June 2017
From Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Why do we do what we do?

It’s a simple question all hunters should ask themselves.


John Dawson Bell and Chuck Sykes had a successful hunt in Elmore County during John’s spring break.

I attended a meeting in Atlanta with approximately 30 representatives from numerous state and federal agencies. Trust me, something I’ve learned in my tenure as director is that any meeting with an acronym containing more than five letters is typically one I don’t want to attend, especially during turkey season. This meeting had seven letters in the name. This was the first time I had attended one of these meetings and, out of the group of 30 participants, I knew only two. One of whom was our staff forester Drew Nix.

After the first day of the meeting, we all met for dinner. Something else I have learned is more business can be accomplished over dinner than while poring through notes around a conference table. During the dinner conversation, three of the ladies at the table were discussing their love for birdwatching. I couldn’t resist telling them of my love of birdwatching as well. In fact, I informed them I would be leaving Atlanta after dinner and driving back to Montgomery because I had a 9 a.m. meeting at the office. But, I would be going birdwatching before work.

Of course, all of you understand what I was talking about, considering the date of the meeting was March 29. But, these nice ladies didn’t know me or my obsession with turkey hunting. I went on to explain how I prefer to do my birdwatching early in the morning. I described in great detail the enjoyment I receive by being in the woods long before daylight and the anticipation of hearing the woods wake up in the morning. I explained how I can always count on the barred owl to be responsive when I blow my owl call. Then the cardinals chime in shortly after daylight begins to break. Next will be the calls from the crows. By this time, the woods are alive with sounds.

All of a sudden, the most glorious of all bird sounds can be heard – the gobble of the wild turkey. I had fed them enough line that, if I was a fisherman, I could have snatched and gut hooked them! It was at that point they realized my idea of birdwatching and theirs was much different. But, it did stimulate a great discussion about hunting. I explained how much I enjoyed hunting, harvesting and cooking wild game. One of the ladies asked a very important question that I think all hunters should ask themselves, "Why do you do what you do?"

It’s an honest question – if you think about it coming from someone who really doesn’t understand how hunters think. It does sound a little insane to get up hours before daylight, drive into the woods in full camouflage, remain motionless for hours on end hoping to see a turkey, work all day, go home and tend to household chores, spend time with family, go to bed, and then do it over again the next day. The older I get, the harder it becomes to live on five to six hours of sleep per night for weeks on end. But, I do it every year because I don’t want to miss one single opportunity to be in the turkey woods.

So, why do I do what I do? First of all, I think for a lot of us, the instinct to hunt is purely innate. As a little boy, I was given my first BB gun and what did I do? I hunted birds. No one taught me how to do it, it just came naturally. As I matured, so did my weapons and the size of game I pursued. By the time I was 8, I had harvested my first deer, and my first turkey was taken at 10. However, I still carried around a pellet gun and honed my stalking skills on birds, squirrels and other small critters. So, I guess first and foremost, it’s just a basic instinct to hunt.

Second, I also greatly enjoy the art of the hunt, and will never apologize for developing the skills and knowledge to be successful, including harvesting the animal. Knowing what to do and when to do it to beat a turkey gobbler in the battle of wits in his backyard is my ultimate reward. I went to Auburn University and graduated with a degree in Wildlife Science with the mindset of learning how to produce healthier wildlife populations. This was not with the purest of intentions. I wanted to grow more deer, bigger bucks and more turkeys in order to have more of them to hunt.

The third reason was to eat. Again, it goes back to instinct. Hunt it, kill it and eat it. It gives me a sense of pride to know I am able to go to the woods and provide a meal for my family. Unfortunately, too many people think meat comes from Publix or Winn Dixie. I’m not worried about it being 100 percent organic, cage-free, farm-fresh protein, either. It just tastes good. So, I guess we hunters were well ahead of the curve when it comes to being healthy and eating organic.

As I’ve grown older, my mindset as a hunter has definitely changed. At the outset, I just wanted to kill something. That changed to wanting to kill bunches of something; the higher the number meant you were a better hunter. Or so I thought. At some point in my early 20s, I turned into a manager, not just a killer. I now enjoy the process of managing wildlife and watching it flourish more than just the kill.

The first three reasons are definitely still there and will never change. But now, the most important reason I hunt is to pass along knowledge I’ve gained through years of trial and error, four years of higher education, monumental screw-ups, and hours upon hours of blood, sweat and tears that have been poured into property and wildlife management. Most of this is knowledge that reading a book can’t produce. My degree gives me the basis for people to listen to me once. My practical experience is what keeps them listening.

I’m very grateful for the lady asking why I do what I do. It made me evaluate my motives. I think it would be a good thing for all hunters to prepare themselves so they too can respond appropriately if a nonhunter asks them that same question. As our parents teach us at an early age, "You can only make one first impression." Make it count.



Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.