Author: Greg Staggs
The icon alerting me that I had an instant message waiting to be read lit up as innocently as all the other times it ever had when someone messaged me through Facebook. I stole another glance to my left and identified the squirrel shuffling through the crisp November leaves, periodically burying his nose deep enough to hide his eyes from the still morning air. A pair of wood ducks raucously lifted off the slough to my right, and I scanned the water’s edge where it came up and lapped at the trees that marched out into its depths with extra care, looking for an animal that may have spooked them from their floating perches.
Satisfied I was alone for the present time, I turned my focus toward the phone in my hand and tapped the little button to open my message folder. A few seconds later that aforementioned innocence was gone. “Hey man, I think I’m pretty sure I know exactly where that spot is… Good luck to you.” Or something like that. It could have said I want to send you a million dollars; frankly, I couldn’t see past “I know where that spot is…”
Like a lot of hunters these days, I’d started sharing more and more information on social media. The ability to connect “real time” with my friends across the country was infectious. For years, I’d been texting close friends from my stand with such innocuous observances as “All settled in; feels like a good day today!” or “Just had a doe walk by…” But those short little phrases which served to connect me to a handful of buddies gave way over time to posting pictures from the stand on Facebook.
I suspect well over two decades of immersing myself into one of the most solitary pursuits in outdoors – bowhunting – had left me craving just a bit of interaction with people, and the social media platform was the perfect tool: I was still alone with my thoughts, it was quiet and peaceful, I really didn’t have to share my best hunting spots with anyone… yet I could “talk” with friends noiselessly and pass the time until it got to be THAT time we all wait for. Then it all changed with that one message.
I’m not the only one who is scaling back the information they share now. Ryan Hatfield, the former editor of Western Hunter magazine, recently shared the following on his Facebook page: “One of the bummers of Facebook is having some really beautiful, spectacular scenery photos that you'd love to share with people, but you don't dare because you know that people will Google Earth the crap out of them and meet you right there next year. Oh, what the heck, here's one that doesn't show too much skyline.” His picture? A closeup of a rock. As in really close. So close, in fact that you couldn’t see the edges of it in the picture.
T.J. Ash, a successful Kansas bowhunter, has observed the trend as well. “With today’s convenience of immediately sharing on social media outlets of everything from the morning’s sunrise to your latest tree-stand selfie, it’s hard to miss. While fun to participate in -- perhaps arguably difficult to resist -- it doesn't come without its drawbacks.” Ash shared with me the incident that forever changed how he would use Facebook and other social media in the future.
“A few years ago after having harvested a record-book whitetail, I learned just how fast social media works. Not only did pictures of the buck and me spread like wildfire, but speculation and rumors to where it was killed went even faster. Couple that with living in a small Midwestern town and it was a recipe for disaster. Between the small-town talk -- much of which also occurred via social media outlets -- and a few of the pictures in the field, it didn't take long for it to be common knowledge where the buck was taken. Although a bit unhappy about that, it would be a few months before I truly learned the consequences I would feel from the attention it garnered. Throughout the following spring and summer I continued to freely post trail-camera photos of bucks as they were in velvet. Often times these picture generated quite an online discussion. While never being directly asked for a location, thanks to my success the previous fall, many people already knew not only where I had taken my buck earlier but also the location, or at least general location, of my other properties. Now they had location (mistake 1) and they knew the quality of the animals there (mistake 2). That fall proved to be one of the most aggravating seasons I have ever had as a bowhunter. Trespassers, poachers, and people throwing cash around for access to neighboring properties not only created a headache for me personally, but caused the wildlife to also feel the struggle, in turn changing the entire dynamic of the area. The plus side I found is those who go to such lengths -- or perhaps we should say shortcuts -- also seem to not have much patience. When they didn't find a big buck walking by them every time they went afield that fall, it didn't take long for them to become discouraged and give up the chase. None made the effort to return the following, although the damage was done for that year. Lesson #1 in the books: no more trail-camera pictures!”
Fortunately, I hadn’t shared the single trail-camera picture of the big split G-2 buck I’d captured a few years back. I had wanted a big buck with a kicker for years, and the fact that he possessed the dark-chocolate rack I’d also coveted made for a no-brainer target buck. On the morning of Nov 11, crashing from down the draw caused me to instantly arise off my stand seat and grab my bow off its hook in one motion. I peered intently towards the direction of the commotion as its volume rose with approaching fervor. The panting doe which was bounding towards me suddenly changed course and veered out, taking her on a path 40 yards from my stand. I had no time to identify the huge buck dogging her every step, other than to think to myself he would not get a free pass.
I grunted as he passed through my first shooting lane, and he continued on without pause. When he entered my second opening, I grunted louder still; he never broke stride. When he was just about to hit the last spot I would have to be able to launch an arrow at him, I did something I’d never done: I yelled at him. “Hey!!” I virtually screamed. He skidded to a stop and seemed to give me a quizzical look. A second later my Muzzy MX-3 sliced cleanly through his heart as he stood looking at me 43 yards away.
I proudly showed off the big 5 ½-year-old public-land monarch to my friends, one of whom later shared a second trail-camera photo of him that he had. I’m betting that if I’d shared my trail-camera photo that I had, I’d have had a little more competition for the beautiful pedestal mount that now looks out across my living room.
Two years and a day later, I was mentally kicking myself for choosing the wrong spot. I had snuck in tight to a bedding area so thick the deer only navigated it by a series of trails. I had climbed high enough to peer into a large area of it, and the breeze gently hit me in the face as I strained to hear any footfalls. Darkness began enveloping me as a stick breaking to my left caught my full attention. I watched intently as the mature doe picked her way along the edge of the bedding area before shifting focus to the soft grunts of the large body carefully shadowing her a safe distance behind.
The doe tiptoed her way to the base of my tree, and sniffed where I had wrapped my climber around the bark. I resisted the temptation to look directly into her eyes as she peered upward, searching for the maker of the trace amount of scent that had piqued her curiosity. Satisfied after a few seconds, she shuffled off before I drove another Muzzy into a giant of a 6-pointer at a scant three yards. I never shared his picture on Facebook, ever.
Sharing your hunts and pictures you capture along the way can definitely be fun. The question is, what experience is more important to you: the sacredness of a spot you’ve got all to yourself, or the hubris that comes with knowing you can share so many beautiful images of countryside with friends and followers instantly. Just don’t be surprised if you end up seeing some of them there on your next hunt.