Friday, October 31, 2014

Magical Thinking

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?


seeker said...

Don't give any of those people a rifle.

Debi and the Jack Rat Pack.

rigby_321 said...

I know this is a terribly old post (I am browsing your archives after having discovered this blog recently) and I was struck by this! I have had this exchange over so many topics - I don't hunt but foraging, fishing, and just knowing nature is something I enjoy and something I enjoy sharing with others. I often am asked when I point out a hawk or edible mushroom, "Where do you learn these things! Did you like, go to school for this!?" ... uh no... I just keep my eyes open when I am outside, and ears open when I am with those who know more than I do.