You never know

by Tovar on January 9, 2013 · 47 comments

I once knew a man who had a small horizontal sign above his front door frame, up against the ceiling. If you looked up, you saw it just before you stepped outside: “You never know.”

The more time I spend in the woods, the more sense the motto makes.

Four years in a row, I was genuinely surprised when I killed a deer: the first time because I had begun to think it might never happen, the second because it had happened again so soon, the third because it had happened twice in a row in the same spot near home, the fourth because it had happened a third time in that spot and in the first hour of the season.

Each year, I thought, “Well, I guess you never know.”

By 2011, though, taking a deer in that spot had begun to seem almost inevitable, even with limited hunting time. So last fall I set out with something like an expectation, almost like I knew it would happen again. (Foolishness.)

Through rifle and muzzleloader seasons, I doggedly hunted that area. I didn’t see a single deer, let alone a legal buck. When snow finally came, I could see why: there weren’t many tracks. On the last day of muzzleloader season, I finally went to what my friend calls his Hundred Acre Woods, where I had taken my first buck. There, I saw more tracks, plus a deer in the distance. But I ended the season without any venison.

This fall, I told myself I would hunt smarter. As rifle season approached, the woods closest to home showed few signs of hoofed traffic. So I decided to take the extra time to go to the Hundred Acre Woods. On opening morning, my friend and I were both there.

Serendipity struck early. At sunrise, I heard the sharp report of his .300 Savage. The season had barely begun and he already had his buck. He said that had never happened before. But you never know.

While he hiked out to deposit his rifle and pack at home and fetch my drag sled, I sat and waited. I didn’t expect to see anything. Soon, though, three does and a fawn traipsed by within twenty yards. You never know.

The next morning, I was thrilled to watch a young black bear pass within fifteen yards of where I sat. I had never seen a bruin in those woods and never expected to. But you never know. (Though a bear tag came with my license and the season was open, I never considered raising my rifle. Even if I wanted to hunt bears, which I don’t, it wouldn’t be right to kill one in the Hundred Acre Woods.)

Five days later, I hiked back in at first light and sat down at the base of a maple, exactly where I was sitting when I took my first buck five years earlier.

After an hour or so, I glimpsed a deer seventy yards south of me, crossing the little valley I sat in. The light breeze was in my favor. Through binoculars, I thought I saw more than ears. But were there two points on one side, making the animal a legal buck? I couldn’t be sure. I blew a grunt call. The whitetail paid no heed. At a steady walk, the deer passed the few reasonable openings in moments and moved behind a thicker screen of branches and blowdowns. Soon, the animal was far up on the ridge behind me.

Forty-five minutes later, another deer appeared, following the same path as the first. I could see a gleaming arc of antler and knew in a flash that this was a legal buck. My rifle came up. As the buck stepped into an opening, I blew the grunt call. But the whitetail kept moving, walking even faster than the first deer had. As he crossed another narrow opening, my finger hesitated on the trigger. He was walking fast. I didn’t like the odds.

Soon, I was watching him through that same screen of branches and blowdowns. I blew the grunt call louder and louder. He was trotting by the time he ascended the ridge.

As he vanished, I wondered: Should I have taken a shot through one of those first openings? I wanted venison in the freezer this winter, and I would only have a couple more mornings in the woods during rifle season. What were the chances of getting a better opportunity in what little time I had left to hunt?

On the other hand, I really didn’t want to wound a deer. I had been thinking about my post on not-so-clean kills. I did not want to turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I decided to sit there for another hour, then head home. I had plenty of work to do. And I’d already had all the luck I could hope for in one morning. That was one thing I knew for certain. (Foolishness!)

Half an hour later, I heard leaves crunching behind me. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw a deer less than fifty yards off. More astonishing, I saw forked antlers. Guessing he was going to cross behind me, I risked a slow pivot on my woods stool and braced my left shoulder against the tree behind me. Seconds later, he stepped into an open spot twenty-five yards away.

I made a grunting sound in my throat. He stopped and looked right at me. I squeezed the trigger.

He ran, but not far. The copper bullet had taken him in the heart.

Kneeling beside him, I took a few moments to say prayers of thanks and apology and to let the startling, unexpected event sink in.

Six weeks later, I bought my 2013 hunting and fishing license. Slipping it into my pack, I tucked a note in with it, a reminder in case I forget: “You never know. Beware of thinking you do.”

© 2013 Tovar Cerulli

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{ 47 comments }

Phillip January 9, 2013 at 9:42 am

Great post, Tovar, and absolutely true of many things… hunting not the least of them.

The uncertain and unexpected are prize aspects of the hunt, and may be part of what brings me (and many others) back to the woods year after year. I’ve been hunting a long time, and I think I’ve learned a lot about my game and the habitat where it lives. But there’s always something new, and even the most “common knowledge” can often be proved wrong from time to time… even if it is a single anomalous event.

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Thanks, Phillip. Glad you enjoyed it. And you’re right: it’s true of many aspects of life and many pursuits, including many other ways we engage with the natural world. I never know what’s going to happen when I’m hiking or paddling either.

Brickman January 9, 2013 at 10:05 am

Thanks for this. It was the extra push I needed to get out this weekend. Saturday and Sunday are the last chances I’ll have this year, and it will be on public land that has been open for months, but you know? You never do know.

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Happy to nudge you out the door, Brickman! Do let us know what happens out there…

Al Cambronne January 9, 2013 at 10:49 am

Great post. Saw you mention it on twitter, with the hashtags #hunting #luck #mystery. Maybe that’s what makes hunting so fascinating. No matter how experienced or skilled you are, hunting still involves luck and mystery. Truly, you never know.

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I think you’re right, Al. As both you and Phillip say, uncertainty and mystery are central to hunting.

Albert Quackenbush January 9, 2013 at 11:38 am

Another insightful piece, Tovar. I truly enjoyed this one more for the experience than the actual hunt and love the meaning behind your thoughts. It sounds like that area you hunt is full of surprises and wonder. Wonderful post.

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Thanks, Al. So glad you enjoyed it. :-)

ian January 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm

So true. Since ‘you never know,’ you have to be prepared for the best and worst outcome every time you step into the woods. Set your gaze wide.

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

“Set your gaze wide.” I like it.

Aaron Meikle January 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Enjoyed that.

I think that is another ‘test’ of right and wrong in hunting. Those things that take away the ‘never know’ when it comes to finding/killing an animal are usually those that are wrong eg hunting behind wire, spotlighting, using a helicopter to seek/herd animals.

To apply your message a slightly different way – a big part of the fun of hunting for me is the glorious uncertainty you describe, the chance of the day on the hill being mainly about seeking, and not finding. There should be no guarantees

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Glad you enjoyed it, Aaron.

I like how you put that. After a certain point, every step away from uncertainty is a step away from “hunting” itself, a step away from “seeking.”

Aaron Meikle January 9, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Thanks Tovar.

The importance of uncertainty in hunting is, for me, a reason for trophy hunting – *mindful* trophy hunting, that is (small ‘t’) ;)

Hunting ethically is most important; I choose to add to that an extra challenge.

I do have major problems with typical ‘Trophy Hunting’ (capital t) where the aim is to win and to beat, and the product becomes more important than the process, as I think David Petersen puts it.

But if the trophy is basically a memento or totem, not a symbol of self-worth, then I dont have a problem with it.

The antlers on your Uncle’s wall sound a bit like that?

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 9:25 pm

As a word, “trophy” has very different connotations for different people, some of them intensely negative. Your use of “t” and “T” suggests that there’s some nuance worth teasing out, and I agree. That might be easier to do if we play with different words, like “memento” or “totem,” as you suggest. That might help us notice how different they feel. Each has symbolic power for each of us, but with different associations and meanings.

It might be even more fruitful to start with the process of hunting itself and some physical object that came from it (antlers, feathers, etc). What is the link between the two? What does the symbolic object mean to that particular hunter?

Yes, I think the couple of taxidermied deer on my uncle’s wall (and the skull on the wall of my basement office, about six feet from where I sit typing right now) are meaningful symbols, not of macho dominance over an animal or of competition with other hunters or of our self-worth, but of a particular animal, of a particular hunt and moment and memory, of a particular life taken to feed life.

I think choices and experiences and meanings vary, not only with culture and personality but also with circumstances, skills, and knowledge. Where I hunt, with my skills and knowledge, deer are to find. I can’t count on anything, so there’s plenty of uncertainty without me getting picky.

Suburban Bushwacker January 9, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Nice to see you posting again, and what a smashing buck! i really love the symmetry of your Whitetails head gear. Happy New year
SBW

Tovar January 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Thanks, SBW. Happy New Year to you as well!

Paul Roberts January 9, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Fascinating topic, Tovar. And great to hear your hunting story.

“Luck “ will always rear its head, for better or worse, but I think we need to understand what luck actually is. In my mind, luck is essentially: “Something that cannot be relied on”. Luck is not real. It’s not useful (except I suppose, at times, when used as a positive talisman). It’s certainly not something that can be in your toolbox. You can safely ignore it.

In reality, what we are dealing with is a world of enormous complexity. And we have not innately developed to fathom probabilities of such magnitude. (Although with scientific and statistical training we can gain a better understanding of such things.) However most of us are born with the basic tools to do a reasonable job –our senses, emotions, and intellect– and can learn to become more efficient over time. Emotionally though, part of the trick, lies in coping with the mental confusion that will inevitably surface in such a large complex space.

Sometimes my time afield, when it is prolonged without success, begins to feel like senseless gambling –like some inane game of roulette. When the stress of “not knowing” builds, I’ve actually blurted out, “Just what the hell am I DOING out here! I should be home doing something … useful!” Which is me “at wits end”. Few of us are very comfortable “not knowing”. Some are more easygoing about it than others though. I know hunters who have hunted deer for 20 and even 30 years and have never taken one. Yet they are happy to be in the woods. “Luck” is what they say they are waiting for. They finish each season with a philosophical “Oh well.” There’s some emotional wisdom there. But I also see intellectual resignation.

For some, a talisman might be used –a lucky hat, a hawk feather, a “sign”, whatever (and it can be WHATEVER) –but these are rarely employed directly bc most of us are not so foolish as to believe such things will directly affect how other creatures behave (indirectly, possibly). But, if a talisman provides focus, the motivation to persist through steep odds, when only hope remains, then it can be useful. The failsafe advice shared by all experienced hunters is “You’ve got to put your time in.” and “Luck is more apt to find you when you’re out there.” But WAY more importantly, when you are out there, and aware, you are in position to glean that piece of information that becomes a thread of sense you can run on. It’s the piece(s) that puts a hunt together.

“When snow finally came, I could see why: there weren’t many tracks.”

Bingo! A change that brought information that allowed you to adjust –at very least to eliminate something, and do so at some level of confidence. That is a good start to unraveling the current mystery. Snow can also bring other profound effects that can narrow odds too. One has to know what they are, and recognize them when they occur. It may not always pan out, but if it’s good information, some odds suddenly stack into your corner. Garner enough odds, and your chances grow accordingly.

I recently completed an enormously challenging elk hunt that ended with a very large 7×7 bull on the ground. I hunted close to home, an area that winters few elk. My chances of killing a bull were very low, eroding as conditions worsened and time melted away. But I was able to adjust, refine the possible scenarios, and narrow the odds through my understanding of elk habitat and behavior, like a chess game, and take a bull in the final afternoon. Yes, “luck”, coincidence, played a role, with a shift in wind that allowed me access to the well protected area I suspected held a bull. But I saw it happen. And I acted on that open door. I blind stalked him in his bed and shot him, blind meaning I did not actually KNOW he was there. The entire hunt existed in my mind, through the refinement of probabilities, I visualizing imaginary elk until suddenly one was standing broadside 30 yards in front of me. I’d hunted imaginary elk for 5 days, and saw a real one for all of 3 seconds. I was surprised it panned out, but then again, it SHOULD have worked. I had all those imaginary ducks in a row. How cool is that?

“You never know. Beware of thinking you do.”

It’s important to protect one’s emotions. But beware of thinking you don’t know, as well. You have to know when to act. Keep on keepin’ on.

Tovar January 10, 2013 at 6:51 am

Very interesting thoughts, Paul. Thanks for sharing them.

True, knowledge is important to hunting as to many other things. By “you never know,” I don’t, of course, mean “you never know anything.” I mean something like “you never know for certain and things will always be unpredictable and mysterious to some degree.”

Congratulations on your elk hunting success!

Paul Roberts January 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm

“By “you never know,” I don’t, of course, mean “you never know anything.” I mean something like “you never know for certain and things will always be unpredictable and mysterious to some degree.” ”

Of course, I realize that, Tovar. It’s just that… I want to KNOW. I well remember the first time I was brought to a public library at an early age and stood in front of the nature section and gasped, “Wow! And then earnestly thought, “Someday, I’ll know it ALL.” Spin 20 years ahead and I stood in front of a senior researcher at an Ivy League university and when asked why I wanted to do science, gasped, “Because I want to see the face of God.” Not a literal God, although that’d be fine too, but … I want to know it ALL. By then “All” meant a slightly more down to earth, “how nature works”, the “why’s” that are exportable across the natural world. But, of course, the further I went, the deeper and broader I found the well to be.

But I still rankle at the idea that we have to throw up our hands –even though I do too, more often than I’d like. I guess I’m just not dead yet.  Put in its best light, I’m a keen observer and have accumulated a depth of knowledge that together make my time afield much more fascinating and my learning curve steep. In the worst light, I’m a control freak in which knowledge provides the meaning for existence. During a hunt I bounce between those two poles. For our ancestors, in many cases, knowledge WAS the means of existence. Mythology got us through the voids.

Coming to terms with “not knowing”, with those periods when the world surrounding my goal is void of reason, the holy grails are the threads of sense I can discover. Threads I can run on and put together into a hunting story, in real time. A hunting lexicon is a network of such threads.

One of the great values of the natural world is putting us in spaces that are not “human”. Hunting (and fishing), that primordial game –purpose in such a world– puts us face to face with so much that is incomprehensible, and we simply need to find our way through it. I find it irresistibly fascinating.

There are those that claim to like “not knowing”, as if knowing will kill “the mystery”. I think that’s, for some, self protection. We’ll never kill the mystery bc it is way too deep a well. The only way to kill mystery is to give up.

In my fishing, I use sonar. The ability to extend my senses, like hunting with dogs that expand the world of scent, or hawks, or binoculars, that expand the world of vision, sonar is just another way to go beyond “Darwin’s citadel” –a maddeningly constrained existence by itself. The insights gained can not be fathomed any other way. Even with such technology, the well is scarcely penetrated.

That’s why I say, “Keep on keepin’ on”. That’s what “hunting” IS. Maybe that’s what intellect is, or from where it came.

I’ll share a hunting story, pertaining to the power of a snowfall. Luck plays a role in it in many places of course, in terms of the fact that a change in weather was beyond my control, and in small time scale events. But within my control was what to do with the wealth of information bestowed on me by a strong snow front. It’s my executive decisions, knowing where I am (like the back of my hand), how deer are responding to conditions and circumstances, and nuances of deer behavior in close, that enrich my hunts. (This is not to say that I don’t notice and revel in the sunrises, the sound of raven wings overhead, or the tracks of a hunting weasel.)

This deer season I ran into drought that kept the ground dry and seemingly lifeless. With the dry bright conditions for the first several days, I saw one deer, a doe. I felt blinded by those dry conditions –the amount of new information being gained was at too slow a pace –a bit stressful for me. I hunted what I knew from previous years, feeding areas and cols but the deer were not where I was, when I was: during daylight hours –a common response by deer to warm dry conditions. My next move was to hunt water, something that aided me in my elk hunt a few weeks later. But I didn’t have to. A change came…

Mid-way through the week, a strong cold front rolled in. It was on the weather maps, and I knew roughly when it would hit. As luck would have it, I was sick the day before the front hit. The day immediately before a strong front can trigger daytime movement in deer and make for THE day –a high probability day not to be missed. But I couldn’t be there. The day of the front I woke to 4 inches of fresh powder and more falling. The air had dropped nearly 40F. Mid-morning, I met a hunter in the woods who said he usually hunted the roads from his truck, but hadn’t been seeing much. (Road hunting makes some sense here as the topography is rugged and animals are sparse. I do not hunt from my truck however.) He said, “With the snow I thought I’d see where they are, but…nothing!. Guess I shoulda’ taken the one I saw opening day.” He could’ve added, but implied, “You never know”. He was a really nice easy-going guy about my age, and I liked him. He shrugged his shoulders, and climbed in his truck.

I too had seen precious little fresh deer sign that morning, although I also knew that on the day of a heavy front, deer and other critters often lay up tight. (The opposite can be true for elk, I think owing to their body volume.) After the front, deer resume more normal movement, unless it’s a particularly frigid front. This one was, with lows dropping for the first time in the season into the lower teens. Unless seriously stressed, warm blooded animals need fuel to keep their energy up, and frigid nights make for hungry deer.

The following morning my mountainside was pasted with deer tracks. I still-hunted most of the day in the quiet snow, just drinking in all the information laid out for me to read. It was fantastic. I got to tally the deer on my chosen mountain, the whereabouts of the doe sub-clans, and get a bead on how many bucks had entered the area. I tracked and walked up on an elk bull, noting his actions for future use. I then tracked a doe sub-clan, in which one of the 4 appeared to be loosely attached to the group, I suspecting a young buck. (I target young bucks for several good reasons.) I tracked them to their beds and got them to stand up one by one with gentle pressure. One, two, three does, and then the fourth stood up, with its head obscured behind a willow. After they nervously vacated, ears tucked back in my direction, I hoofed down the slope to check their beds. The fourth bed showed the urine stained hocks of a buck. I had been close to putting venison n the freezer.

That afternoon I set up a stand along a forest edge leading to a great feeding slope (abundant with diverse forbs) and was interrupted by a hiker with her two large widely-ranging dogs. I actually welcomed the intrusion, waved to her so she’d know I was a friendly, and high-tailed to the opposite side of the mountain peak, to a narrow bench leading to the same great feed-rich slope. My alternate stand was close enough to the original stand (an as-the-raven-flies distance of only about 500 yards) that the hiker and her dogs had actually corralled odds in my favor; I didn’t have to worry as much about which side of the feed slope deer would more likely approach from. On stand about 45 minutes, I spotted 2 very hungry young bucks greedily slurping leaves like they were ravenous and just couldn’t wait to dig in. I took the nearer of the two.

Paul Roberts January 12, 2013 at 8:32 am

Got pulled away there … To finish the story…

Had the snowfall not come, leaving drought and the deer mostly night active and less approachable, the probabilities of realizing my goal would have been much lower. With little to go on it would indeed have been more a game of sheer hours in the right places –I’d have been better off hunting from a truck (which I won’t do). But a change came that increased deer activity, in itself a blessing, and I knew roughly where to be, fine tuning as time progressed. I followed many threads of sense, some older, thicker and less flexible, others newer, fresher, ephemeral, that wound together to end the life of a deer, and enriched mine.

Tovar January 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

Thanks for the added thoughts and story, Paul.

The story demonstrates the unquestionable importance of knowledge and skill in being successful in the hunt.

Your inner conflict — between wanting to know everything and recognizing that you never will — is a great illustration as well. I think that people, as individuals and as cultures, experience this in a wide variety of ways, from a wide variety of positions along a spectrum of comfort/discomfort with certainty and mystery.

Maggie January 15, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Lovely buck! Good shot. And you’re right, you never know what might happen. We know the deer trails and generally where they are, but unless you’re out there hunting, it’s anyone’s guess.

My husband and I have a saying “Elk are where you find them.” So far, they have been elusive.

Tovar January 16, 2013 at 11:50 am

Thanks for stopping by, Maggie.

When they’re elusive, I guess deer and elk are where we’re not looking…

Eric Nuse January 16, 2013 at 11:56 am

I once heard a definition of luck as – When preparedness meets opportunity. If this is true, it indicates that the more prepared you are and the more likely you are at intersecting opportunities the better your “luck” will be. So I agree, “You never know”, but you can sure improve your chances that Lady Luck will shine on you.

Tovar January 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm

So true, Eric!

Paul Roberts January 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

“There is only as much beauty available to us … (in nature)… as we are prepared to appreciate. And not a grain more.” -HD Thoreau (paraphrased).

And another, that I twist on itself:
“Out of mind. Out of sight.”

Aaron Meikle January 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm

“The more I practice, the luckier I get.” ― Gary Player (Golfer)

More time afield means it is more likely chance will favour you at some stage. But it is more than that – highly skilled hunters might seem lucky, but they are just better at being a predator. They can see and take advantage of opportunities us mortals miss.

All that said, if you KNOW the outcome, then it isn’t _hunting_!

Dan Williams January 16, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Another great read Tov! Congrats on your buck!

Tovar January 16, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Thanks, Dan!

DaggaBoy January 17, 2013 at 4:38 am

A few jewel of wisdom here…

My mate Andy says “good guys make their own luck.” Effort, investment, knowledge and a desire to know more are what good guys do. “Luck” has a remarkable way of appearing wherever a person puts in effort, invests time, and applies knowledge. Luck’s funny like that.

“Out of mind. Out of sight” is an excellent twist on an old adage. I like that Paul – I’ll be borrowing that one down the track.

At Maggie’s house “elk are where you find them.” We can hunt pigs in some of the most arid and marginal hunting country for years without seeing hide nor hair of a porker. Time passes, it gets dry, or wet, and then it’s on. But you have to look real hard – ’cause pigs are where you find ‘em!

“You never know” is quite true – I can’t count the number of times I’ve been calling Ref Fox across a valley. Camouflaged against the timber, wind in my face, a well practiced call, perfect timing, but alas no fox. Then I turn around… looking straight at me, down wind at 10 yards, my prey is sitting there, head cocked slightly, looking at the silly man with the big stick as if to say “we’re not that predictable”. Some times I’m fast enough, sometimes I’m not. You never know with animals, they can do the strangest things at times.

I like my old man’s very own saying – translated, it comes out to “…hunting is a coincidence of coincidences…”

We could be hunting together or I might be hunting with a mate; I walk the gullies and the pigs are rooting down in the soft green country while my fellow hunter sees nothing up top. Next stalk we swap and the pigs have seemingly migrated to the tops and I get all the action. So the next day is hot and having had some luck I stay in camp. And the pigs come to water 40 yards from my swag. Am I just lucky? Or is my mate just unlucky? Perhaps one of us is paying some attention to the noise they make, the way the wind is blowing, perhaps glassing ahead, looking out for the flick of an ear or tail?

I cannot explain it to my friend. Dad says “it’s just a coincidence of coincidences…”

Paul Roberts January 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm

“it’s just a coincidence of coincidences…”
I like that a lot. That actually says a lot. And I suspect it is not describing luck. It’s describing the “corralling of probabilities”.

You MIGHT have been “lucky” those days, experiencing just two singular coincidences. Trying to tease that out –why you saw pigs twice in two days (if that’s the example)– isn’t statistically robust enough to say much, unless you do that on a regular basis: Say, 22 out of 30 times, you might be able to suspect more is involved.

And there could have been something more to it…

There are those that know how to see animals. This is a skill as much or more so than it is simple acuity of eye and ear.

There are ways to move in the woods that aid in getting close to animals. And, believe it or not, there are people who KNOW how to act around animals, or acquire it naturally/instinctively whether they understand it or not. I know this to be true from lots of time in the woods, with various wildlife, and having been a veterinary technician. I’ve seen some amazing things, but they weren’t so “amazing” once I understood what was actually happening for the animals. How you present yourself can weigh in heavy. Animals are very perceptive, and each to specific things. These occur in context, so the ability to read local/immediate contexts weighs in too.

Here’s a (fishing) example, similar to your pig example. One day my river was full of new steelhead. They’d packed in along a certain boulder strewn shoreline of strong pockets. A less experienced (although not inexperienced) buddy and I started working up the shoreline. We used the same exact bait and rigs. But I was quickly up 6 to 2 on him when he finally got mad, and said, “What am I doing wrong!!??” I landed another and then admitted that it was not him, but me. I knew the fish were aggressive biters, no finagling needed, so I fished fast hitting new pockets with each cast –there being willing biters in nearly each one. I simply pressed the advantage, was simply more aggressive, and had a higher catch rate. But, being with a buddy, I stepped back, explained what I was doing, and then let him lead. He caught 3 before I caught my next one. If I hadn’t told him, let him experience it for himself, he might have been scratching his head to this day. I’ve done this kind of thing MANY times. And I’ve had it done to me -sometimes with none of us knowing exactly why. But I can assure you, there IS a reason. Two days of pig hunting? Maybe not, maybe just coincidence. What you want is to be able to garner “coincidences of coincidences”.

Knowledge with experience is key; although we don’t always have both at our immediate disposal. And animals are not machines, but very intelligent/sentient beings that are responsive in contexts too, and individuals may do so in unpredictable ways, esp at finer time scales. It’s written in the genes, and in gene expression, founded from very complex environments. You can expect … complexity.

Paul Roberts January 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Got cut off there…

In real time, a hunt, for either fish or “game”, takes blocks of continuous time to build the understanding needed to have “coincidences meet coincidences” unfold in front of me. Hunts build over time. My first days afield I feel the disconnect. It takes time to get connected. It’s not some ethereal … mystical … blarney –it’s a physical connection –knowing– with what is actually going on for those animals.

Knowledge and experience going in helps tremendously, but so do the finer scale understandings you can only get by being there wide awake and open to the possibilities. And, let’s be clear, not everything can be considered “possibilities”. Since I am not a deer I cannot predict exactly who will do what, and frankly, neither can the deer. They react, with keen senses, instinct, and a certain immediate intelligence –decision making. I use intellect and probabilities mostly. Environmental factors serve to corral probabilities (representatives of “deer” in my lexicon) and if I can read them, I can be WAY luckier than someone who cannot or does not.

DaggaBoy January 18, 2013 at 8:13 am

Paul it really does sound like we’re writing the same script here. In my neck of the woods this is certainly not a one time incident which frustrates a lot of hunters and means I give up some days so as not to appear greedy.

I reckon the old man’s “coincidence of coincidences” is more about good guys making their own luck… not being lucky by pure fluke, but putting together the complex equation that places the hunter on a 40,000 acre block in the path of game.

Old Iris lives on a property “in the middle of nowhere” about 1,000 clicks north west of Sydney. Iris has a feral pig problem.

“No Dan, we haven’t seen a pig around all summer. Too hot, they’ve moved on or died I think.”

“You don’t mind me moving up anyway or a break? I’m happy to go for a walk regardless of the pigs.”

Three days of hunting on foot. 56 pigs later. There’s definitely some prerequisite knowledge when you’re out in the bush, and without it, you’d sooner spend a week brushing off flies and rubbing on sunscreen where a learned hunter will be busy stalking and shooting.

Tovar January 18, 2013 at 8:18 am

Thanks for your contributions here, Dan, and the exchange with Paul. Interesting thoughts…

DaggaBoy January 18, 2013 at 8:55 am

Tovar – quite enjoyed the chat, I’m glad I picked up on the link at Fair Chase Hunting.

And even with all of the banter we’ve had, it’s a long way from discounting where it all started… “You never know.” After a long day stalking, hiking steep hills, hard rountry, cut by the bush, no game. How is it that on so many of these days the game I’m hunting beds down or comes out to feed within shooting distance of my car?

That, my friend, falls into the realms of the unknown – you really never do know!

Tovar January 18, 2013 at 9:02 am

Agreed!

Paul Roberts January 18, 2013 at 11:01 am

“Paul it really does sound like we’re writing the same script here.”

We are. We’re the same animal, quite literally, working from the same basic tool box.

And despite all the efforts I put in, it’s ALL so much bigger than I. As a Lithuanian friend, who grew up eating mostly from the land has put it, “I bow to that.”

Tovar January 18, 2013 at 11:25 am

“I bow to that.”

Amen to that.

Eric Nuse January 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Thanks everyone for the excellent discussion. I’m thinking the core non-prescriptive ideal of fair chase hunting is bubbling just out of sight.

Erik Jensen January 20, 2013 at 9:07 am

Count me as late to the discussion, my attention has been elsewhere, but, “right on” ! It’s amazing how arbitrary hunting can be sometimes, but that’s actually a good thing. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be hunting.

Overall, of course, the more time and effort you put in, generally, you start to have more success. But a few years when I’ve been overall well prepared and hunted hard I’ve come up empty. This past fall was definitely one of them – I saw a few deer but it never “set up right”, so I never let go of an arrow or pulled the trigger.

Fortunately, other good things happened, my hunting buddy took two nice deer, and a “kid” I taught to hunt when he was turning 13, now turning 20, finally shot his first deer. Plus, I had a lot of good “family time”. So, sometimes you have to think about how you measure success. My wife Paula carried a rifle and a license for the first time, and later said at a meeting, for her, hunting was about seeing nature differently, but in all honesty, she sure wishes we had come home with meat.

Tovar January 20, 2013 at 10:59 am

“You have to think about how you measure success.”

Well put, Erik.

Kevin January 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Great post Tovar, love the reference to Winnie the Pooh. For the record, I wouldn’t have shot him either. ;-)

Paul Roberts January 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Aaron wrote: “All that said, if you KNOW the outcome, then it isn’t _hunting_!”

Erik Wrote “It’s amazing how arbitrary hunting can be sometimes, but that’s actually a good thing. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be hunting.” … “You have to think about how you measure success.”

Eric Wrote: “I’m thinking the core non-prescriptive ideal of fair chase hunting is bubbling just out of sight.”

Agreed Eric. And if I may be so bold, here it is, in my mind:

In fair chase hunting, there will always be hunting/seeking. That’s what it’s about. And in far chase hunting, there won’t always be meat in the freezer.

But meat in the freezer isn’t so dire nowadays. We are free to experiment with the odds that either inspire or destroy the motivation required for the effort hunting requires.

It certainly helps, psychologically, to have a bead on one’s personal measure of success. If you aim too high, it can be very disheartening, (enough that one may not find the effort worthwhile), when things don’t go your way, hence, Tovar’s cautionary note to himself.

Mythology/fantasy might provide the motivation to carry us through, despite unknown, even very low, odds. But, over time, knowledge and experience can provide us better resolution on the odds. We then can, likely will, begin to tailor our experiences to the right level with chosen limitations: primitive weapons, only shooting birds in the air (even with archery), trophy hunting with either a big “T” or little “t” –as Aaron put it, etc…. It’s important to self-regulate effort to success. Fair chase is not one-size-fits-all.

In my mind, then, fair chase hunting is the tuning of effort balanced against some measure of success. Although fair chase may stand alone in each individuals mind, it doesn’t really exist, or did it develop, in such a vacuum. Culture matters too.

Fair chase hunting can probably only exist within a hunting culture that does not rely on hunting for subsistence, where survival amidst natural cycles may necessitate success over effort. Fair chase is especially important in a culture that competes for a limited resource, where participants must learn to share, fairly, so that multiple participants can share in some measure of success. This is the job of resource managers, and it is not always a popular job. As a fisheries & wildlife technician I was shocked at how often the public participants were willing to “chuck tomatoes” at managers. The animosity was often based on perceptions of fairness in the distribution of resources. (Where have we heard that before?) A tightening of restrictions angered some segments, as did the loosening of them anger other segments.

Thus, defined rules for fair chase often fall into camps. I personally dislike gun hunting. I’ve done it, esp in the past few years, to put quality meat in the freezer at a higher level of meat reward compared to traditional archery –my first love in terms of hunt quality, for many reasons.

Some of my “most successful” hunts were elk hunts with a bow. I’ve yet to kill one with a bow. I’ve been SOOOooooo close, but couldn’t, or didn’t, close the deal. However, some of those seasons I’ve left those mountains richly satisfied –meat be damned.

Paul Roberts January 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Missed an important word:
Fair chase hunting is the tuning of effort balanced against some LIMITED measure of success.

Mike February 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm

I ran across your site tonight just searching after I’d had another strange conversation with a friend (and I had actually already heard of your book before and planned to get it). It started by her asking if I’d ever killed a deer, and I naturally said yes. In a sincere tone she said “I bet that made you feel like a real man.” Just the thought of that almost made me sick, and my reply was “Actually the opposite, it made me feel like more of an animal than ever before.” And I’m not saying that in a bad way, as I wouldn’t be who I am without hunting.

Needless to say, I’ve been in many similar positions before. I’m not what I find to be the typical hunter around me in Ohio; I’m more in it for the love of nature and being a part of the circle of life. Just when I thought everybody who hunts must’ve had similar thoughts about the correctness of their actions, I’m proven wrong. I’ve heard numerous people from college who hunt say stuff like “I love killing” and the likeness, and it just sickens me and makes me sad for the human race. I’m trying to do my best and show people hunters aren’t like the stereotypical PETA ad says, then there are other people doing the opposite ten-fold in about 3 seconds. And what bothers me is that I’m not trying to convince people that it’s OK because I want them to accept what I do…I could care less what they think of me because of hunting. At the end of the day, I answer to God and nobody else. Whats important to me is trying to show people the beauty of the natural world and experience it as I do. It just a profound spiritual experience, and I think I only feel completely fulfilled when I can successfully allow somebody else to experience something that means so much to me as I do.

I could honestly go on forever with this, as I’ve just read a few of you other articles and it’s got me all fired up with the kind of thoughts I usually have. The ones dealing with wounding an animal always get me going, there aren’t many days I go without thinking of animals I’ve wounded (I started off young and excited to kill. that led to a couple bad shots, some of which almost stopped me from hunting…but something kept me going..). I think it’s intevitable if you do it long enough, but in the end it makes you a stronger person through the induced contemplations and bond formed with these wild creatures (which we are more of one than we’d like to admit) Anyway, I’ll be around here a lot. Thanks for running a geeat site and really doing what more people need to be doing. Good work my friend!

Mike

Maggie February 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm

I feel strongly about hunting because it is for my food. I remember years ago at a hunter safety course that there are many attitudes towards hunting, but eventually they evolve into your(our) attitude. Hunting is a way to become part of nature, to be a part of the cycle of life.

We always thank the animal for having given itself to be our meat. It’s normal here, whether we slaughter a farm animal or shoot a deer. People who don’t understand will always berate you over your choice to participate. I have enough temerity to look my dinner in the eye–something they don’t. Honestly, you have the right attitude.

Tovar February 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Mike, and welcome!