Now that another busy hunting season is mostly behind us (although hunting season never really ends!), I've had some time to reflect on another year of terrific experiences and great memories made, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on what makes for a "quality hunting experience."
It's All About the People
For me, a huge part of what makes for a memorable hunt is the people I get to meet, including other hunters, guides and outfitters alike. A hunt camp is a great place to meet new people with similar views and interests, and even make some lasting friendships. The camaraderie that's shared in a northern woods deer camp, in a marshy duck blind or while sitting around a fire whether chasing elk in the Rockies or Cape buffalo in Africa is one of the hunting world's most valuable gifts. I recently enjoyed a late-season muzzleloader deer hunt in western Illinois, and although I didn't bag a big buck, I did meet some great people from about 10 different States, all with a shared passion for chasing whitetails. I had a similar experience a few years back at a deer camp in southern Iowa; in fact, I met some new friends from Pennsylvania on that trip that I have since hunted with in Ohio and will be hunting with this year in Iowa again.
Of course, the people you hunt with don't have to be strangers. Quality time spent afield with family and friends, whether spouses, siblings, parents, children or buddies, often become some of our most cherished memories. None of us are getting any younger, and time does march on, so such opportunities should be grasped whenever presented.
It's Not About the Game You Bring Home
I've been on hunts from which I came home empty-handed, but wouldn't hesitate to go back. I've also been on hunts that were productive, but I wouldn't care to repeat them. When talking about outfitted hunts, spending a lot on a trip simply doesn't guarantee success (beware of an outfitter that guarantees it!); nor should it. That's one of the things that make hunting such a great pursuit. There are simply too many variables outside of an outfitter's or guide's control. As long as an outfitted hunt provides you with a good guide(s), good food and good accommodations, along with a reasonable chance of success, in my books, that's a quality hunt.
Too many people judge hunting success by the size or amount of game taken. If I did, I probably should have quit hunting long ago. But I didn't, because I believe there's much more than that to a quality hunting experience.