Stages of the Hunt with New Bearing Media's Aaron Zimmerman

One of the biggest challenges as a father or mother raising your children in the outdoors is finding ways to introduce them to the sport of deer hunting all the while keeping it fun, exciting, and truly building a foundation of respect for the animal. Each of us as parents make the best decisions we can based on the age, interest, and overall maturity of our children. For me, the challenge hasn’t been with my son developing a passion for deer hunting, but understanding the stages and progression that he is making as a hunter and knowing when to step in versus when to step back and allow him to control.

Hunter and his first deer. Hunter and his first deer.

From my experience, all hunters no matter what age they are, go through basically the same stages in their hunting pursuits and maturity. We all start with the mentality that harvesting a deer is what it is all about. Without it, the hunt, the experience, and overall level of personal satisfaction, is to some extent a letdown. My son, Hunter, was no different as a youngster. For years he would go hunting with me but was unsuccessful to no avail. Quite honestly, it was amazing to me just how unlucky the little guy seemed to be. While by myself it seemed every deer perfect for a youth’s first deer would come by, but the moment Hunter set foot in the woods they would vanish. He took his scent free showers religiously and would roll up the pants and jacket sleeves of one of my ScentBlocker suits so he could be scent free. In his earlier days there really weren’t any scent control garments on the market made for kids. Fortunately, ScentBlocker saw the limited options out there for the young crowd and started producing the Trinity Knockout suit which is great to keep the little ones cool on the early season hunts and a great outer layer suit when layering in colder temps. Although Hunter never had that option, he was still in the woods, scent free, and doing all he could to be successful. After three years of trying, he finally harvested his first doe with a muzzleloader. Watching him approach that deer for the first time, I could see the wave of satisfaction sweep over him and the appreciation for that animal was awesome to see. His persistence, commitment, and dedication to the harvest paid off and he finally felt that satisfaction for which he was looking. In his mind, he was finally validated as a hunter. There were a lot of teachable moments throughout those early years and I cherish each one. From teaching him where to aim on the animal, to proper stand placement, it was a very hands-on period while making sure the foundation was laid for his years of hunting to come.

Hunter proudly holding his first buck. Hunter proudly holding his first buck.

As we mature and start to come into our own as hunters we start to move into the second phase and become more selective in what we target or harvest. No longer is it purely about the harvest and hunt that ends in a blood trail, although consistent success is still a large focus. Whether you are a meat hunter or a trophy hunter, it really doesn’t matter. If you’re strictly a meat hunter and don’t care a lick about antlers then you are selective in taking the animal that typically would taste the best. Trophy hunters are no different, but the focus isn’t necessarily on what animal will fill the freezer as much as what animal will fill the wall. Neither approach is better than the other, but they both fall into the selectivity phase. Although still showing signs of stage one, Hunter set a goal the next season to harvest his first buck. Throughout the beginning of the following season he showed me he had become more selective in his pursuits when he allowed quite a few does to walk past without raising his bow. He was still feeling out who he wanted to be as a hunter, but he was well on his way. He was also showing other signs of maturity beyond just passing up does and waiting patiently for a buck. That summer he had worked hard and saved his own money to buy his own scent control suit. Early on he was a crossbow hunter so he settled on the Trinity Xbow suit which was designed specifically for the crossbow hunter. He wanted to make sure that he was doing everything he could to obtain that goal of his first buck. I could see he was learning and was serious about becoming the best that he could be in the field. His efforts and selective approach paid off the day before Ohio’s gun opener. A little luck and being in the right place at the right time never hurts. Gun hunters, while setting up a stand in adjoining woods, inadvertently spooked a deer our way. Deer Gods were smiling on Hunter that day as the deer coming was a great young buck perfect for what he was wanting. As if on a string, the buck walked past him at just 10 yards and toppled over less than 30 yards later with a perfectly placed arrow. He was elated with the harvest, but could also see the fire burning just a little bit brighter when he put hand to antler for the first time. My son was maturing right in front of my eyes and starting to make his own decisions. Not only was he making his own decisions, but he was making the right ones. He would still ask for tips and opinions, but he was sitting in his own stands with dad no longer in the seat right next to him. It was tough letting go of that time we spent side by side, but it was necessary for him to start feeling the freedom in the woods. Every once in a while he still lets me film for him. He doesn’t need to know that I use that as an excuse to just be there with him even though there really aren’t any words passing back and forth.

Hunter is continuing to progress through the stages at his own pace. Hunter is continuing to progress through the stages at his own pace.

In time, we each will eventually settle into the final stage as a hunter. This stage is by far the most rewarding and one that will sneak up on you as you age. No longer is the hunt about the kill, but the experience and peace that comes from a quiet sit with God and nature. We’ve all talked about the bitter taste of tag soup, but someday I believe we will each wake up and realize that when we look at all of the ingredients that made up our season we created a delicacy no matter the harvest totals. Although Hunter isn’t there yet, we both still love to focus on our selective list of most wanted deer and find a lot of happiness in the time afield together pursuing them. While chasing them together during the season, conditions change as does our ability to enjoy the most out of each hunt. We often find ourselves hunting into the late season and frigid temps here in Ohio. This year was no different for us. Although we had periods of above average temps, it still got pretty cold in late January. My son had his sights set on a great three and a half year old management deer this season. It would have been his biggest to date and he committed himself to spending every possible moment on stand for that buck. Dressed in his late season Alpha suit he hunted every weekend, morning and night and just never had the opportunity or shot needed to connect with the buck. He did however, decide that summer sausage and deer steaks sounded too good to pass on the doe that presented a shot the last weekend of bow season. Like every deer before, it I still caught the gleam in his eye and look of satisfaction as he knelt down beside his doe.

Each of us is different and the amount of time each of us spends in a particular stage will always widely vary. For some, it will forever be about the harvest, while for others, it will be a speedy progression to the final stage. As hunters, we need to remember that we are a community made up of very diverse people that have their own unique hunting stages and one is not necessarily better than another. Be thankful for the freedom to hunt that allows each of us to witness and enjoy God’s creation as we pass through the stages of the hunt.

For more from Aaron, or to contact him, please visit his website at

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