Making Sense Out of Hunting

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

turns looking at Smokey's tracks, at my slug-gash in a tree and at me, and what one of them didn't think to say about ignorance and bad marksmanship, another did.

If being sensible had anything to do with hunting, that of course would be the end of the story.

Instead, I decided that whatever time and effort it took, I would be the one to hunt that old deer down.

I spent part of every day after that deer, neglecting my family and my job and my sleep, to study everything he did. I bet I walked 200 miles crisscrossing the woods to find his tracks or get him out of bed or have him snort at me before daylight.

I finally puzzled out, after a snow, what Smokey's main trick was: when I would jump him in some windless thicket, he would make a showy leap and dash off, his great flag waving like a sail. But he would sometimes go less than 100 feet, enough to take him out of sight behind a hill and then he would turn and tiptoe in a circle and get behind me, with the wind in his favor.

I hold in warm memory the day I got Old Smokey. I came up behind him in a creek bed and when he ran, I took a guess and went slinking up a side hollow, and made my own long half-circle back. I stopped behind a little rise and peered over.

In 30 minutes, here he came, picking his way as silently as a bobcat, to stand looking for me up the creek. He was patience itself. And then, very slowly and carefully, Smokey swung his grizzled head and looked my way. He saw me. He saw my rifle. He saw, you might say, the total picture.

"Boo!" I said.

You have never seen anything like it in all your put-togethers. It was worth every penny and every reproachful look, every rain-soaked weary hour that Smokey had cost me. That deer shrunk together like a slinky and bolted out of that creek bottom like a mustang out of a chute, the snow levitating behind him.

I could hear his clattering hooves climbing the hill and I knew that this time he wasn't going just 100 feet, or 100 yards to play peekaboo. This deer was hunting a different area code.

It's plain that hunting doesn't make sense on any level you'd send a kid off to college to learn. It's a matter of challenge and instinct and daily whims. It's woodsmoke and fall leaves and distant hounds and birds exploding under your feet.

Hunting is having a wild turkey take your breath away and watching a coon hit the creek like a freight train ahead of the dogs. It's seeing a surprised deer coming up out of leaves with a "whuuuufff" and watching ducks turn and cup their wings to your call.

And come to think of it, hunting also has something to do with the great aroma of biscuits and squirrel gravy or venison stew. Such things usually make the most sense of all.

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