Most of us have been on this journey: the one that starts in a stand with dad, ready to shoot whatever walks out; and makes the full cycle to where we eventually sit, as a dad, excited to see the next generation eagerly throw themselves into the life of a deer hunter. Even as that young kid, who probably can’t spell conservation, we’re imbibing ourselves into the lifestyle that’ll allow us to make full use of that word.

Regardless of whether you’re the antsy little ball of camouflage squirming around the shooting house or the stoic old vet trying to keep movement to a minimum, you’re playing a hand in conservation. As we mentioned in a previous blog, think of this industry as a giant economic machine that provides thousands of jobs pertaining to the manufacturing and sale of outdoor products, of which there are aplenty - shotguns, rifles, optics, ammunition, bows and accessories, arrows, broadheads, ATVs, clothing, the list goes on. The outdoor industry supports nearly 700,000 jobs, even when unemployment is still fairly high. So even if you’re not old enough to understand the concept of what makes up an economy, you’re still doing your job just by showing up in a miniature camo onesie.

Button Buck

Ever notice that a lot of kids’ first deer is either a button buck or spike? Perhaps it’s that these two creatures exist on the same intellectual plane. The young hunter moves a lot and makes noise. He might even fire and miss. The young deer is not smart enough to show his flag and head out. Perhaps it’s only coincidence that it happens this way. Then again, maybe not. Begin your deer hunting career with a Boone & Crockett entry and it’s like hitting a homerun first at bat of the season – you’ll never top it and likely slump for the foreseeable future.

This first-year hunter’s clothes are likely too big. His pants are rolled up, cap over ears and his father is carrying the rifle. Who knows if he’ll stick with it as he matures to the next phase.

Fork Horn

The Fork Horn is entering his first season as a solitary hunter. Firearm safety has been drilled into him though he’s anxious to shoot something, anything, on his own. It’s a rite of passage in this phase, to be able to kill, dress and drag an animal without the help of others.

Nearing the end of the Fork Horn phase, this hunter will begin to understand sound Quality Deer Management practices and resists the constant urge to shoot every buck he sees. He understands that to kill a wall hanger he must be patient and let the bucks of his current namesake see another autumn or two. In terms of becoming an avid hunter, his obsession is about to get worse.

Basket Case

He’s called the Basket Case and rightfully so. He’s obsessed with hunting. Because he’s just shy of obtaining a driver’s license, he worries his parents to death about taking him hunting, trips to the local sporting goods store, constant questioning concerning articles he’s read in magazines and online.

The Basket Case thinks he needs the latest and greatest equipment. Though his parents may oblige him with a new rifle, scope or bow at Christmas or a birthday, he’s diligently saving his money for some items he has his eye on. He’s sucked in by ads using the faces of Michael Waddell, Tiffany Lakowski and others that he admires from a distance. If they have it, I probably should too, he thinks.

Growing Presence

The Growing Presence is not only set free from the restrictions that come with lacking a driver’s license, but he’s using that new-found freedom to become more of a conservationist as well. Sure, he hunts every weekend and on every school holiday, but he also devotes what resources he has to ensure a healthier whitetail deer herd in the area he hunts.

The enthusiastic GP hasn’t killed an immature buck in several seasons. Heck, he no longer shoots does with fawns. He’s learning patience as he continues to expand his hunting knowledge not only through the pages of Outdoor Life, but he’s also been along on the adventures of Roosevelt, Hemingway, Capstick, Buckingham, Babcock and the rest of the society that gets hunting in a way he wants to understand it.

In the end, it's all about passing on the great tradition we call hunting.

King of the Woods

Man can never be king of the woods what with our departure into society eons ago. We’re the apex predators simply because we have gunpowder and high-horsepower machines to whip us through the landscape. This king, rather, is one that sits back in his treestand or cozy shooting house and enjoys what’s before him. Sunrises and sunsets matter. As does the pip pip of a wood thrush, the whistle of the nearly vanished bobwhite quail, the shriek of any angry hawk and the chatter of a brace of squirrels that nearly became a breakfast.

This king of the woods takes nothing for granted and typically takes nothing from the woods. At this age, he likely has a Basket Case and quite possibly a Growing Presence to do that for him. Like a true king, he merely indulges in the fruits of the harvest. When platters of grilled backstrap, seared tenderloin and fried liver are set before him, the king raises his wine glass, toasting the hunt and those who share his table. The king is who we all strive to be.