Petzal: Collecting Versus Earning Your Game

Robert Ruark, writing in his journal about some particularly good African trophy that he had hammered, noted that it was "…collected, but not earned." He believed, as many hunters do, that there should be a certain amount of work you put into bagging an animal or else you don't really deserve it. This is a nice sentiment, but of course it is nonsense. You expect to have to work, and if you do work very hard and get something good as a result it is more rewarding, but that's as far as it goes. Despite our touching belief that hunting is a matter of skill and perseverance, a lot of it is sheer dumb luck.

I killed a 6x6 elk on my second elk hunt, in 1972. In 1977 I got another, an absolute monster. Then I hunted from 1978 through 1993, working my tail off, freezing, walking my legs down to the nub, and did not kill an elk. Either they were not there, or not big enough, or in a spot where I couldn't get them out--it was always something. Then from 1994 until 2002 I killed a bull nearly every year, all on easy hunts. Whenever I raised my rifle there seemed to be an elk in front of it. Perhaps you earn them on one hunt and collect them on another.

One thing I do know--the worst thing that can happen to a beginning nimrod is to take a fine trophy the first time out. That can ruin you for life.