Whatever your line of work, holding a position of responsibility means making tough choices. It’s for sure that way in magazine editing.
What should we print?
That’s the most obvious question facing all editors, including me. Choosing the right content is key to building and maintaining an audience. But there’s another side to this question, and it can be even trickier: What should we not print?
Our staple has long been stories of huge, wild bucks legally taken by hunters. Everyone who chases such deer admires them and wants to learn more about them. We crave details of the events surrounding those kills. And if land and herd management are parts of the story, we want to hear about those, too. We have a natural curiosity about great deer, and we also want to learn what worked for someone else.
When it comes to information on world-class bucks, we’re not into fiction. But how can we know we’re printing the truth? What if the source isn’t telling it the way it really happened? Worse yet, what if a deer were shot illegally? Would you still want to read the hunter’s story? My assumption is that you wouldn’t.
Thousands of big whitetails are shot every year, and I’d like to think the vast majority are taken in accordance with the rules. Of course, knowing what happened on a given hunt is impossible unless you were there. Despite the ever-expanding number of TV shows, videos and social media posts, all any of us really knows about someone else’s hunt is a result of a filtered view.
What makes whitetail hunting so enjoyable to so many is that it offers a chance to be alone in the woods. And the more serious you are, the more it tends to be a solitary pursuit. Unless a cameraman is present, rarely are there eyewitnesses to a kill. And I’ve shot enough bucks on camera to know that if you want to do something wrong and then spin it as legitimate, via creative editing you likely could pull it off.
Of course, it can go beyond the deer in question.
What if the hunter has faced no legal charges regarding this buck but has a hunting violation on his or her record? Do we accept this latest trophy as legal and celebrate the hunt? Or do we not publicize it, simply because of the hunter’s known past?
This is the slipperiest of slopes. People deserve second chances. But how do we know their wildlife transgressions all are in the past, never to be repeated? And even if this latest deer is fully legal, is overlooking past violations in effect glorifying an outlaw? No matter which way we go, not everyone will agree.
Finally, can we even be sure the hunter in question has a clean record? It’s not always easy to determine that. Sometimes a little detective work turns up violations. But that’s not necessarily true. Certain court records are elusive.
Even if there’s no record of any wrongdoing in that state or province, a violation still might have been committed elsewhere. Yes, the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact was set up to help agencies share violation records, so they can revoke hunting and/or fishing privileges across multiple jurisdictions. Sadly, this isn’t publicly accessible information. Trust me, I’ve asked.
We’ll never be able to feature every great buck that’s been taken legally; there are far more of those than will fit into these pages. But you have our pledge that we’ll continue doing our best to keep the wrong ones out.