The Lonely California Hunter

USSA member Dr. John Burk of Santa Barbara, California talks of life as a hunter in the number one state battling to ban hunting and the adversity he faces from Californians.

Dr. John Burk of Santa Barbara, California
Dr. John Burk of Santa Barbara, California
U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance
U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance

Columbus, OH –-( “I got my buck last weekend!” I said, and there was nothing but silence.

My small workout gym had three people in it that I knew, a guy and two girls, and all I received was a sheepish smile as they went back to their routines.

Such is the life of the lonely hunter in California where there are few congratulatory exclamations and not much asking for “the story.”   But I know this is not like most of the country where controlling the deer population is welcome and the hunting culture is more easily embraced.

So I too went back to my exercises and thought how little they really know about hunting and maybe don’t care to know.  I worry California has become the select world of a few who choose to fly under the radar and quietly pursue their sporting tradition.

What those in the gym did not know and could not imagine were the eight deer feeding in the cool morning meadow near our lodge – all does, fawns or young bucks –  with the early morning sky showing color while the woods was full of shadows. The chilled air that stung my cheeks as the open jeep headed out on a dirt road into rolling hills of native grasses and oaks, the woodpeckers storing acorns and chattering as my boots pressed into the soft ground, and the whirl of doves rising from their feeding spots for the safety of trees. They missed the whoosh of a great owl taking off from a tree just above my head as I walked a shallow shaded ravine, the whistle and then the sight of red-tailed hawks sailing on the wind, also hunting.

They have NO idea about the pair of bobcats I spotted near a thicket– first grooming themselves then turning to stalk the quail chirping and fluttering for cover. The coyote loping away up the rise giving me glances as his fur glistened in the rising sun that cast an amber light over the ridges of chaparral before me. Lastly, their senses have never been treated to the clean earthy fragrances that greet my nose with each step as I passed close to oaks and moss along hidden canyons and ridge tops in spots that no one will ever see or smell but me.

I walk as an explorer, as if I am seeing this land for the first time looking with wonder and intensity as my ears listen with each step.  I walk with purpose and with heightened awareness of my surroundings because I am hunting. I must make countless decisions as I stalk silently along narrow game trails that rise and turn across the land and through brush, one going up and another angling down. Which turn and path along a steep ridge will increase the chances of seeing across a valley or provide an opening in the brush where I can quietly gaze and consider my quest?

To me, this is what 95% of hunting really is, traveling intimately through the countryside on a search alone. Then suddenly, I see a deer and my heart quickens. Is it that illusive buck?  Most of the time it is not. Is it the older buck which I am after and must be determined by accessing the girth of the antlers? Can I approach it and be within range and how do I do that without it bolting away? Can I shoot it cleanly and physically retrieve the prize once down? The shot must be doable and the kill swift, out of respect for the animal and myself. These thoughts race through my head as my heart pounds with adrenaline and I must make a decision of life and death.

I have hunted for 45 years and this year’s buck was a much sought after prize that I wanted to share with all.  That is why I blurted my statement out in the exercise gym. How else could they have known?

Submitted By Dr. John Burk   Santa Barbara , CA. Opinions expressed by contributing writers do not necessarily represent those of USSA.

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About:The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance is a national association of sportsmen and sportsmen’s organizations that protects the rights of hunters, anglers and trappers in the courts, legislatures, at the ballot, in Congress and through public education programs. Visit

Dr. John Burk of Santa Barbara, California
Dr. John Burk of Santa Barbara, California
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Johnny Hernandez

Thanks for sharing congrats on the buck ,its a tradition that deserves to be pass on to the next generation i have two small kids thats i will pass onto them hunting ,conservation of our sport just ass my parents did and grand parents.


Thank you for sharing. I fully understand your feelings.


Beautifully written….

Thank you Mr. Burk!