In defense of the "Catered Hunt"

I was recently on the receiving end of some criticism at a DNR Community Forums web site on which I post as the "token" female. I say "token" because this is a sometimes-rowdy bunch and I am often the only participating female who can take as much guff as they dish out. A forum participant read a handful of my articles on the Internet and then announced that I was not a "real hunter". The articles he focused upon were several of the "outfitted" hunts I have attended in my dozen plus years of hunting. They were labeled "Catered Hunts". Ignored completely were the literally dozens of articles I had written on my self-guided, blood sweat and tears hunts. I was not entirely sure at first what the term "Catered Hunt" meant, because it was used to describe a self-guided Kansas hunt with some friends who taught me to turkey hunt in 2002 where no outfitter was involved. The term was intended in a derogatory sense and in truth sit reed in me feelings of defensiveness. Given the true nature of the majority of my hunting, I was offended that my hunting ability was being questioned. With the many thousands of hours I spend by myself hunting both public and private land, I knew I was a "real hunter". I sought to convince my detractor, but to know avail. I was suddenly the whipping boy for all Catered Hunters. After a volley of messages on that forum, it was obvious this person an envy issue, so I opted out of further discussion. But I did gain a better understanding of what hunting really is to me.

What is a "real hunter" and what is "real hunting"? Are clients or guests who attend guided hunts with outfitters, considered real hunters in a pure sense? If someone else does most or all of the scouting and set up, or transports you to a hunting location where game animals are known to travel – is that really hunting? Just what is a real hunter, anyway?

Many "average Joe" hunters would agree that "Catered Hunts" – that is, hunts with guides or outfitters, whether paid or not - are not real hunts from a purist’s standpoint. To answer this question, we need first to define "average hunter", "Catered Hunt" and even "hunting" itself.

Most would agree that the average hunter is one who:

  • Hunts public land, gets permission to hunt private land, or owns a modest amount of their own land.
  • Spends as much time as they can, often year round but especially pre-season, scouting to determine location and travel routes of game.
  • Sets up their own stands, and sometimes must do so the day before or the day of their hunts due to regulations on public land or due to landowner preferences.
  • Tracks and field dresses their own game, and arranges for transport out of the woods. This can mean a laborious time dragging or packing out a game animal if local laws do now allow motorized vehicles.
  • Processes the game themselves, or has their game processed.
  • Usually eats what they kill.
  • Is not a ‘record book’ trophy hunter, and perhaps has never even seen a trophy game animal. Any deer harvested, is a trophy for them.

Next, let’s define a "Catered Hunt". The "Catered Hunt" is one where hunters use a guide or an outfitter. "Cater" means to "try to satisfy" or to "provide with what is needed, typically in a professional capacity". A hunting guide performs most of the advance scouting and stand site selection. These are usually paid hunts and can range in cost from $250 to $25,000 or more depending upon the type, rarity and location of game animals. Obviously appealing to more well-heeled or famous clients, animals are often scouted, tracked, retrieved, field dressed and/or processed by the outfitter. For the purposes of this article, Catered Hunt does not include a fenced hunting operation, though there are purists who regard fenced operations as being essentially the same as any other guided hunt.

We also need to define the operative words "hunt" and "hunter". The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the action verb "hunt" as "pursue and kill for sport or food; chase and kill; try to find something by searching carefully". Additionally, the noun "hunter" is defined as "A person or animal that hunts". A thesaurus parallels the words hunter with "seeker", and hunting with "hunt". Finally, the word "hunt" itself is synonymous with the words chase, pursue, stalk, hound, follow or track. Logically, when we look at the preponderance of action words in the above definitions, the pursuit aspect is clearly dominant. The client on a Catered Hunt often does none of these things. Indeed, the only way we could squeeze a Catered Hunter into any of these definitions is by changing the words around. Instead of "pursue and kill for sport or food", it would need to be changed to "kill for sport". If the sum of an individual’s hunt experience is to sit still enough to remain undetected, and to be accurate enough to kill critters with their gun or bow, are they hunting? Or are they killing?

Hunting magazines are filled with success stories and photos of smiling hunters with their quarries. Average hunters are sometimes published, but many of the stories often center on Catered Hunts. Sometimes the outfitter is shown in the photo as well. Articles often have bullet point "how to" lists and gear recommendations. In fact, such lists and recommendations are the preference of most media. Presumably, if we follow the lists and buy the gear, we will bag similar animals. The popular hunting shows on television are predominantly of the same ilk: Outfitters or show producers guide Catered Hunters. It is great entertainment. A dead critter at the end seems to be a given. Ironically, the people who are growing in their disdain for these seemingly contrived hunting scenarios, are the very ones who are addicted to watching the shows or reading the magazines. There seems to be a love/hate relationship going on. On the one hand, the average hunter idolizes or at least envies those who have these "dream" hunts or who have attained recognition in the outdoor industry. On the other hand, those same hunters know that most of the magazine and TV hunters enjoyed the services of an outfitter. As such, they had a "Catered Hunt" where the vast majority of what the average hunter generally regards as the hunting experience, was largely absent.

Most sportsman and women who have been on a guided hunts would feel the same pang of defensiveness at being labeled as a lesser hunter for having done so, because the vast majority started out as, and still are, average hunters as well. Does a Catered Hunt invalidate all past experience of the hunter who has worked their way from hunting public land and doing their own set-ups? If you groom trails and erect tree stands for your children or friends to hunt, are they not "real hunters" for your having done so? Are you an outfitter? If you hunt with a buddy and he calls in a gobbler while teaching you to turkey hunt, are you not a "real hunter" when you kill the bird? Of course you are a real hunter. After all, this is how hunting traditions are passed down.

A good number of average hunters think that "Catered Hunts" are not hunting at all, but simply killing. They are partially right and they do present some valid points. If a non-hunter was just dropped into a Catered Hunt and subsequently killed a critter, I personally would not regard that as hunting. My non-hunting daughter did that in 2002 and killed a raccoon with a crossbow on an all women’s hunt in Florida. She was not a hunter. If, however, a person hunts for many years, establishes himself or herself as a hunter and harvests animals by their own expertise and ingenuity, they are not less of a hunter because they later opt to add Catered Hunts to their repertoire. People who hunt for a living or who are in the hunting industry, often end up having the least amount of time to spend scouting and putting up stands, even though they are probably the very best in the world at doing so. Are hunting industry professionals, who have clawed their way to the top and proven they are the best of the best, any lesser hunters because they go on outfitted hunts? No.

As for me, I find a certain enjoyment in my guided hunts and especially in the camaraderie shared with fellow hunters, be they male or female. I also learn a lot from the outfitters and from the hunters who are more experienced than I. However, I must confess to experiencing some boredom fairly quick. This is especially true of stand hunting. I can only take so much stand hunting, punctuated with meals and sleep, before I am antsy to get back to my own land so I can experience the "whole enchilada". For me, the entire year round preparation process is as much or more a part of hunting, than is the wearing of camo and carrying a weapon on opening day. My "Catered Hunts" do not invalidate these roots. In fact, the average hunter, given the opportunity, would jump at the chance to go on a Catered Hunt, at least once anyway.

What is a "real hunter" and what is "real hunting"? In teaching our Firearms Safety classes, there is a scene in one of our instructional videos where a ten year old Canadian boy arrows his first whitetail, with his father sitting in the same tree with him. As father and son kneel beside the fallen eight-point buck, and the boy beams with awe and pride, the father proudly proclaims, "You’re a hunter! You’re a hunter!" I would heartily agree.



 July © 2004