The success of a hunting or fishing trip is defined in many ways. One characterization is to harvest a trophy. Webster’s definition of a trophy applicable in this situation is “a game animal or fish suitable for mounting.” This is a vague definition allowing the individual considerable leeway. At one end of the spectrum, trophies can be judged in comparison to the largest of that species ever harvested. At the other end the spectrum, a person’s first deer or rainbow trout no matter the size is always a trophy. Both outcomes can warrant space on the wall.
This may seem a strange topic to broach given the current situation, but May is the month Utah determines who gets to hunt big game this fall. One part of the annual process is for the Utah Wildlife Board to decide how many animals can be harvested. Last week they reduced the number of general season deer tags compared to how many they sold last year by over 10,000. The Cache Unit will have 800 fewer tags. In addition to finding out whether you drew a tag in Utah, May is the month Idaho and Wyoming accept applications for their deer and antelope tags. Given the overlap in timing and the current economic uncertainty, it is possible to wait until you’re notified on whether you drew a Utah tag before deciding to apply to these other states.
Not only is this the time of year to apply for big game licenses, the warming water temperatures means more fish are being caught. This is the time of year when lots of big fish are harvested, as they haven’t encountered much bait or seen many flies or lures for the last couple months. As all individuals can buy a fishing license, what separates successful anglers is how much time they spend on the water. This is why most of the state’s biggest fish each year are captured by enthusiastic, motivated anglers that are likely to live next door. In contrast, most of the largest game animals harvested were either people lucky enough to draw the right tag or wealthy enough to purchase one through a conservation auction.
Harvesting or catching a trophy is only one measure of a successful trip. When you are out with a rod or gun it is the experience that is most important. This may be even more true at the moment, when the pool of potential experiences has been greatly reduced. Animals can be stuffed and forever kept on a wall, but it is the journey that make hunting and fishing an important activity to so many people in the United States. Whether it be a phenomenal shot at a bird on the wing, a strutting tom turkey coming down a ridge to your call, or a monster steelhead that broke off just before the net slid under it, these mental mementos are the real trophies. Photographs can capture portions of these experiences, but they are at best just fossils left behind for others to interpret.
It is interesting that how an animal is measured changes when it becomes a trophy based on size. Fish go from being measured in inches to pounds and ounces. Antlers go from how many points each side has, to their total length. This is because the differences among trophies of a species are so small, they must be precisely measured. This is not true of a hunting or fishing experience with the family, as both the size of the animal and the description of the event can continue to grow and change for decades into the future.
So how does an animal become a trophy? Mostly it’s just time to grow and good habitat. This is also true of experiences; they need time and places to be created. And while there isn’t much going on at the moment, many people do have time and we are surrounded by wonderful places. As the economy starts to reopen, one of the best ways to maintain social distancing and create experiences that may compete with this otherwise dreary situation is to spend time hunting, fishing, hiking or boating with your family.
It is easy to get sucked into the vortex of worry associated with the coronavirus. If you are a person in the healthcare system or keeping us fed, I want to thank you for your commitment and help in this situation. But for the rest of us, there are still many opportunities to safely and conscientiously seek trophies and experiences in the outdoors.