By Pete Rogers
In a world where trophies are celebrated by measuring tapes and adventures, where testosterone trumps skill, and where experience is entrusted to paid guides, I choose to measure my time afield differently. I know I am not alone. I along with a few others measure our time afield by the process. It’s about the being there, the pursuit, and the challenge of hunting and hunting well. Antlers, beards, horns, skulls and skins are a bonus to the experience of quest.
I like it all – I love to hunt whitetail and mule deer, moose, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, quail, pheasant, ducks, geese, pigs, and exotics. You name it; I love it all. I like shooting bows and arrows, both compounds and traditional. I like shooting rifles, shotguns and pistols. The sheer sight of muzzleloaders, antiques and brand new right out of the box makes me drool. I love soft plinking rimfires and big bores that should never be shot against one’s shoulder. I love the smoke cloud of an old flintlock and the recoil from a big pistol.
I love the feel of an old smoothbore as it rises effortlessly to my cheek and the distinct bang it makes when the trigger is eased. I like big gauges and small bores from big powerful 10 gauges to light 20’s and the small 28 gauge and 410 bore. I love the sight picture of good optics nestled atop a fine centerfire bolt action. I love the smooth draw of a longbow loaded with cedar arrows and the lightning fast speed with which modern compounds fling carbon arrows through my quarry.
I love relaxing in comfortable ladder stands and nestling on the ground against a giant oak. I love still-hunting to within feet of an unsuspecting buck, and wandering through ridges, breech open across my arm in hopes an old grouse would rise against a morning sky. I love wading through black water swamps whose swollen cypress mark time in centuries instead of minutes. And I enjoy sitting in a well-constructed blind, complete with stove and heaters.
I enjoy plodding through briar thick coverts and across vast prairies behind well trained dogs whose ability to sniff out birds allows me to become entranced with their dance. When that occurs I often forget why I am there in the first place. I love the sounds of hounds hot on the trail of ‘coon, deer, or rabbit, and the sight of a flush from a hillside grouse, CRP pheasant, or the rare wild bobwhite. I love the close working of a fine setter or a long roaming pointer and their statue-still points that show me where the birds are.
I love the solitude of the wilderness, and the camaraderie of the camp. I love the trappings and the conversations. I yearn for the silence of big country and woods that stretch for miles in any direction. The quiet that can only be found in big country, where the echo of one’s own mind rattles and lingers against distant memories as new ones are burned into the bank of eternal instants – those brief moments that flashes through our lives and then lingers and forever transforms us.
I long for the honking of a flock of geese committed to a well-placed spread of decoys and the twiddle of a woodcock that flushes between my legs. I crave the whistle of wood ducks and the screaming of a murder of crows.
Nothing fills my soul like sitting around a camp fire and comparing calibers draw weights, optics, and styles. I like to discuss the dress of grouse men in their tweed jackets and duck hunters in rubber pants. I love listening to men who own Brittanys argue with those who prefer pointers. I adore the night sound of a lonesome coyote calling to a potential mate along with the owl who announces his presence with grandeur but whose best work is done in silence.
It’s all there, the things that draw us to the forest and fields, from the flooded timber to the high country, from prairies to mountain tops, and from deserts to the arctic.
As a southerner by birth, my style of hunting is different than many from other parts of the country. Our woods are thicker, our deer smaller and our variety sparse. Yet this doesn’t slow the passion.
I’ve known many who are more successful. Many who have killed far more deer and whose string of turkey beards stretch for yards not feet. I’ve seen men who get a limit of doves at every shoot and those of us who never seem to do so. I marvel at those who can turn a flock of mallards at will and those who seem to be able to call a coyote at every stand. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a camp with men whose experiences span the globe and whose trophy room lists hundreds of animals. I’ve known those whose guns cost more than my truck, and whose dogs were more valuable than my wife’s engagement ring. But I have only known a few, very few who hunt well.
The reason a person hunts is a particularly personal and deep rooted thing. Alas, though in these times of trophy collecting and game farming, the reason to hunt is diluted among the inches of antler. I am not a ‘collector of bone’ or ‘species’ chaser, I am a hunter. I do not specialize in a single species, or with a single weapon. I am not a ‘bow hunter’ but I love to hunt with archery equipment. I am not a ‘rifle hunter’ but few things exhilarate me more than the gentle squeeze of a trigger and the result it provides. I am not a shotgunner, but when chasing flying quarry, it’s hard to beat.
I am a hunter. I am not a deer hunter, or bird hunter. I am not a duck hunter or predator hunter. I am not a big game hunter or small game hunter. I am a hunter, I hunt because I am. I do not choose to hunt, I have to hunt. Hunting isn’t a hobby that I engage in when I have time; hunting is a way of life that I was born to do. No, indeed I must hunt. It really doesn’t matter if its deer or squirrel, coyote or rabbit. I don’t care if its feral pigs in a mosquito infested swamp or a savanna full of bobwhite. If I can be there, then there I will be. Hunting is about participating in the outdoors to its fullest. To seek, chase, and pursue a game animal for the sheer challenge of it all. It’s about getting so close you can see the eyelashes on a mature buck, or calling a turkey into your lap. It’s about watching waterfowl, glide –twisting and turning through flooded timber and marvel at the beauty of it all. It’s about sunrises on frosty mornings, and the subtle breeze that caresses your face on a cold clear day. It’s watching your breath loft through barren trees, and breaking ice to set decoys. Hunting is about friendships made and cherished, it’s shared moments and solitude. It’s challenging and surprisingly easy. It’s frustrating and exhilarating, and very humbling.
As a hunter, I cherish my privilege to hunt. I cherish all moments afield. The opportunity to be out-of-doors are all moments when for this brief time, I can be certain; that there is no other place I would rather be than right here, right now. I know for certain that of all the things I do, that when I am hunting, there is no better time well spent.