Friday, November 18, 2011

We are Hunters

The last weekend, the wind whipped like a banshee through the trees and the deer were not moving. But still the hunters go back out, not to give up just because of one or two mornings coming home cold, hungry and empty handed.

It had been a stormy night, as I headed out that Fall morning. I walked out, alone, Marlin with .357 pistol loads in hand, with an errant thundershower lingering, perhaps scuttling any plans I had to hunt without getting wet. The deer might well be hunkered down. Yet, as clouds broke into dawn drenched laughter, I could imagine one nice little buck poking his head out at first light, hoping for first dance with the prom queen. Some creatures just have a hard time sitting still, even if their life is half over. There's fields to prance through, endless chasms of corn rows to cross, horizons that tilt and change with a jump of a hospitable farmer's fence. Some living things just can not disregard their souls natural response to living, for they somehow sense that, though they might grow old, it would be with regret.

I think I'm the only one out here, the ground damp, the air biting cold. But I revel in it, as most hunters do. Smelling the rain on the heavens and feeling the wind on my face as I stride towards the tree stand up ahead, the horizon full of things hinted but not yet seen.

For too many years, I spent little time afield, taking care of parents, family, cattle, someone else's dreams. So what if I didn't pick up a shotgun or a rifle for 12 years, I have them now. With them, there's new adventures, the jumbled trail that is a chucker hunt, the fog shrouded lovers touch that is opening day of duck season in Arkansas. Better a belated and streaming dawn than a life lived in twilight, my old Browning would say, if that old Belgium grade steel could talk.

Hunters are unusual people, yet we are rather simple in our ways. We know, but don't always gleefully await, that alarm going off at 3 am, but we eagerly jump up from our warm bed at the call, for it is a dawn that few see, evocative and inspiring. The streaming dawn, that despite the early morning, reaches out and grabs us into an alertness coffee can't provide.

We are hunters. We know the fields of Indiana and the deep sigh of darkness that lies in the middle of swampy ground somewhere down in Arkansas. We know the mornings drenched in pine, the varied scents of a field in Northern Iowa and the up and down escalator drill that is that last minute trip to Cabelas. We've walked a grid of open dirt, or homed into a tree like a coon dog, racing the sun to our blind, hoping to get in before Mr. Buck awakes. We have politely waited for that same sun to come up, reveling in the clear sparkling crispness that is an November morning.

Hunters remember bucks. We remember the does that entice them. We remember quail and pheasant and that elusive, damnable bird called a chucker. We delight in the perfect clarity of a 12 pointer through a new scope and remember a late night waltz down an ice slicked path, retreating to a camp or a farm house with that buck only a memory.

For many of us it began with a simple Daisy Rifle, then on to a Remington or a Browning and later the latest in sight technology and scopes. But whatever we carry, be it new or old, we all understand misfeeds, that branch that got in the way, and finding yourself sodden, including your ammo, when the forecaster lied like a Senate appropriation meeting. But no matter what we carry, the latest and the greatest, or grandpa's beloved shotgun, there is still something that all of us must always comprehend and that is the nature of the wild. Wherever we are, and with whatever we have, we strive to out-hunt complacency, that one thing that can end our day on a uncorrectable note of finality.

We are hunters. We relish the cheerful warmth of that first cup of coffee and the pause of an ice cold beer in front of the fire when the day is done. My generation and my fathers speaks as if old friends of 1911's and Remington's and Colt, cap and ball, not cap and trade. We understand the vagrancies of black powder and the shoulder numbing retort of 50 cal. We recall with pride, the fierce roar that was our first double barreled shotgun. We reminisce over the vast remote landscapes of Alaska and Colorado and Wyoming, of tears and blood and swear, while the young ones have no such memory, spending their time pitting themselves against a video game.

Hunters speak a language handed down from generation to generation and only slightly understood by their non hunting partner. We banter about airwash and anchor point, quiver and quartering. We know the difference between purr and putt and can talk for hours about racks and score, conversations that have nothing to do with the opposite sex.

But when it's time to get into the woods and into the blind, there is no chatter, the concentration being almost tactile. For though we have tasted the insulation of the woods and feel comfortable within its borders, we know too well the adrenalin surge of approaching game, the feel of hairs on our arms standing up in a predators natural response. In that moment as our quarry comes into view we know more than the desire for it, we know conviction and clarity even as our brain telegraphs the movement of our hand to the trigger of our firearm, making sure we are certain, of both the target and ourselves.

For we respect the power of our firearm, and know what it means to fight for the right to carry it, to fight for what we believe in. That is the uncommon faith of man's innate need to take from our environment what we need to live and nothing more, tending the forest, being conservators of the trust God has given us.

We respect our weapon and we respect the inordinate right that we have to carry it. But just as calmly as we trust in our abilities, we also believe in the capriciousness of this world, and of predators both two and four legged. There's not one of us that hunts deep within the wild, where we are not the largest creature on the food chain, that forgets that we may tested in a face off against something unseen, of large fang and claw, that will pit our every ability against a red stroke of fate.

We are hunters. We are male and female, young and old, wealthy or poor in pocketbook but never in spirit. We have small cars and big trucks, tattooed with flags and jumping fish and the symbols of our service. We are unabashedly proud of being an American, family people at home and in the deepest part of our landscape.

We know the overwhelming beauty of a Midwest sky as the sun seeps into the deep purple horizon and the pristine beauty of the sun's reemergence after a long, cold night in a sleeping bag. We remember the sentient rows of corn guiding us to feathered warriors and the winding roads deep into a forest in which the wild turkey plays. In such places, with only a mug of coffee and a chunk of bread we've held our own Communion with God in the sanctity of the the land he created, land He trusted us with, as its stewards. It's a Pentecostal fire that turns our fingers blue, as we warm them with the blessings of this days breath.

We've seen time stop, seconds stuttering into slow motion by the sheer moment of a group of elk, one so large, and moving fast, the others following like dark ghosts, not running, but merely keeping pace with the looming might of the largest rack we've ever seen, worshipping in its shadow. Game, appearing out of no where, as if from thin air they were formed, just for this moment, from prayers unsaid.

We walked miles across Iowa cornfields, as if we didn't hurry we could lose the birds forever, tireless, eager, propelled by only the tiny little hammering of our heart, and the deep panted breathing of our bird dog, Then just as quickly, stopping, as if struck down, watching the dog point, and the sky exploding into flight, our whole world coalesced in bright sunlight. We've experienced that moment when time merges into that one spot of sun and sky and dog and hands , the sun glinting off a watch that portends a moment here, forever, then gone with the blast of our Dad's old Remington.

We've watched a deer emerge, as if summonsed by our thoughts. One minute, a blank landscape, the next minute, only hide and hair and rack and breath, his, your own, as your hands hesitate like the first rush of love. There, in that millisecond between want and need, your hands find that trigger in the windless days hot dalliance and he's gone. Gone as if he never was, as if he was only some adolescent dream of desire.

We've toasted those hunts, both successful and unsuccessful under the northern lights. We've seen horizontal rain and microbursts of leaves shaken down by a turkey coming down to do battle. We've seen quiet things no one would believe, things that only those that embrace the outdoors might see, and we're hooked on it. Not for the food, though that bounty is appreciated in a country kitchen, but as something that's hard to put name to, a reasoning beyond ego that is the freedom of the outdoors. It's pitting our skills against something as elemental as a whitetail deer, something ingrained in us, an essential element of our being.

I'm almost at my tree blind, the sun peeking out and I hope that the weather will allow for some food for my table this winter. But for now I have my Marlin. I have my solitude, as I settle into where I will hunt. It is that solitude I have found no other place but a cockpit, one that wavers slow as I lean back against a tree and close my eyes for just a moment, breathing deep. Head thrown back I stick my hand out into air the temperature of a lover's soft breath, trailing my hand in the wind, sensing it's direction and how it might give my position away. Time strolls by like a day at the seashore until the sun bursts from the horizon.

I don't have much, but I have this, the breeze, fresh air to cool me quick, to blow out of my eyes and my brain and my blood all the would make me stressed and weary. My hands rest on the stock of my rifle, I follow with my eyes, the waving branches of the forest, looking for one small movement, as sounds dissolve into dying leaves.

This wouldn't be anything that you'd see on outdoor TV, no lights or fancy equipment. I'm simply a hunter, in a circle of trees where at somber intervals tall branches shift and moan in the strained winds musings, dropping their leaves, leaving their signs. I patiently wait, waiting for game, watching for my own signs. I look out across the forest, a lonely figure, yet not alone. I look up into the sky that lies prone and subdued in the embrace of this season of life and death, a season I understand all too well.

There's no place I'd rather be.

20 comments:

  1. That is sheer poetry. As you allow us to walk the trails and fields beside you (or at least in your wake), we can see, hear and feel those things you describe so much more eloquently than we are able to do.

    And we, your fellow hunters, love you for it.

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  2. Mr. S. said
    Beautifully said!

    A word of advice to all from my dad, DO NOT put the doe scent on your HAT!

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  3. A grand narrative, Brigid! Thanks.

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  4. Paul - thank you :-). Tell Sam, I'm going to the store next week that has the unusual sugars and oils and salts (jalapeno and espresso sugars, applewood smoked salt, etc). If she would like a sample 1 or 2 ounce package in the mail, drop me a note.

    Mrs. S - oh yes, and also, on your first hunt, don't take a big whiff if the Tinks saying "what does THIS smell like?" WOAH!

    Last weekend and today was too windy for all. I'm going to try in the morning if the wind dies down tonight.

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  5. Wonderfully written. You have described it perfectly!

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  6. Thnx, after this week I really needed this.

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  7. I agree with Rev. Paul, sheer poetry.

    Your description of hunting birds in Iowa had me flashing back to the most memorable bit of dog work that I've witnessed. We were hunting our farm opening weekend and had worked all the usual spots without much success. We moved on to a 10 acre patch of set-aside ground to discover that my cousin had disced it down the day before. We figured we'd give a try anyway. A friend had his two pointers and a lab and we started working the field. One of the pointers locked on point on a tiny cluster of foxtails that had escaped the disc. My friend would normally send his lab to flush on a point but he thought it was a false point. There couldn't possibly be a bird hiding there but the pointer wouldn't budge. He said go ahead and walk up on it since I was closest. I was five yards from the foxtails when a big rooster seemed to blast up from nowhere. Must have been hiding down in a hole. I maintained my composure well enough to drop the pheasant and we got two more out of that field. Just goes to show that you trust all of your dog's points and you don't pass up unlikely looking cover.

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  8. You write as if I was there. I have not visited the place you speak of in many years. I am envious and look forward to your report.

    I have things to do with Firearms this weekend, but that will speak of two legged predators, not game.

    Good Luck!

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  9. Once again transported to a better place.
    Love the way you make the words move us thru the fields and woods.

    Great shot of the lever guns.
    My collection is not as big, but I'm working on it.

    Thanks for the trip

    DS

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  10. Wow! Thank you! your words take me to places I've never yet been, take me to an away and show all the truth of it. "Better a belated and streaming dawn than a life lived in twilight"... Amen! Is very welcome this week. Wishing you good hunting...

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  11. Sigh...and all I can do is complain about not seeing a legal bull to shoot. I remain in awe....

    But is that a scope on a .357 Marlin? Don't get me wrong...I love mine, and have thought strongly about putting a red dot on it...just never really thought about putting a magnification type scope on it.

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  12. Oh Brigid, you moved my heart enough to impact my body, like the trembling ache of desire and need when you come home to your lover after too long away. I need to get back into the field and take my new bride with me. Alas, probably not this year.

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  13. Beautifully written, Brigid.

    Thank you for letting me partake in the woodland glory that you perceive.

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  14. Oh girl, you had me walking out to the stand with ya! Love, love, love this post. Great to hear you getting out there and doing some hunting! Our deer season ends today so I am bookmarking this post so I can come back and get my hunting "fix" until the next season opens ;)

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  15. greg - the Marlins in the picture belong to some of the IND bloggers when we all went hunting together last. The scope was fun, but not really necessary at the range we were shooting with pistol loads.

    Anne - thank you. I'm enjoying your blog.

    Hat Trick - good story. Give a pat or a scratch behind the ears to B. the dog for me.

    Alison - at 4 am the wind was blowing 30 mph. By 10 it was a soaking rain. No deer today. However the kitchen was fired up and some snickerdoodles and a pumpkin roll are cooling in anticipation of company coming down tomorrow or Monday.

    Ken O - I hope she will go with you. The guys I hunt with haven't been able to talk their wives into joining us, but they do sent food.

    LB - last weekend was a bust. This weekend may be as well. Og was up for hunting next Saturday but with the holiday I've got something going on. If next Sunday doesn't work it will be bow hunting in December.

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  16. You have caused me to conjure up old times.

    Of going into the woods before an Oklahoma dawn and laying down listening to the woods come alive as a soft dew fell. I have never had a greater sense of peace.

    Of the thrill of being at a duck roost as darkness falls, not shooting but watching the ducks spiral, ducking and dodging as they fell from a high altitude to their watery bed. I have never felt a greater sense of satisfaction.

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  17. I am proud my husband is a hunter! If you ever want to hunt without using a tree stand come on out to Arizona!

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  18. Of being at timberline in Alaska, tracking a bear that I had just shot through brush so thick, I had to crawl on my hands and knees with a pistol because the rifle was too long to get through the brush. I have never felt so alive.

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  19. I would love to experience this.

    I have no idea where to start.

    (I'm in Indiana, in town just NW of Indy.)

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  20. Noah - I don't know of any public land up around where you live (the locals might come undone if you shoot in the Turkey Run park there :)

    I've never hunted public land, just friends farms. You might call DNR and ask about spots and get set up for next year. You won't regret it.

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