all times. Twenty-one days in a row? Thirteen hours in a tree? Nine different states? Too much was never enough.
Want to make deer hunting not fun? Go so hard and for so long that you burn yourself out and your loved ones too.
I let my hunting become all about the outcome. It's a personality trait of mine to be goal-oriented and achievement-focused. I like to pass the test, win the trophy, be the best, and I’m rarely satisfied if I don’t. It’s a drive that’s helpful in many ways but, here again, too much of anything can be a problem, especially when it comes to a pursuit like hunting.
Being who I am, I set lofty goals each year related to hunting and poured my heart and soul into achieving them. This is not inherently bad, but when your happiness, satisfaction, and identity are tied to whether or not you kill a deer (something that’s often not actually in your control), it can be a recipe for disaster. All of this led to a whole pile of stress, worry, and self-pity when things weren’t going well in the whitetail woods.
It sounds silly in retrospect to let something as trivial as a deer hunt impact my mental state, but it did. And I know I’m not the only one like this. I’ve heard stories from dozens of diehard deer hunters whose chase for whitetail success has led them into a near-constant state of stress each fall.
Want to make deer hunting not fun? Obsess over the outcome of your hunts rather than finding satisfaction in the process.
Much of the above is a result of internal turmoil, but the impact of outside voices can’t be ignored either. With the proliferation of hunting TV, YouTube videos, and social media, the community of deer hunters that you can compare yourself to and potentially get criticism from has grown by astronomical proportions. All of it can make it seem like you’re hunting in front of an audience. And that’s a dangerous thing.
The first symptom here is Facebook or Instagram envy, where you compare yourself to other successful hunters you see on social media or TV, setting an impossible bar for you to meet. It’s all a lie of course, but tell that to your gut at 10:00 p.m. after a long unsuccessful day of hunting as you scroll through dozens of “hero pics” on your feed.
The second danger is letting what those others think influence your hunting. Will I get shit on if I shoot this young buck? Will people think I suck if I don’t kill anything on another trip? Whether you kill a big enough buck, botch a shot, wear the right hat, or use the right bow, it’s all up for outside criticism these days. The Monday morning quarterbacks and online trolls are more prevalent than ever on social media, message boards, YouTube comment threads, and sometimes even at the local pro shop.
From personal experience over the years, I can tell you that letting any of that get into your head is an absolute poison pill. Adding the pressure of what other people will think of your hunting success is ridiculous, but it’s a problem that is all too real for many hunters—whether it be the opinions of your close group of hunting buddies, fellow hunt club members, or commenters on Facebook or Instagram.
Want to make deer hunting not fun? Let outside opinions influence your hunting.
This combination of excessive drive, an obsession with the kill, and a vulnerability to outside opinions all forced one more final nail into the coffin for me. And that was the loss of my hunting community. When hunting became all about success, meeting obligations, and impressing others, all of a sudden it became hard to make time for others.
Meet the crew for breakfast? Spend three days at the family deer camp where there are few deer? Head in at midday to celebrate with a buddy who just shot a buck? Nope, nope, and nope.
If it wasn’t going to get me closer to killing a buck, it wasn’t something I felt I could do anymore. So I missed deer camps and hunting buddy get-togethers and hunting trips with my dad and track jobs with pals. In turn, I missed out on one of the core virtues of hunting, the relationships made and experiences shared with friends and family. One of the very best things about hunting, and I was too busy for it.
If you want to make deer hunting not fun, get so focused on killing deer that you don’t have time to enjoy it with other people.
Last year, while hunting nine different states, filming two different shows, and attempting to fill 10 different tags, I slowly realized that I’d lost sight of what makes hunting fun. I’d gotten too goal-oriented, too strung out, too stressed, too worried about what other people think, and too busy for others. And I hated it.
When the season ended, I took stock of what had happened and what I could learn from it, and then dedicated myself to changing things in 2022. My new approach is simple but, hopefully, in impact, quite profound.
I will permit myself to pull back on the throttle a little and focus on enjoying my hunts for once, rather than attacking them like a military mission. I will focus on the process of my hunts rather than obsessing over the outcome. I will shut out the noise and hunt my own hunt. And I will finally get back to my hunting community, even if it means a little less time in the woods with a bow in hand.
Sure, it’s great to fill your tags, and I want to do it just as much as the next guy. But not at the expense of the joy that hunting is supposed to bring.