Monday, November 01, 2010

Magical Thinking

A repost from this blog circa February, 2009.

I sometimes run into people who want me to explain to them how to do something. No problem there -- I am always willing to share information. But sometimes things are not as simple as they appear from the outside, are they?

And more often than not, the person asking the question is not really that interested in learning, are they? If they were, they would have gotten a book, drilled on the Internet, and shown a lot more initiative a lot earlier than now.

In my experience, most folks are not really interested in doing the hard, slogging work of getting good at something; they want the easy miracles that come from pixy dust and magic wands. Give them a book on a subject, and they will not even read it.

In this world of one-minute rice, it seems everyone wants to know the "tricks of the trade," without actually taking the time to learn the trade.

I was reminded of this earlier in the week when a woman at work asked me a question that suggested something I knew to be very hard was, in fact, very easy and that there must be some short-cut to getting it done. What was that miracle short-cut she wanted to know?

I always find such questions offensive, because they assume knowledge is given away on a plate and served up for the asking, and that no real investment of time and energy is needed.

In fact a lot of people feel that way about a lot of things, and hunting and fishing are not exceptions.

How do you hunt and fish?

Well, which one do you want to do?

Hunt, I guess.

What do you want to hunt?

I don’t know. Say deer.

OK. Well, let me ask you a question: Why do you want to hunt?

Why does that matter?

Well, is it for meat, or for trophy, or is this pure outdoor sport?

There's a difference?

There is.

OK. . . . How about trophy ... for sport.

OK. How do you want to hunt?

What do you mean?

Do you want to use a rifle, a shotgun, a bow, or black powder?

What's the difference?

You can use a shotgun anywhere, but you have to be closer, while a rifle is prohibited in a lot of areas of the East Coast. Black powder is increasingly popular, but is not quite as accurate as a rifle, but the ball goes farther than a shotgun.

Oh. . . . Well let's shoot black powder then.

OK, well you're going to need a gun, a hunting license, a tree stand, some cold weather clothes, a decent pair of boots, a bit of camouflage, some blaze orange stuff, a skinning kit, and a place to freeze the meat.

What's all that going to cost?

Figure $1,000.

Wow. That's a lot of money. I can get deer jerky on EBay for $8 a pound.

Yes, you can.

OK, but how do you hunt? I mean, assuming you have all the equipment?

Well you have to learn how to use the equipment. You will need to take a gun safety course just to get a hunting license, and you will need to practice setting up a deer stand too, as more people die falling out of deer stands than you want to think about. And then you have to learn how to shoot, and reload, and clean the gun as well.

How long is all that going to take?

If you start on it right now, at least a couple of weeks.

Oh. . . . OK, suppose I do all that. Then what?

Well, then you have to get permission to hunt on someone's land.

Can't I just go to a National Forest or something?

Yes you can, but you are not likely to see too many deer in a National Forest. Deer are an edge creature, and there are far more of them in farm country than there are in a National Forest where there is not as much good food to browse.

But I thought there were a lot of deer in America. I read that. And I see them on the road sometimes when I am in the country.

There are a lot of deer. Especially in areas where there is mixed development with a lot of crops, scattered houses, and small forest plots in between. A lot of America looks like that now, but you cannot always hunt in those locations. A gun can push a bullet a long way, and it can kill people accidentally, so you cannot shoot a gun near a road or within eyesight of a building.

Oh. . . . So how do I get farm property to hunt on?

Well, you have to ask, and it helps if you know someone. A lot of places are too small to have deer, and a lot of farmers are not anxious to have deer hunters on their land because they want to hunt their own deer on their own land. Other folks are worried about liability in case a hunter shoots a neighbor, or a cow, or accidentally kills himself or a hunting partner while crossing over a fence.

But I won't sue.

It doesn't matter. Folks fear lawsuits, and it's not a crazy fear in this day and age. As far as a farmer is concerned, there is no benefit to them if you hunt their property. In fact, with so many hunters leaving open the gates and driving through wet fields and leaving ruts, hunters are almost always more trouble than they are worth.

OK . . . but suppose I find a place to hunt?

And suppose you have bought the equipment and also learned how to use it?

Uh, yes. That's right. I have it all. Now what?

Well, let's assume you are hunting a 2,000 acre farm. That's about three square miles. There will be deer on there, but there will be no deer at all on 99 percent of the land, 99 percent of the time. So that's your problem.

So what do I do? Learn about deer.

But that's what I'm asking you about.

What do you want to know?

Where are they?

They are taking care of their needs. They are bedding down in thick areas in the daylight, and moving to or from feeding areas in late afternoon or early morning. That's their routine, and they tend to follow routines.

Well, how do I find their bedding areas?

You are hunting them?


OK, if you are hunting deer, it's late Fall or Winter and the leaves are just coming off.

You can't hunt in Spring or Summer?

No. There's a season.


So, you are looking for deer in late Fall or Winter, and there is less cover. The deer will be looking to get out of the wind, and to stay out of sight, so you can guess that they will be in a little hollow, out of the wind and out of eye sight, and preferably near some thicket of evergreen, like honeysuckle. But you are probably not looking to shoot a deer in its bed -- they will hear you coming before you get there, and they will probably be gone. And you will also have a very hard time seeing them because they lie down almost flat and do not move.

They have good hearing?

They do. And a terrific sense of smell, and keen eyesight too. If everyone could shoot a trophy buck, there would be no bragging rights to the act.

But what about all those trophy deer I see shot on television every Sunday? They talk when they are filming and the deer do not run. And those are enormous deer.

Those are canned hunts.

What's a canned hunt?

It's a hunt inside a fence, and often on deer that have been acclimated to the presence of humans. The owner of that property has been feeding those deer for weeks, so the pay-to-shoot guides will know just where they will be and when they will be there.

That doesn't seem fair.

It's bad ethically and aesthetically, in my book, but there it is. It's not hunting, that's for sure, since you know where the deer will be, and you have guarantees.

OK, I'm not going to do that. I want to hunt. How do you do that?

You mean after you have bought the equipment, and also learned how to use it, and have acquired access to 2,000 acres of land on which to hunt?


Well, you locate the bedding areas for the deer, as I told you, and then you try to guess where they are moving in order to get food and water. Deer trails will tell you a lot, and so too will track, scat, and rubs.

What are those last two?

Scat is deer shit. Look for it, and also what is in it. Tracks will tell you something about size and sex. Since you are looking for a trophy buck, you will want to be looking for big tracks. A rub is a spot on a small tree or large bush where a deer has been rubbing its antlers to get velvet off, and it's also a spot where a buck will spray his scent to mark territory. Dominant bucks will tend to keep coming back to rubs, and if you pay attention you can sometimes tell how big a buck is by how far up the rub is, and where it is located.

This is starting to sound like a lot of work. I mean, I've never even seen a rub. Where would I start to look for one?

Well, you have to spend a lot of time in the woods. You have to get to know the land, and how to read the movement of wildlife. You have to start thinking like a deer.

But I don't want to start thinking like a deer. I want to kill a deer. How do I do that?

Go up a tree stand, aim the gun, and pull the trigger when you see a deer.

That's the answer I wanted!

Glad I could be of help. Good luck trophy hunting in the field.

Can I ask you another question?


How do you fish?



Matt Mullenix said...

That's an honest-to-goodness classic, Patrick! I love it!


Anonymous said...

You've distilled something beautifully here, Patrick. I love this.

Try having this conversation with the eleventy-jillionth starry-eyed pet owner who wants you to tell him the secret to becoming a search and rescue dog handler -- right now, in the next ten minutes.

Because, see, the highest use of my volunteer time is not to spend it training myself or my own dog, or supervising a trainee handler who has actually put in some effort, or heaven forfend, deploying on a mission. No -- I should be grateful for the opportunity to predigest my sixteen years of hard-earned knowledge and puke it obligingly into this little chickie's gaping beak.

I now tell people to go purchase, read, and understand a certain book before they show up for training. I want to see them sink some expense and effort into the endeavor before they demand time from our team members. The vast majority fail to do so -- they show up for training unprepared, and lo and behold, they actually haven't quite gotten around to purchasing, much less reading, the agreed-upon pre-homework. Why recklessly squander thirty seconds and fifteen bucks on Amazon, when they can just demand that I hand over my magic wand?

A shocking number of these people will barrage one with questions, and then become distracted and lose interest during the answers. Like a cat that sees a wounded moth fly overhead while you are talking to it.

Anonymous said...

So how do I hunt with terriers? lol


mdmnm said...

Great post! Of course, the flipside of this is the joy of the learning curve. If you like the outdoors and hunting or fishing, learning a new stream or a new area or type of hunting is not only frustration, but great fun. As much as I love feeling that I've got a general handle on a given challenge, learning to approach a new one is such a thrill. The first time mallard circle to your call and start to fall into your decoys, the first time a gobbler answers you and starts coming in, the first time you sneak up on a bedded elk, first trout on your own fly, the twentieth or hundredth of any of the above are still thrilling, but there is really something to be said for dipping into a new experience. Nonetheless, your point is well taken. A fishing friend mentioned an interest in elk hunting. I told him- ok, so basically you're like a beginning fly fisherman who wants to catch a bonefish first off....

Anonymous said...

Great post. I especially like your comments about learning how to hunt safely. I think that's the one thing people neglect the most.

ArdenwoodPatti said...

Nice piece, Patrick. Your followup post should begin - "Are you interested in fishing, or catching?" The first is pretty easy...

Caveat said...

Excellent - and funny. I think I might like hunting, because the interesting part is the, er, hunting the way you've described it. The endgame sounds unnecessary and like a bit of a letdown after all that fun.

3Laiki said...

Very funny. Reminds me of virtually every conversation I have about horses.

"Oh, you have a horse! I just LOVE horses! Can I ride it?" you ride?
"Well, not really no."
I see, so you are just the perfect candidate to hop on my currently UNBROKE coming 3 yr old filly.
"So when will you be able to ride her? How do you train a horse?"

Seahorse said...

As a professional riding instructor I get it all, too. Riding, horse training, dog training, hunting, you name it, fashioning the perfect paragraph, if someone does it well, others think they can, too... and faster, easier and BETTER than the learned. We make it look EASY, because we've paid our dues, learned the long, sometimes hard, lessons and have DONE IT. We continue to pay attention and improve our techniques, and unwittingly, we make it look like anyone can do what we do. The real trouble comes in when the newbies endanger themselves, others and the animals. Too often I can't save the geniuses from themselves because they know better. Later, after their trips to the E.R., or worse, some, not all, will come back to me for counsel. At that point I'm pretty done with them, having front-loaded them with wisdom they knowingly pissed away.


Anonymous said...

If all that was required to draw or paint was to talk about it, sooo many people would be Michelangelos or John Singer Sargents.

It's almost a running joke among art workshop instructors that there always seems to be someone who practically badgers the instructor about what materials he/she uses.

It's magical thinking just like you've described, of course: If I click my heels together and use Silver Brush Grand Prix brushes (my favorites, actually), Winsor-Newton oils and Belgian linen canvas, I can paint just like you.

Uh, no, no you can't.

Anonymous said...

This is something that annoys the crap out of me on a daily basis. Dog owners who want me to wave my magic wand or give them the magic password that will instantly undo years of bad handling and inattention.

When I explain that they should expect to wait months in most cases to see significant progess, I lose a lot of sales. But since the folks that drop out at this stage are the those I end up wanting to quite literally beat sense into, it's probably just as well.

Gina said...

Enjoyed this one a lot, Patrick. Also like mdmn's comment about the pleasures of the learning curve.

In the last three-four years I've been learning to feed myself -- gardening, food preservation and cooking. I think I have read more books than I have produced actual meals of which I am 100 percent proud. Three years in, and I have a long, long way to go, so it's a good thing I'm enjoying the journey.

Yes, it's far easier to get something "to go" but far more satisfying (in more than one way) to do it yourself.

Instant rice tastes like crap. Instant knowledge IS crap.

dp said...

That was a brilliant posting! We are having some of the same discussions here as a Dr.Phil. girls from the VetMed department of wild animal studies wrote a newspaper article against overfeeding game, particularly red deer. She got canned!

Sean said...

I agree. I do, however, believe that we should make the effort to help those truly interested take the first steps toward getting involved in hunting. There are too few young hunters and much conservation is dependent on hunters. My local bird dog association hosts an annual training day on our grounds to put kids through the require gun safety course in order to get their hunting license. We do this with live birds and working dogs and talk about practical hunting considerations. We do need new hunters.

Amybeth Hurst said...

That was great! Thanks for posting. Amybeth Hurst, Portland, ME

Unknown said...

I must have the patience of Job..........I know!! Who is Job? Right?

Britain said...

I can't believe you lasted so long in the conversation. Poor guy/ woman, not too bright.