I got into a heated debate the other day with someone about the concept of “underrated “.
We were discussing underrated drummers and the person in question asserted that Neil Peart was the most underrated drummer of all time. Now this is patently ridiculous, since Neil Peart is underrated only in comparison say, John Bonham or Keith Moon, insofar as drummers go. Some drummers who are actually underrated, I argued, were Stewart Copeland or John Densmore, or other guys you’ve never heard of who are absolutely sick, tehcnically gifted drummers who just toil away behind the kit and don’t get tricky nicknames.
But as usual, a conversation not related to hunting is being applied to hunting.
Maybe it is the dirty, windy, rainy, cold weather in this part of Ontario that’s got me itching to chase some ducks, or the fact that deer season is rapidly approaching, or that my family and friends are moose hunting and I’m secretly envious of them all. Whatever it is, I’ve been thinking about the underrated aspects of hunting and how great they are. Some of them are becoming casualties of the modern approach to hunting, others (like moustaches) are experiencing a renaissance that is both interesting and disconcerting. So here’s a list of some of the things that don’t get the respect or attention they deserve.
Perhaps it is the focus on all the paraphenalia that must be sold to waterfowl hunters these days, or maybe it is a symptom of our sedentary, “everything should be easy” approach to modern life, but nobody gives pass-shooting any respect. I don’t want to get more angry emails from waterfowlers so I will admit that ultra-realistic decoys, layout blinds, and breakthroughs in camouflage have made waterfowling more accesible, successful, and has arguably, with severely reduced ranges becoming the norm (don’t believe me? Find one outfitter that doesn’t boast shooting inside of 20 yards) cut down on crippled and lost birds. But reduced ranges and super-fast shotgun loads has also basically killed the arts of wingshooting, especially pass shooting. There used to be a mathematical precision, a feel, a sweet spot to shotgunning ducks and geese. Now, you almost don’t even have to bother with leading the birds…this has been a boon to myself and others who are terrible wingshooters, but its still kind of sad. I also contend, with no evidence other than empirical observation, that the decline in shooting ability has actually increased sky-busting. Shooter confidence is sky-high, and it leads to shooting at birds that are exactly that. The older generation can just plain old shoot, and I attribute that to pass-shooting practice.
A sound that I have almost become deaf to (because it has become so prevalent) is the distant hum of an ATV. Once again, I’m not some reactionary traditionalist. ATVs are great when you’ve got a moose, bear, or deer down in some godforsaken swamp or cedar thicket that is as impenetrable as a Vietnam jungle. But for many they have become the default means of getting into their spots, which is too bad. There’s so much that goes unappreciated when tearing through the bush on four wheels; things that the hunter who hikes in gets to see and hear. I like an extra couple minutes of sleep as much as the next hunter but a still, early morning walk into a dimly lit forest is an experience worth getting up for. Hearing the metallic ‘snick-snick’ of rifle cartridges sliding into place, stopping to listen for a deer with your breath hanging heavy around your head on a crisply frosted morning, and exposing the forest around you to the narrow-eyed peregrinations of a hunter stalking their prey all speed past in a blur on an ATV. Not to mention the damage to fresh sign and the pastoral tranquility of the hunt that the ATV wreaks. So this season, put some miles on…your boots.
Eating over a Fire
There was a time, so the deer camp elders say, when the hunting stock from which I am derived would have an outdoor fire on almost every suitable day of deer season (and even on a few unsuitable days) and toast some bread and meat on a split stick in the middle of the day before retiring for a brief nap under a tree. I get the impression that my great-uncles, grandfather, and other deer hunters that preceded me hunted all day long and only returned to camp for dinner and sleep. Keep in mind that these are deer camp recollections so their veracity is debatable at best, but it seems to me that lunch starts earlier and earlier every year we go deer hunting, and although we’ve done it once or twice in my deer-hunting career, we don’t often pack in a lunch and have an impromptu early November cookout. The times we’ve done it have been exceptional; building the fire up, whittling down a long, forked twig, using an old stump as a cutting board/prep table, squatting next to a fire with a sandwich balanced in the ‘hot-zone’ over some glowing coals, leaning against a tree, fallen log, or maybe the above-mentioned stump and savoring a toasty treat. All memories to cherish. I vote we do it more often.
I covet my cousin’s GPS. There’s one on my Christmas list this year. But I also get a smug sense of satisfaction from navigating my way through the woods with a compass. Sure it isn’t orienteering by the sun (I’m just simply not that hardcore) but picking out a landmark, navigating to it, and then picking out another landmark and doing it again as a means of getting to a destination has me at least under some semi-delusions that I have some skills as a woodsman. And I like that feeling. Still a new Garmin would be pretty kick-ass.
It is nice to have a deer camp that is fully wired and generator compatible. We can play CDs, charge batteries for digital cameras, power a water heater, and run a ceiling fan that keeps the heat from the woodstoves (and the reek of a dozen unwashed men) circulating through the camp. But late in the evening, when hunters tired out from bushwhacking start to slip off to bed and the generator is switched off, some of us stay up, sip brews, and tell lies to each other. Our constant companion is the hiss of a Coleman lantern. My dad brings one of the old “pump” models and the sadly departed Frank Sweet had an even older one that was pitted, rusty, and absolutely effective at casting light and a modicum of close-quarters heat. I think old Franko’s lantern had also seen a few hairy trips by sailboat around Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes, and with those gas lights hissing away the log walls breathed ambience. Many a laugh and a story has floated over the tops of those old Colemans. They are also the sole source of light in the early deer camp mornings (since we all see little point in running the generator for that short a time) or when the generator breaks down, which has in reality only happened once. There’s a new, battery operated Coleman in camp, which is fine because it acheives the same functional purpose as its fuel-driven predecessor, but it is found to be sorely lacking in what it adds to that nebulous and ill-defined concept of “camp-feel”.
There’s so much more about hunting that is underrated. Living alone in the forest. Turning a tree into firewood. Getting soaked to the bone and suffering martyr-like for the opportunity to take a turkey, duck, or deer. I’m sure I’ll find the time to write more about it soon.