The Benoit Brotherhood

The Benoit Brotherhood

Amid the modern whitetail world's antler obsession, the Benoit hunting philosophy, based on family values and concern for others, offers a welcome reprieve and a valuable lesson.

Lanny Benoit admires a buck he killed in 2009.

Back in February 1970 Smokin' Joe Frazier knocked out Jimmy Ellis to become the world heavyweight boxing champion. And in September of that year, another heavyweight was announced to the hunting world when Sports Afield asked readers, "Larry Benoit -- Is He the Best Deer Hunter in America?" Benoit didn't knock anyone out to become a legend, but that question did set the stage for an enduring family legacy.

Larry Benoit wasn't the first famous deer hunter. Other names had long been legendary in the whitetail world -- T.S. Van Dyke, Henry Shoemaker and Archibald Rutledge to name a few. Today, the deer-hunting world has countless "celebrities." But the name "Benoit" is arguably the first modern deer-hunting icon. And the fact that Larry's sons followed so closely in his footsteps cemented the Benoit legacy.


UNCOMFORTABLE CELEBRITIES
The Benoits have never been comfortable with celebrity status. That was clear when I sat down with Larry's son, Lanny, to reflect on the Benoit place in the hunting world. (Shane, another of Larry's sons, was recovering from a kidney transplant at the time of the interview, and I spoke with him by phone later.)


Lanny had signed a book for me, and I asked him, "How do you feel when you are asked to sign autographs?"

"I feel embarrassed," Lanny replied without hesitating. "I don't feel right about it all the time. I don't feel so good about that when my elders come up and ask me for an autograph, because I grew up to respect my elders. So I feel like I'm below them. Little kids, that's just fine." That humility set the tone for an honest and wide-ranging discussion on the Benoit philosophy of deer hunting.


Today's deer hunting world has celebrities who approach hunting with varied styles based on geography, terrain and climate. Even though the Benoits are uncomfortable being thought of as celebrities, they've made their own mark, and they don't comment on anyone else. But one thing is sure -- no one loves deer hunting more than they do. They care about it deeply, and it troubles them that certain images give young people and non-hunters what they consider to be the wrong ideas about the pursuit of whitetails.


One of those images is the common televised depiction of tree stand hunting, a contrast to the Benoit method. Lanny recalled the era "when people used to put their coat on and throw some shells in their belt and a sandwich in their back, and they'd go hunting. They didn't dress for sittin' all day. They dressed for hunting. Now, people aren't hunting any more."

To understand this view, consider where the Benoits hunt. Tree stands are generally useless in frigid conditions where deer are few and desperate to conserve energy. And food plots are foreign to the vast forested northland

IMAGES OF HUNTING
The Benoits are simple men who don't consider themselves sophisticated, but they're smart enough to know that the images flooding through our TV and computer screens affect us. They're also savvy enough to understand that pictures carry a message. In other words, edited digital footage of tree stand hunts can mislead people about deer hunting.

One hunter from a state where he routinely saw over a dozen deer a day asked Shane, "How can you guys hunt up here? I hunted for a week and didn't see a deer." Shane answered with a question, "Are you a hunter or a shooter?" He believes most hunting videos show more deer shooting than deer hunting.

Lanny knows that no single video is representative of all, but he comically described the impression a few convey. "They're hiding in a treehouse somewhere, and if the guy had a suit and tie on it wouldn't make any difference. And they're whispering. Why are they whispering? The deer comes out and he's at the deer feeder, which goes off every day at the same time. It's all prearranged. The deer's getting killed on Wednesday."

He continued more seriously, "And the deer's going to turn broadside and one shot is going to be perfect. And the deer's going to fall over and die. Is that hunting? Is that what people really want to watch?"

To the Benoits, that image caters to the decline of patience and the rise of instant gratification. It broadcasts to the uninformed that hunting is easy, almost unfair, and completely overlooks the challenging, boots-on-the-ground style of Northwoods hunters -- a method that's long on patience and short on instant gratification.

"And then here's the other part I don't like," Lanny continued. "I'm talking about myself, not everybody. Here's a guy that shoots a deer, and now he's rolling around on the ground. He's beating his fist on the ground. He killed something -- for its antlers? What about when we used to go hunting because we were hungry? What are we doing with the deer?"

If you think he's judgmental, look beyond that to the legitimate questions Lanny is asking. Where is the patience? Where is the woodsmanship? Where are the skills? Are we showing respect for the animal? Do viewers find satisfaction in that? And, is deer hunting only about big antlers?

THE PLACE OF ANTLERS
Big antlers -- yes, that's what everyone wants to see and talk about. I was surprised to hear that Lanny doesn't display any trophies in his home -- neither from deer hunting nor from his hundreds of first place wins in oval track snowmobile racing, including 12 world championships. (Deer hunters might be surprised to learn that Lanny is as well known for racing as he is for hunting.)

"You'll see a few trophies in my garage," Lanny said. "That's it. I didn't race for the trophies. I raced for the challenge of racing. Why do you track a big buck? The challenge of tracking a big deer and shooting the thing."

Lanny raced for the fun of racing, and hunts for the fun of hunting. He doesn't object to displaying trophy antlers. He added, "We all like to see big antlers, so that's just me."

When I asked Shane about today's antler obsession, his view was similar. While he sees value in antler scoring, Shane believes it has commercialized deer hunting too much. "Deer hunting ought to be fun," he said. "A trophy doesn't have to have big antlers."

Although all the Benoits have killed bucks with giant headgear, most people are surprised to learn that it's never about antlers. Only a couple (and only due to someone's curiosity) have ever been put to the

tape. It just isn't important.

Yes, the Benoits like big racks, but antlers have always been secondary. It's the weight of the buck that holds primary importance. Said Lanny, "Years ago in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, when you killed a big buck, do you know that people asked you? 'What'd it weigh?' Do you know why they asked you that? They were asking, 'How much food did you get?'"

For the Benoits, the terminology of antler scoring -- points, spread, mass, inches -- stands a distant second to the term 'pounds,' a word that focuses on the deer and not just his antlers. A 200-pound buck is a trophy, regardless of his antlers. "If that 200-pound buck is a four-pointer or a six-pointer," Shane said, "it's still a trophy because it had the wits that it takes to live long enough to get that big."

Lanny knows that no single video is representative of all, but he comically described the impression a few convey. "They're hiding in a treehouse somewhere, and if the guy had a suit and tie on it wouldn't make any difference. And they're whispering. Why are they whispering? The deer comes out and he's at the deer feeder, which goes off every day at the same time. It's all prearranged. The deer's getting killed on Wednesday."

He continued more seriously, "And the deer's going to turn broadside and one shot is going to be perfect. And the deer's going to fall over and die. Is that hunting? Is that what people really want to watch?"

To the Benoits, that image caters to the decline of patience and the rise of instant gratification. It broadcasts to the uninformed that hunting is easy, almost unfair, and completely overlooks the challenging, boots-on-the-ground style of Northwoods hunters -- a method that's long on patience and short on instant gratification.

"And then here's the other part I don't like," Lanny continued. "I'm talking about myself, not everybody. Here's a guy that shoots a deer, and now he's rolling around on the ground. He's beating his fist on the ground. He killed something -- for its antlers? What about when we used to go hunting because we were hungry? What are we doing with the deer?"

If you think he's judgmental, look beyond that to the legitimate questions Lanny is asking. Where is the patience? Where is the woodsmanship? Where are the skills? Are we showing respect for the animal? Do viewers find satisfaction in that? And, is deer hunting only about big antlers?

THE PLACE OF ANTLERS
Big antlers -- yes, that's what everyone wants to see and talk about. I was surprised to hear that Lanny doesn't display any trophies in his home -- neither from deer hunting nor from his hundreds of first place wins in oval track snowmobile racing, including 12 world championships. (Deer hunters might be surprised to learn that Lanny is as well known for racing as he is for hunting.)

"You'll see a few trophies in my garage," Lanny said. "That's it. I didn't race for the trophies. I raced for the challenge of racing. Why do you track a big buck? The challenge of tracking a big deer and shooting the thing."

Lanny raced for the fun of racing, and hunts for the fun of hunting. He doesn't object to displaying trophy antlers. He added, "We all like to see big antlers, so that's just me."

When I asked Shane about today's antler obsession, his view was similar. While he sees value in antler scoring, Shane believes it has commercialized deer hunting too much. "Deer hunting ought to be fun," he said. "A trophy doesn't have to have big antlers."

Although all the Benoits have killed bucks with giant headgear, most people are surprised to learn that it's never about antlers. Only a couple (and only due to someone's curiosity) have ever been put to the tape. It just isn't important.

Yes, the Benoits like big racks, but antlers have always been secondary. It's the weight of the buck that holds primary importance. Said Lanny, "Years ago in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, when you killed a big buck, do you know that people asked you? 'What'd it weigh?' Do you know why they asked you that? They were asking, 'How much food did you get?'"

For the Benoits, the terminology of antler scoring -- points, spread, mass, inches -- stands a distant second to the term 'pounds,' a word that focuses on the deer and not just his antlers. A 200-pound buck is a trophy, regardless of his antlers. "If that 200-pound buck is a four-pointer or a six-pointer," Shane said, "it's still a trophy because it had the wits that it takes to live long enough to get that big."

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