As I sit here burning the mid night oil, re-reading Steven Rinella’s ;, “Meat Eater”, It hits me like a ton of bricks. He talks about, how languages might have largely been developed around the concept of hunter gather inquiries. That possibly the oldest stories are outdoors stories. I’d like to expand upon this a little, and say maybe not the first, but surely some of the greatest stories are outdoors adventure based stories. As a christian, one of the greatest might be when Jesus told the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of their vessel and presto they where full. Could you imagine coming home with that kinda of ammunition in your data base. Might find it’s way in a book that is passed down for thousands if not millions of year. Although an adventure story of any magnitude holds a special candle in any sportsman’s heart. Why is it for us sportsman our stories sometimes define us?
“Now wait a minute! My outdoor adventures don’t define me as a person, and that concept offends me.” you might say. I actually balked at the idea also, when it first fester in my mind. Then I started to think on it a bit. Actually, like it or not it does in way. Hear me out for second as I list some of the most common sporting activities and the attributes that go hand in hand.
When a person tells me, “I enjoy going to deer camp with my friends and family to hunt white-tail deer.” Right or wrong I can immediately classify certain characteristics with this individual. They possesses a strong family bond. Enjoy fellowship with friends, family or co-workers. If successful, they must have patience, strong attend to detail, and the ability to handle varying forms of pressure. If the person expands to say, “Yeah, we hunt with a bow, atlatl, spear, or other primitive weapons. This just heightens these previous traits, and adds varying degrees of fortitude, relentless persistence, self reliance, self discipline, tedious preparation, and on on. Don’t get me wrong here these are not inherent, nor given. Just broadens and deepen the intriguing qualities the individual might retain. Trophy hunters are less intriguing to me, and again might have all these qualities and more. Yet, with this day and age it often means they have the monetary means to go where the game is plentiful. Again try not to take this personal and think with more of a broad scope. I know many sportsmen that have awesome trophies from public, or open range areas that have attributes I only hope to someday to say I’ve mastered.
If I hear, “We are are a bird hunting family.” Immediately, I can assume they are quick thinkers, enjoy the challenge of tactical pursuit, and typically good teachers. They have an unbelievable amount of humility, are ready at all times, and enjoy taking to the field in groups. Like a boy-scout they typically are prepared, honest and loyal. Great bird hunters normally have a great comprehension of math and almost an incomparable ability to sense the habitat. This I apply mostly to upland game hunters, but waterfowlers can fit in here also.
Fisherman, we as much as we hate it we are sensitive, and very in tune with the environment. As there are so many different varieties here from shark to sardines. Cane, fly,or hand. It’s hard to make a broad assumption of attributes, but all have many lets fly with that.
Now, my intentions here were not to talk about sportsman and their assumed attributes . More so about the stories and the experiences that sportsman are entitled, by just being who they are. Our stories and experiences do define us as, sportsman, maybe not to the accurately as we like. Yet, with every experience and every adventure we seem to gobble up the the wisdom and the ingenuity that mother earth provides us on that day.
I’m interested in hear about your hunting adventures post some and lets swap stories.
For me two experiences come to mind.
Listen to the forest
It all started on a cold January morning in southern Michigan. The mercury was buried in the thermometer on the porch as I gazed out the window and discovered the light dusting of snow that had fallen overnight. I had already taken two deer that year, one buck, one doe, but I knew my wife and I needed one more to provide enough meat to get through. Duck season had just ended which went better than most, and while the meat in the freezer was plentiful, I was on a mission to ensure we would be comfortable through the following year. My choices were ice fishing or deer hunting as I stand there sipping my morning Joe. I pondered whether the ice was worth the risk as it had been unseasonably warm this year and many of the lakes were just plain dangerous. Then the thought of the cold chill, sitting in a stand all day. With zero degree temps,snow, and holding a seven pound steel smoke pole gave me a real dilemma.
As I balanced out the equation before me, a squirrel appeared in my front yard. He scurried down my old red oak and packed his mouth full of acorns. Before he ran back up the tree to his comfy home. He stopped and glared in my direction. His cheeks puffed out with the fruits of is labor. His face spoke to me like marine drill sergeant,”You dimwit you should be in the woods the acorns are still fresh, and just what the doctor ordered.” See this season had been strange. In late October the acorns fell then everything froze natures own deep freeze. We stayed frozen for nearly the entire month of November and off & on through Christmas. Almost zero rain fall, and only light dusting of snow here and there. They were nearly as fresh today as the day they dropped.
Now, I felt obligated by my squirrel drill sergeant to torture myself through a long day in my oak grove on the public hunting lands near my home. I slowly layered up the protection from the elements. Grabbed my pack and new Knight muzzle loader and waddled to the truck. The tired old 360 in the jeep j4000 moaned as I turned the key. Almost like a kid does on the first day school. Five more minutes, just five more minutes it seemed to moan. Then it sparked to life like the lab on opening day of hunting season. “Oh, we’re going hunting! Let’s go!”
Off we went, sliding through a couple of intersections on the slippery pavement. I pondered where I was gonna sit. Whether I was gonna elevate, bearing the wind and cold like an Eskimo on the tundra, or hunker down in some brush on the edge of the oaks. This day seemed full of choices already and it just barely passed 4am. If I went up in a tree i would have vision, shot angles, and better sent control. Although, it would come at a price, as zero degrees with a wind of 15 cuts through the best gear quickly. The ground would enable a 50 yard shot and the same on visibility. My scent would be at ground level which in this situation would eliminate over half the grove. Oh, the warmth of a wind break was enticing to say the least, but my gut told me to pick a tree on the lee side of the grove.
As I pull up to the parking area around 4:30am, I took notice that I was the only dimwit out bearing the conditions. I grabbed my backpack, clamp on stand, ladder sticks and heading into the woods. It was only about a mile of easy hiking to get where I wanted. A relatively straight forward hike for me at that time in my life. I waddled down the main path, then branched off into a maple grove, and traversed an small frozen creek. Only a few hundred yards to go I told myself. Time to quiet things down. I stopped and re arranged my gear so that nothing was causing racket. Set up my stand and ladder so only minimal work had to be done once I reached my spot. I sprayed some cover scent on my boots and legs, then proceeded to stalk my way the last few hundred yards.
Once my objective was obtained, the job of quickly and quietly setting up my perch persisted. Though it had been practiced many times in the past it became daunting. My think gloves limited dexterity making the ratchets impossible to work. Then my non gloved hand stuck to every piece of metal they touched. After about 10 minutes the stand was up with me in it. Quickly securing my gear on a branch, within arms reach, I was now ready. There was still about 45 minutes till shooting light, which is my favorite time of deer hunting. This time is when it’s imperative to clear out all the sounds of the city. Take some deep breathes and envelope yourself in the nature around you.
First, I start with the hearing. I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest. This might sound crazy, but I start to try to listen for the smallest sounds that are audible. Focusing on drowning out urban sounds of cars, horns, airplanes…etc. Starting with the wind and leaves, then to the birds, crickets frogs I attempt to focus my hearing. On down the list until I’m sure I just heard a spider move on his web 30 ft away. After about ten minutes of this, its time to switch my focus to the smells. This is something that was ignorantly ignored by me for quite some time.
I met an older gentleman while fishing on the Anchor river in Alaska. I was young maybe 13 and was their with my father and brothers fishing for salmon. I don’t recall his name, but as I most always do I sparked up conversation with him over the course of the day. Quizzing him for his wisdom as I call it. See even as a young buck, I was inspired to learn from people that have already lived. This has always drawn me to great wisdom building conversations with people very much my elder. We stand there in crystal clear fast flowing water, both throwing fly’s with extraordinary precision. As we chitchatted we landed some nice dollies, rainbows and silvers. We small talked about fishing tackle, tactics, and favorite quarries. Interrupted by the occasional Bald Eagle flying over, or marten scurrying the opposite bank.
Then all of a sudden like someone pulled a fire alarm, he looked at me 30 yards up river or so and said,”Son, we have got to get the hell out of here!” Red flags flew up in my mind. My dad and brothers were down stream a few hundred yards just around a bend out of sight. In a split second, I thought of stranger danger and possibly a kidnapping motive that preceded this outburst. My head snapped in his direction and the fear on his face reassured me that the flags in my head could be lowered. Before a word came out of my mouth, he interjected “Lets go son, Leave the fish move down stream! With purpose!” At this time in my life I’m not sure I comprehended the passage, but the inflection in his voice made it very clear. I quickly moved down stream with him towards the rest of our respective groups. Before we reached the bend he turned and pointed back where we stood only moments before. There were three brown bears standing only yards from, where I was disturbing silt moments before. Now standing relatively safe 100 yards away we observed them fishing in our spot.[box](The Author relaxes aside the the anchor river in Alaska near the bend where the bears were observed. Photo credit Tom Huson)[/box]
Puzzled, I turn and looked at him, “How did you know?” As I didn’t hear anything. The tall underbrush made it impossible to see anything. Not to mention we were mid paragraph in deep conversation about Dollies. Specifically, what parts of the environment their camouflage best suited. His answer stumbled me even more. “I smelled them.” he said…… I took a second to digest this in my young mind. Perplexing at this man in his late sixties to early seventies, who I had witnessed smoking three cigars over the course of four hours. Still had the remains of the last one pinched between his molars. Yet, he has the olfactory sense to smell bears through brush at well over 50 yards away. Still with question I replied “You Smelled them?” “Yep” he explained. Needless to say the bears came and went, we went back to our hole, and continued fishing. Over the course of the next few hours he discussed with me about how “kids” these days don’t know how to acclimate themselves to their surroundings. To much T.V. , and other distractions to bother the senses he broadened. You mind has taught you not to use them, because it feels you don’t need them.
Turns out he had a PHD in psychology and had taught at a major University for 30 years. One of his associates had done a study relating to this very topic. The irony was he was almost tickled at the way things turned and was anxious to get back and discuss with his colleague the turn of events. Befuddled, I inquired about how to teach myself to use them again. Our conservation never strayed from this topic as we both continued to bag our limits of salmon, dollies and catch and release two dozen trophy steel-head and rainbows.
So back in the tree stand with my eyes closed. My nose takes over. First the smell of the cold, snow, and moisture rich air. Then, on to the trees, trying to distinguish the bark, leaves, sap and all the small things in-between. Finally trying to decipher the different smells of the birds and critters around me. This day I could smell over 50 different items right from my perch. I continued to familiarize my mind with these as I await for the sun. Then I open my eyes and start to scan the area as the first rays of light bounce through the forest. I spend the next few hours constantly on alert scanning, listening, smelling mother nature and all her goodness. I heard a raccoon scurry along the trail just at day break, and then smelled deer pee for about 15 minutes before seeing two yearling doe emerge from the foliage. Had a grey squirrel startle the hell out of me and him. When he proceeded to use my shoulder as perch for a few seconds.
Then it happened, the reason I’ve come to love this story over the years. I was sitting there in my perch and the forest seemed to erupt with chaos. Branches breaking. leaves and snow falling, birds squawking, and screeching. It took a few seconds to realize what was actually happening. It was by now two hours before dark, and I was somewhere between hypothermia and frostbite. Had frost in my beard and it felt like my nose hairs were permanently attached to my upper lip. (if you been there you’ll get it) I had decided I would give it to dark come hell or high water. Mother nature had different plans though. See all the ruckus was a small bird and a sparrow hawk. Dog fighting through the trees…… Well more accurately my tree.
They dove and swooped up, down…. hell all around my tree. Over me, under me, between me and the tree. It was close combat and I was in the middle of it. The bird actually flew behind my head and in front of the tree. A gap of maybe 3 inches. The top gun fighter hawk’s wing tips damn near took my cap off my head, as he adjusted to miss me. This dog fight made at least three maybe four revolutions with me at the axis. I felt like Goose in Top Gun swinging my head about to find the bogies. Then like a well oiled machine the hawk finished the deal, three feet in front and maybe two feet above my head. His momentum carried him into the next tree maybe 5 yards away. He landed with his dinner in his talons, breathing heavily. Turned and looked at me like, “That’s how it’s done Mister. Out here you have to work and fight for your food.” He sat there for a few seconds. Made a couple of well placed finishing blows with his beak. Gave me one last glimpse, and glided off with ease through the forest.
I sat there digesting what just happened. Had a small pain in my back from the flow adrenalin (which I hate I might add). Warmed up now, I sat there for a bit more, then it hit me. I’m just sitting. I’m working to stay warm, but I’m not working for my food like I should. I had this overwhelming feeling to move and be active. (in hind sight effects of the adrenalin High). This feeling was so over bearing I decided it was time to go home, devise a plan to get a little more active in my hunting strategies. Proceeding through the woods, over the creek and back on the trail I left the gun loaded and at the ready. There was still over an hour of shooting light left. Mater of fact it was prime time. Once I was back on the main trail out, it was kinda my time to reflect as this hunt was drawing to a close. Still half mile in the woods, but on a heavily traveled path, I didn’t think the hunt was still on.
Humbly, I must was incorrect again. Ten feet in front of me a nice 8 pt buck stepped out. The environment was on my side. It had started snowing harder and was almost the consistency of a light fog. As he crossed my path he stopped and looked dead at me. I had already froze in my tracks. The look on his face was that of, “Oh !$!@ your not supposed to be here!” just guessing here but I like to think mine was very similar. In one motion I raised my Knight, it hit my shoulder, peeked through the scope and pull the trigger. The deer was so close the noise from the shot was like I just shot in an enclosed room. The echo rang my ears for quite some time. The smell of the black powder filled the air, when the smoke cleared the buck had vanished. The 8 pt. bolted across the path head first into a large maple tree. Knocked both antlers off and broke his neck.
[box](This trail cam pic is of the buck and very closely resembles the situation)[/box]
I stood there for what seemed like for ever, trying ascertain the events of the day. At this point it was all just a jumbled mess. Much like a game of 52 card pick up. I gave my thanks to the animal, earth, and god. I took care of the meat, hide and vitals and packed out to the truck. To hike out of the woods with a heavy laden pack, and provide protein is every hunters dream. Part of me wondered if the Hawk had a family waiting for him back at the nest. Where he could swoop in puff out his hackle ,and know that at least for today everything was gonna be perfect. Then there is the Squirrel that help me make my choice so very early in the morning. I thought back and wondered what urged him out so very early in the morning. Perhaps a pregnant spouse pleading for more calories. For their motives I will never know, but mine where very clear. I had provided for my family to ensure that we had a healthy nature raised animal to supplement Every time I venture out to the woods I like to walk a way with a lesson from nature. That day I struggled to grasp the concept. I thought on it the hike out. The entire ride back to the house. I really couldn’t place what my exact take was on the events that were encountered. That is till I got home. I opened the door and my ex-wife stood in the living area. Oddly enough she asked, “What did you do today?” With no thought I Humbly answered, “I Listened….. I Listened to a squirrel, a Hawk, the forest and my body. Then the forest rewarded me with a deer.”
This is a story I have held on to for many years, and while I have many great ones. This stays on my short list, because nothing extra ordinary happened, but the ways it all happened were extraordinary! I’ll update with my Alaskan adventure with eddy the eagle tomorrow. We would love to hear some of your stories.