Category Archives: lists upon lists

Personal Failings

So.
I’m not going to turn this blog into some sort of confessional, there are plenty of blogs like that out there, and I’m willing to bet that a good many of them do it better than I could.
Still, there have been things in life keeping me out of the fields, forests, and marshes, and I’ve been hearing it through my email, Twitter, and from friends about my recent disappearance from the hunting world.  And I can only fight back with stilted, painful attempts at humour.
You see, there are a good many things that I am terrible at when it comes to hunting.  Sitting still is one of them, and I am certain that this is why I’m a generally unsuccessful turkey hunter, despite what could be argued are marginally above average abilities as a turkey caller.  Being observant is also not my strong suit…I’m often day dreaming or humming a tune in my head or trying to come up with the next clever and witty blog post when I should be watching for game, and I have a suspicion that I’d be a better deer hunter if I paid closer attention to the woods around me.  My friends, hunting mentors, and so on don’t seem to have these failings and it is a constant source of shame for me, but also has instituted somewhat of a tradition of ‘ripping on Shawn’ which I find both charming and emotionally crippling.
With that in mind, I’m always seeking to upgrade my skills.  Since my recent move to a new town sidelined my annual duck opener excursion last weekend, I thought I’d leverage my time at the mall and in the hardware stores to illustrate the ways that I spent the last four days improving my hunting skills, even though I wasn’t hunting.
Lying
Lying is a critical skill for all hunters, and I got plenty of exposure to lying this past weekend.  In the hunting world, some common lies that are popular include fabricating what you were doing when you botched a shot, lying about how big (or small) a given animal was, making up the distance of certain shots, or telling your friends that you missed a shot at a running coyote when in reality you hurriedly blazed two shots nowhere near a standing deer because you were surprised and really shouldn’t have been shooting in the first place.  In the world I was residing in this past weekend, some of my go-to lies included feigning enthusiasm over bathroom cabinet styles, pretending to be happy to spend nearly a grand on paint, lighting, and tools, and telling people that I didn’t really mind organizing my unpacking and organizing my basement while my buddies had some laughs and shot a pile of ducks and geese.  I lie so well now, that I’m considering a career move into municipal government.
Being Silent
While I may not be observant or stealthy, one thing I am good at being (when necessary) is quiet.  Of course I can make a whole lot racket on a goose, duck, or turkey call when the mood strikes me, and it is true that I never shut up when I’m with my buddies in the waterfowl blinds (I like to make jokes…so sue me), when sitting on stand alone, silence is simple.  I’m also working on navigating the woods more silently as well, and it is coming along.  To that end, I got some great practice this past weekend.  For example, I mastered the skill of silently slipping away from my wife while she perused paint colours, and I became an expert at not saying a word when my name was called to assist her with painting the hallway while our son was being a nuisance.  Navigating the soul-crushing pandemonium of Bed, Bath, and Beyond will hone any hunter’s ability to move silently and swiftly through narrow, constricted spaces.  I feel the effort put in now will serve me well come November.
Decision-Making
Being decisive is so important to hunters that it is second nature to many.  Take the shot or don’t?  Left-hand trail or right-hand trail?  12ga or 20ga?  Go the toilet in the woods or hold it?  These are all vital decisions that require timely and committed decision making, and sometimes in the hunt these decisions figure themselves out.  In the dog-eat-dog world of moving and home improvement, there are decisions that carry as much (or maybe more) gravity, and none of them are going to sort themselves out.  Ivory Palace paint for the living room or Currier Cream?  Does the TV look good in the corner or should we hang it over the fireplace?  Should we hang the mirror here or there?  Gas line BBQ or propane?  You see how intense it could be.  For those who say that hunting decisions are more important because they can be life-or-death has never tried to tape and paint trim with my wife.
These are but a smattering of the skills developed this past weekend that will no doubt make me a more lethal and efficient predator in the woods.  If I could only find a way to apply my skills of procrastinating when  it comes to blog updates or of alienating self-proclaimed ‘serious’ hunters, there would be no stopping me.  But at least not showing up at the camp gives my buddies more ammo to torch me with the next time we get together, which should be in about two weeks’ time.
Right after a friend’s wedding next weekend and only once I get my pesky guest bedroom in order…

Minor Pleasures

The fact that I’m itching to get hunting is apparent to all, and that I can’t stop yammering about calling contests, waterfowl weekends, and gear that I need to buy is not helping matters.
Of course for every thing that really makes me downright giddy about the approaching hunting seasons (waterfowl, fall turkey, and deer specifically), there are about a hundred things that the non-hunting people in my life think is negative, or at least weird, about my passion for the outdoors.  Most have long ago given up trying to convert me, and truth be told, most of them don’t think hunting is ‘wrong’…particularly when they see me making and eating delicious things out of game animals.  But a sad symptom of our ultra-modern, urbanized, smart-phone culture is that scads of people that I come into contact with on a daily basis in my personal and business relationships that have no appreciation for all the tiny, esoteric, and absolutely exceptional experiences that are to be gained from spending long hours afield.  And that’s fine…I don’t derive my self-esteem from whether they find me somehow “different”.
But in the spirit of conciliation, and in an effort to further reduce the ridiculous clichés that people ask me on a daily basis, here’s a list of some things that non-hunters think of as inconveniences and irritations that are, in a hunter’s mind, simple pleasures to be savoured.
Wood Stoves
I always get “But what if the stove goes out?  Don’t you guys freeze?”  The answer is, yes, if the fire goes out, it gets cold.  The trick is to not let the fire go out…and I happen to hunt with a group of guys who are adept fire-stokers.  By 1am or so the camp is downright tropical, in large part thanks to my father and uncle who seem to be cold-blooded reptiles of some sort.  In our deer camp it is not uncommon to wake in the night and lean out a window or walk out to the porch in one’s underpants, just for the sweet relief of a brisk November night.  Early fall goose camps are even worse, because it is usually pretty mild already without someone literally ‘putting the wood to’ the camp stove.  At least it is a dry heat.  On the plus side, we can all, for the most part, bond over our constant berating of anyone putting wood in the stove.
Mattresses (Air or Otherwise)
Another question I constantly hear is “What do you sleep on?  The ground?  The floor?” and to that I usually shake my head and remind people that although roughing it is a key component of the hunt (and I have nothing but respect for the high country hunters who operate with canvas tents and pack horses), for us, we do have a modicum of comfort.   One of our camps has dedicated bunkbeds with old, generally feculent mattresses on them.  In the other, most of us use air mattresses.  Last year, I got tricky and got a synthetic camp cot, primarily because I wanted a bed that I could fold up (since everyone was either walking on or flopping down on my air mattress as they pleased) that was likewise not going to develop a slow leak and deflate in the night.  Unfortunately for me, this cot proved a little too comfortable and some certain individuals in camp took to unfolding it for me and resuming to sleep on it as they saw fit.  In the bunkbed scenario, lower bunks are prized possessions.  Owing to hot air’s natural tendency to rise, and given our healthy cabbage consumption (in the form of sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, Brussels sprouts, and coleslaw) mixed with the tendency mentioned above for certain camp elders to keep a raging inferno going in the stove at all hours, sleep (if it can be called that) on a top bunk is memorable to say the least.  Waking up in a sweat surrounded by a cloud of miasma used to be a rite of passage in our one camp.  Since we took to draping heavy sheets over the doorframe a few years back the heat issue has improved slightly…the noxious odour, not so much.  Still beats sleeping on the floor though…barely.
Hygiene
“Don’t you guys all stink after staying in camp together?”  Okay this one is partially true.  Yes, after a day of hiking the backwoods or carrying decoys in and out of fields we are generally sweaty, hungry, and dirty.  And yes, a shower is not always an option, although we are lucky enough to have an outdoor shower at one deer cabin we hunt out of.  Our fingernails get grimy, or feet get wrinkly, and we itch in places we don’t always itch.  But that is not to say that hygiene is completely out of the question.  Almost everyone in camp at least brushes their teeth, and a steel pail of water gathered on a short trip to a lake or stream can be heated on the glowing steel of one of our blazing wood stoves to provide enough hot water to at least splash down the most offensive nooks and crannies.  I choose not to shave while in camp, others do.  It’s no big deal.  In deer season, when scent control becomes somewhat important some individuals become a bit more fanatical about cleanliness…me, I steer clear of that cyclical argument and just let myself smell as ‘natural’ as possible.  Keeping a shaved (or more apt in my case, balding) head of hair addresses the need for frequent use of shampoo and if you can locate the one man in camp who is cleansing, conditioning, and moisturizing their hair I’ll be you I can point out a hunter that just isn’t appreciating the experience on as many levels and senses as I am.  I even have an uncle who came up with a clever use for Penaten cream one year.  I’m not sure if it was stranger that he was using it or that he packed it with the foresight to know he’d need it.  In the end it is okay to get kind of gross.  It means you are doing more important things than fretting over what your cabin-mates think of your appearance.
Diet
“So do you just bring enough bacon, beef jerky, and beer to last you the week?”  I wish…I love bacon, beef jerky, and beer, and if that was all I consumed for a week of hunting I might lose some weight.  I think if anything has really changed about the modern hunting experience it is that I would wager very few hunters just pack in essentials and rely on their woodsmanship skills to provide their sustenance.  Gone are the days (for many of us I bet) when eating on a hunting trip meant that you ate what you killed or else you nearly starved, and I’d bet double that those days expired many years ago.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to camp that didn’t have enough food to feed everyone in it twice.  Now some camps are better than others in terms of selection and quality; for every camp I’ve been to where the menu is exceptional (like our deer camps for example) I’ve to as many others where hot dogs, chips, mixed nuts, and beans were all there was all the time.  Most camps fall in the middle, and frankly I couldn’t care less what is on the menu, as long as there’s a lot of it.  Hunting is exertion for most of us, and that relative level of exertion varies from hunter to hunter, but nonetheless when the sun goes down and the guns go away, I’ve never met a man or woman alive that wasn’t ravenously hungry after a day’s hunt.  Bacon, beef jerky, and beer would cut it…but I’d rather have more.
The Toilet
So we’ve come to this.  Nothing is more misunderstood or more commonly reviled, misrepresented, and joked about than what a bear, or in this case a hunter, “does in the woods”.  Call it want you want, from outhouse to shitter.  It is ubiquitous and simultaneously revered and feared.  That is the one stereotype I cannot shake, and that is the view that we as hunters all have to either use a hideously depraved outhouse or alternatively brave baring our sensitive bits to the wilderness and going in the forest.  Now I’ve visited many outhouses from the rankest and most vile (which I encountered when I wasn’t even hunting…it was at a punk rock festival concert in mid-August, the odour haunts me still) to one’s that have a fair modicum of creature comforts, but I still cannot say that I’ve had an outhouse experience I would define as ‘pleasant’.  I even, at a young age, contributed man-power to actually digging and installing an outhouse.  You learn a lot about yourself in moments like that.  All this said I have no real problem with the outhouse at the end of the day…even the two-man version at one of the deer camps I go to (picture it!).  It is the conundrum of biology that makes it so; that ‘any port in a storm’ approach that sometimes occurs when your stomach is bubbling and you’ve been without running water for a few days.  Making sure you exercise good timing is important too in any outhouse adventure.  It pays to be the first one into an outhouse the morning after ribs and sauerkraut for dinner.  Anything other than first and you may as well hold it for the woods, and this alternative is likewise not without risks.  While I will keep this G-rated (both out of respect for the reader and to protect the guilty…you know who you are and I know that you read this) I have stories in my repertoire about the disasters that occur when you either wait too long and then lose control while peeling off multiple layers of pants and long-underwear or if you get excited and don’t quite get the pants out of the way before squatting.  I’ve already shared one example of the logic that must be employed if emergency strikes and you find yourself without toilet paper (hint…bring an extra pair of socks).  Regardless, the exigencies of our need to eliminate waste make us all equal.  I feel particularly sorry for female hunters in this respect…the one time I took my wife hunting she made me well aware of the intricacies of that particular interface and it is (I argue) the one compelling reason that she won’t take up hunting with me on a full time basis.
So there you have it…a far from exhaustive, but hopefully still informative list.  I am aware in re-reading this that I’ve made all of the above points seem negative through some sort of tongue-in-cheek narrative, but I can assure you that the sum of these component parts do make up what the hunting experience as a whole is.  Just like there is not a catch-and-release component to hunting as I define it, there is likewise no extricating the above moments and experiences from hunting as I know it.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way…even the outhouse, but only if I’m first to use it.

The Lesser Known Skills

On newsstands, the “big mags” are soon to be publishing their turkey hunting run-ups, and that is fine.  Great actually, because I love to read them.  At various times of the year, every hunting publication that you’d buy in a bookstore has what I call their “Get Ready!” issue and they all feature articles with catchy tag lines like “Fool Wary Late-Season Geese!” or “Sure Fire Tactics for Greenheads!” or my personal favourite “Your Best Rut Ever!”…like I’ve ever had a ‘bad’ rut.  That’s as redundant as “good orgasm”.

These articles and features do become formulaic after a time…after all how many different times can we be told how to call to a hung up gobbler?  Deer will always be deer and I think by now I know how to use rattling horns.  Likewise there are not a lot of differing ‘strategies’ for deploying a pop-up blind or a trail camera.  But again, that’s fine because every once in a while I find a hidden gem of wisdom.  For example, last year in either Field & Stream or Outdoor Life (I can’t frankly recall which, and my wife has since recycled the magazine) there was a nifty piece about how to make a ‘wingbone’ style of turkey call out of a pen and a spent shotgun shell.
How very MacGyver.
But that’s not the point of this post.  This post is about what has been missing.  For all the promise, exceptional photography, and flashy splendor of these institutions, they’re missing out on what I would call the ‘unspoken fundamentals’, which I consider the basis for making any hunt enjoyable and the key skills to becoming a successful hunter.  So with that in mind, I humbly submit to you a list of some of the lesser known aptitudes that truly define what makes “a hunter”.
Lying
Now this is admittedly a cliché, and we’ve all seen the shirts and hunting camp placards that say something like “Liars and Hunters Gather Here” or some permutation thereof, but in every joke there is a kernel of truth, and hunters are exceptional liars.  Now I alluded to this in an earlier post, but that dealt with a certain segment of the hunting community.  To put it simply, to hunt you must develop the ability to lie.  Now I’m not talking about the kind of double speak and manipulation that politicians and power-brokers use.  No, no…in this respect I’m referring to both the benign, passive lies that make you seem like less of an abject failure or the broad, open lies that grease the wheels of conversation.  If you meet a hunter that tells only the truth, beware.  He or she is not to be trusted as they are either a far too upstanding citizen to associate with, or they are a hunter par excellence and has never had any reason to lie because they always experience glowing success.  Either way, those are people that you do not want to live in a cramped shack with for a week.
Excuse Making
Of the same vein, but distinct from, lying is excuse-making.  To be a successful hunter this is a must-have skill and once developed it will carry you far.  It has a multi-faceted range of applications from practical use in getting out of doing dishes and sweeping floors through to actually helping you harvest game.  Don’t believe me?  I would argue that we all know someone who through excuse-making and laziness (laziness being excuse-making’s deadbeat progenitor) decided not to walk ten miles cross-country and instead sat on the porch with a gun and cigar and killed a huge buck that had the temerity to stroll out onto the front lawn.  Heck, in 2009 my own excuse-making and laziness led me to sit in hardwood opening not eight minutes from the front door of the camp.  Shot a deer ten minutes later, if I wasn’t such a poor shot I would have shot two.  Don’t tell me it isn’t an essential skill.
Arguing
Being a generally objectionable person is not a prerequisite to being a good hunter, but it helps.  I’ve met a lot of hunters that were accommodating, friendly, and willing to listen to your opinion on anything.  But I don’t really remember them fondly or as being particularly successful.  The ones that I do remember as successful and memorable are the irascible, gruff, opinionated SOBs that did things their own way regardless of what the camp consensus was because that’s what they thought was right, even when it clearly wasn’t.  These people are not the best camp-mates when trying to nail down a dinner menu or debating the merits of gun caliber, political affiliation, or governmental tax mandates…but by gar do they know how to hunt.  The underlying trait of argumentativeness is self-confidence, and to be a successful hunter, you’ve got to have that in abundance to go where no one else will, to try what no one else will try, and to believe in your abilities when everyone else doubts them.  Hunters with that trait are inherently, and inexplicably, successful.
Calm
In a bizarre, Zen-master kind of way, I’ve found the best hunters to be exceptionally, if not frighteningly, stoic.  Now here in Ontario there is not much that you can hunt that will realistically ‘kill you back’ so to speak…although the “black bear sow when surprised with cubs” scenario lives in an especially dark corner of my nightmares, especially in turkey season when all I have is a shotgun packed with a few 3-inch rounds of paltry #6 lead shot…but calm is more than facing the potential dangers of the woods unfazed.  I’ve never even had the crosshairs on a deer that was more than an average-sized doe but those beautiful ungulates reduce me to a quivering mass of skin and tissue every time I get the gun up on one.  Likewise a wild turkey, a bird that is both beautiful in plumage and hideous in countenance, ratchets up my adrenalin like no other game animal and I can’t make rational or even basic decisions very well.  Now I’m not sure if the calm and collected camp of hunters just has better control of this than I do, but I don’t really care.  All I know is that they ghost serenely through the woods and fields, seemingly attuned to all the nature that surrounds them, and when they do succeed in taking their prey of choice, they always act like they’ve been there before.  Even when I know damn well that they haven’t.
Gluttony
Here’s where things take a bit of a swerve to the left.  I would argue steadfastly that all the best hunters are legendarily gluttonous.  Now I’m not speaking of wasteful game harvesting or boorish, self-absorbed behavior (although I am likewise not discounting it because I don’t know what you do when I’m not looking) but I am talking about their ability to pack back food and drink.  Of all the hunters I’ve known…and I’ve known many…there exists a one way correlation between the ability to have success in the field and the ability to eat and drink.  I say “one way correlation’ because I also know lots of guys and gals that can eat and drink but don’t have a lick of hunting sense.  To put it basically, I’ve found that if you can hunt, you can also eat.  This is not always inversely true.  And before someone emails me with a list of reasons why this is not an accurate or tenable assessment let me further state that feasting has been a part of hunting as long as hunting has existed in a recorded form.  The coming together of comrades after a hard day afield and restoring our bodies with wine, ale, meat, and wild edibles of all kinds is engrained in the hunting tradition and has been in tapestry, song, and literature for centuries.  As a man with an almost fanatical appreciation of history, who am I to say that isn’t important, nay required, in a hunter?  I await your angry emails.
Swearing
Again, speaking strictly from observation and years of compiled empirical evidence, I think to qualify as a good hunter, you need to be able to swear.  Now I’m not advocating the exceptionally crude, low-brow kind of cursing reserved for locker rooms and Comedy Central Roasts, but then again I’m not talking about maintaining a level of dialogue that is purely biblical either.  What I would say is that the well-constructed, exceptionally-timed, and situation-specific use of foul language is a prerequisite to hunting.  Whether used to castigate one’s self after missing a dreadfully easy shot (I do this often), expressed as dismay as you go through the ice, over your boot top, and into the lake up to your knee on a freezing Lake Huron shoreline (looking in your direction Tack), or just to add spice to a humorous campfire anecdote about what witnessing the birth of your first child was like (again, guilty) the use of salty language is exactly that…it is the figurative seasoning that makes conversation interesting.  I’ve always been struck by the irony that language and dialogue defined as “tasteful” was always exceedingly bland, luckily we keep things pleasant seasoned in our camp.  What constitutes appropriate levels of foul language in your hunting camp is a matter of personal preference; all I can say is test drive a few words you might not normally use.  You’ll learn your limit and will operate accordingly.
Tinkering
The last item on this list speaks to a trait that exists innately in every hunter in every walk of life.  Tinkering with things.  Centuries before the concepts of kaizen and other continuous improvements were implemented in the multi-billion dollar world of business, hunters the world over were toying with ways to improve on weapons, game calls, and hunting techniques.  I’m reminded of a Far Side cartoon where a couple of cave-men have felled a mammoth with a single, well-placed spear; the caption “Let’s remember that spot”.  That’s what hunters do, we innovate.  You could be utterly without redemption on all of the above characteristics and still have success hunting if you show some initiative to hone your skills, get proficient with your weapons, and learn the art, so to speak.  Or you could just have a good time playing in your garage with your game calls and decoys and blinds.  Your choice.
Now to wrap this up, one might ask how I define success…after all I refer to it a lot in the above rambling paragraphs.  I’m not sure if being in possession of everything mentioned previously here will make you successful in the sense that you’ll kill more game (although it may; stranger things have come true) but then again maybe you define success differently than the glossy, vibrant articles run by huge multi-national publishing conglomerates.  If you do, then you’re like me and I’ll leave you with a (censored) quote from one of my now-deceased hunting companions that long ago became a sort of mantra to the way that I go about my hunting adventures.
“Since when did killing deer have anything to do with (expletive) deer hunting?!”

Things That You Never Hear…

Earlier this year I posted about some of the wacky things people have asked me about hunting, and rest assured, many people are still asking me all sort of bizarre and occasionally inane things about it.   But aside from being a good-natured way for me to try to educate some people about the pastime of hunting, it also gets me to thinking about some of the things that I never hear in connection with my hunting experience.  So now, I present to you, a list of phrases that I can safely say have never been uttered during any of my countless hunting trips.  Sure some of them are clichés…who cares?

“You cooked that steak perfectly.”
“Wow, you smell really good.”
“No, I think I’ve had just about enough bacon.”
“I love hunting in the rain.”
“That hair colour really suits your complexion.”
“You did just what I would have done and I don’t have any advice to give you.”
“Don’t bother sweeping the floor.  It will just get dirty again.”
“The government is doing a perfectly good job and they are all competent people with our best interests at heart.”
“You young guys do way too much work around the camp.  Take a rest and have a beer.”
“That toast isn’t burned at all.”
“I don’t think we’ve brought enough beer nuts this year.”
“A wine spritzer does sound refreshing, thanks.”
“I’d love a mock-chicken sandwich.”
“That Stompin’ Tom Connors music is too loud!”
“Cheddar cheese soup?  Delightful!”
“Shawn, that undershirt fits you perfectly.”
“I have no idea what that deer was thinking.”
“I’d much rather use the outhouse than crap in the woods.”
“There’s much less mouse poop in the camp than there was last year.”
“Everybody is talking much too quietly.”
“I think those decoys are arranged perfectly.  We mustn’t fiddle with them.”
“Did you ever notice that clouds sometimes look like things?”
“Chip dip?  Well that’s just unnecessary…”
“That fire is big enough and doesn’t need any more wood added to it.”
“You can’t put gravy on that.”
“You’re right; I have hunted enough and ought to stay inside by the fire during this godforsaken blizzard.”
“Sure, you can use my toothpaste.”
“Sure Dane, you can borrow my hunting pants.” 
“Thanks Luke, I’ll clean and return them immediately after the season.”
“No, you didn’t snore at all last night.”
“That story contained exactly zero bullshit.”
“Shawn…I disagree with your viewpoint and have a well-constructed argument prepared that will refute it.  I am not just going to swear at you.”
“I’m sorry, I did fart.”
“You did dishes last night, I’ve got this round.”
“Shhhh, I’m listening to Beethoven.”
“I missed that goose completely.”
“Shawn, you’re not calling enough.”
“That turkey wasn’t the biggest one I’d ever seen.”
“If you shoot a bear I’ll help you clean it.”
“If you’re going out to grab a beer, I’d like a bottle of mineral water please.”
“That knife is too sharp.”
And probably the least likely thing you’ll ever hear if you go hunting with me and my group of buddies…
“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
This is just a smattering of phrases that I anticipate never hearing anybody use in my hunting camp.  But who knows, maybe we’ll all become sophisticates and someone will crack out the classical music, replace the chips and venison pepperettes with  baby carrots and cucumber slices, and we’ll talk to each other in a refined civil tone appropriate for churches and meeting royalty.  I guess stranger things have happened, but no matter what, we’ll all still probably brave lousy weather and sometimes long odds at success just to get out and chase after wild game.  Because after all the fun and silliness that we love is set aside, that’s just what we’ve always done.