Outdoor Articles

Sweet Contemplation

by Pursue The Outdoors on July 31st, 2006 in General Hunting

Every hunting trip is comprised of three distinct stages. In order they are: contemplation, preparation and reality. Like most people who enjoy hunting, I have discovered that often there is more pleasure in contemplating a hunting trip than actually going on one. That is because the act of contemplating a hunting trip is purely a mental exercise and nothing ever goes wrong. As you close your eyes and imagine yourself and your hunting buddies camped near your favorite hunting spot, everything is perfect. A mellow, euphoric haze envelops you. The weather is never too cold or too hot. It never rains. The campfire is always just right. Getting camp set up goes smoothly and nothing that you need is ever left behind. Then too, from contemplation you always come home with a record buck. Because it’s so pleasant, some hunters even specialize in contemplation to the complete exclusion of the other two stages.

I know at least one hunter who has become so proficient at contemplation that he hasn’t spent a day in the woods in over twenty years. But the perfection found in contemplation only takes place in your mind’s eye. It is a sweet and beguiling lie. The preparation for, and the reality of most of the hunting trips that I have taken stand in stark contrast to pre-trip contemplation.

After a deer-hunting trip has been properly contemplated the second stage, preparation, becomes necessary. The object of preparation is to gather and pack everything that you will need while deer hunting. But there is pain. Finding the gear and packing it creates most of the pain that this stage generates, although there also can be a certain amount of pain associated with trying to convince your boss that you need an extra couple of days off. Frequently, when you fail to remember everything that you should take, disaster follows in the third stage of the hunting trip, reality.

It has been my experience that reality usually doesn’t even come close to matching the euphoria generated by stage one. The reality portion of a hunting trip can frighten and even discourage the uninitiated; I can illustrate by sharing my wife’s case. Her first hunting trip with me was her last. She too ventured forth wrapped in that mellow, euphoric haze that develops during contemplation only to find the rigors of outdoor life more than she could bear. She was a novice and even though I tried to help her, she just didn’t execute the “remembering everything” activity in stage two very well. She seemed to blame me for not remembering to bring enough blankets, for forgetting the dish soap and toilet paper, and for not bringing any mosquito repellent.

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She wasn’t very gracious about the initiation process either. I tried to explain to her that doing camp chores was just part of the initiation and on the next trip she might have time to go hunting too, but she never seemed to understand. We were camped in the mountains about forty miles south of Rawlins, Wyoming. I thought that she might enjoy the fresh air and scenery. Instead, she complained incessantly. She complained about washing dishes in the stream, tending the fire, chopping wood, cooking, being cold in the mornings and fighting mosquitoes in the evenings after it had warmed. For some reason she insisted on bathing every day, then complained about the ice-cold water she had to use.

Because my wife’s lack of understanding of the outdoor life became apparent early in our relationship, I knew it would be a major obstacle to the longevity of our marriage. Naturally, I turned to others who shared my enthusiasm for the out-of-doors for support and companionship. That’s where my hunting partner Charlie comes in. Charlie is well acquainted with all three stages of a hunting trip and he understands that often there is considerable disparity between the stages of contemplation and reality. But even Charlie sometimes seems to forget just how big that disparity can be. The more divergent that the stages of contemplation and reality become, the crankier Charlie gets. I’ll show you what I mean. Here are a few of the details of our last hunting expedition.

As is proper and customary it began with stage one, contemplation. The very best contemplation occurs at a kitchen table over a hot cup of coffee, or in a cozy den in front of a crackling fire with a sullen gray sky spitting snow past your window. It was early last autumn and the conditions were perfect. As I recall, I began the conversation while leaning back in my recliner and toasting my stocking feet in front of the hearth.

“Gee Charlie, we ought to take two or three days at the first of gun season and run up to Park County. I hear the deer are really lousy up there this year.”

Being a veteran outdoorsman himself, Charlie, who was also leaning back and toasting his stocking feet, was quick to pick up on my lead, “Yeah, there’s a monster buck up there I’d like to get a crack at. I could sure use some venison in my freezer too, but do you think three days will be enough? I mean…we’ll want to kick back for awhile and just unwind, won’t we?”

Then I said, “Yeah, you’re right. We’ll need a day to set up and scout the area. If we get there early enough we can pitch camp, then catch a few bluegill for supper. Man! I love fish fried over an open fire.”

At that point, contemplation was gaining momentum. It was bearing down on Charlie and me like a love-struck buck homing in on his sweety. Experienced hunters and campers like Charlie and me understand the importance of giving way to the pleasant flood of mental pictures that washes through our minds during the first stage.

Charlie squeezed shut his eyes as he spoke, “Mmmm, there’s nothing better than fried bluegill with hot beans and biscuits fixed in an iron skillet. I can almost smell that campfire now. It’s my turn to bring the food.”

Stage two, preparation, began in this manner. It was 4:00 A.M. When the alarm went off, I sprang from bed. Well, “sprang” may not be precisely the word that should be used here. The truth of the matter is that when I failed to react to the alarm in a timely fashion, my wife planted both of her feet firmly in the middle of my back and abruptly straightened her legs. My hasty egress from the bed elicited an involuntary squeal from me that must have sounded like a war cry because Fanny, the family schnauzer attacked, thinking I presume that WWIII had been declared and I was the first of the Russian shock troopers to land. After signing a truce with our dog, I hissed at my wife, “What’d ya do that for?”

“You’re going hunting, remember?” she mumbled without opening an eye. As she rolled over and pulled the covers around her shoulders she said sleepily, “Have a good time and turn off the alarm.”

Not wishing to disturb her any further, I fumbled in the darkness for my clothes and the other necessary items that I had laid next to the bed the night before. In the process of feeling for my hunting boots with my feet, I stepped on Fanny again. She immediately assumed that I had intentionally broken our truce and retaliated. A man with a nature more timid than mine, or perhaps a man who is a bit more sensitive to the omens, would have considered the early morning events as a portend of even worse things to come and abandoned the expedition while yet a few good hours of sack time remained. However, I am, as my wife has so often reminded me, not a man who is particularly sensitive to anything or prone to needless worry. With determination that even a pit bull would have admired, I forged ahead.

I very carefully located the remainder of my paraphernalia and, after stubbing my little toe on the bedpost, hopped to the kitchen. I arranged my gear for a quick departure then made a pot of coffee. Charlie was supposed to pick me up at 5:00 A.M. and I didn’t want to hold us up.

It was 7:30 A.M. when Charlie pulled into my driveway. I downed the last of the fresh pot coffee that I had brewed over two hours before and limped out to his old F100. “Where have you been? You said you’d be here by five.”

Charlie seemed a little defensive. “I know I said five…Crimo-nit-ly, it looks like you’d give a fella a little leeway. How come you’re limpin’ anyway?”

“You could call it an old war injury,” I grumbled.

As we drove north to Park County, my mood lightened, but Charlie’s seemed to darken.

“What do you mean you have to stop again? Crimo-nit-ly! This is the fourth time. At this rate, we won’t get there ’til dark.”
“Well, if you’d have picked me up on time, I wouldn’t have drunk a whole pot of coffee now would I? The way I see it, it’s all your fault.”

I didn’t really need to stop the fourth and fifth times, it’s just that when Charlie starts to whine I can never bring myself to let up. I think it’s my killer instinct that makes me do that, though Charlie has a whole different theory. It’s a pretty crude theory too. I’m not sure, but I could have sworn that he was pounding his head on the steering wheel as I entered the gas station the last time.
It was mid-afternoon when we finally arrived at our favorite campsite. We were set up in less than an hour. It was when we tried to hook a few bluegills for our supper that the euphoric haze of stage one began to burn away.

“Crimo-nit-ly!” Charlie said. “It’s almost dark and I haven’t had even one nibble. My fingers are getting cold too.” He surveyed the leaden sky. “Kinda looks like it could snow, don’t it?”

“Let’s go back to camp,” I suggested, “we can fry some bacon and eggs for supper.”

A light snow covered the ground before we got back.

After carefully laying the fire, Charlie stretched out his hand. “Give me a match.”

“I don’t have any matches. You were supposed to bring the matches.”

“Me? Why was I supposed to bring the matches?” Charlie’s voice had raised half an octave.

“Because whoever brings the food is supposed to bring them. That’s why.”

“That’s a stupid rule, ” Charlie snorted, “who made that one up?”

“You did,” I said smugly. “You made up that rule the last time we forgot to bring matches.”

Charlie ignored my deadly verbal thrust. “Crimo-nit-ly! How are we going to build a fire without matches?”

Charlie was whining again, but this time I was sharing his pain and I thought I would control my killer instinct. Since he brought the food I knew that he would have only two items that could be consumed without cooking and the prospect of eating a can of sardines in mustard sauce with cold Beanie-Weanies on the side made me shudder. I remembered the last time we forgot matches and I ate that concoction. I had a terrible nightmare. Charlie claims my moaning screams still haunt his dreams and left him with a deep and abiding fear of the dark. I think he was a little embarrassed too, although he still insists the only reason he screamed was to help me frighten off the sasquatch I had seen. When I asked Charlie what made him think I’d seen a sasquatch, he said that when my screams woke him, he could see nothing in the darkness. But he got a whiff of the pungent, musty odor that permeated our tent, and immediately concluded that a sasquatch was nearby so he deemed it prudent to help me scare it away.

The temperature was dropping steadily and the prospect of spending a long, cold evening in the darkness caused an abiding funk to settle over both of us. Now, it was certain. The warm, euphoric haze of stage one was nearly gone. Then, I brightened.

“Hey, I have a survival kit in my gear. There’s a little block of magnesium, a flint and a piece of steel in it. We can start a fire with that.”

“Magnesium?” Charlie looked puzzled, “What’s magnesium?”

Charlie watched as I shaved off at least a fourth of the magnesium block letting the shavings drop into the bed of very dry grass and twigs that he had so carefully prepared. I knew a quarter of the block was excessive, but I was taking no chances. Next, I struck the flint on the steel trying to aim the sparks at the pile of magnesium shavings. My sparks missed the magnesium, but the dry grass around it began to smolder. Upon seeing the wisps of smoke, Charlie dropped to his hands and knees. Holding his face close to the glowing grass, he blew gently.

“Charlie, I wouldn’t.”

A tiny flame flickered to life, but before Charlie could withdraw the tiny flame ignited the magnesium. The sudden, brilliant burst of light in the gathering gloom temporarily blinded me so I can’t swear to what happened next. But when my vision returned, Charlie was hopping around the campsite, his full beard trailing smoke. And he was shouting some pretty vulgar oaths. I was amazed at the extent of his vocabulary. He had definitely graduated from “crimo-nit-ly” to the big-time. For a fleeting instant, I considered tackling him to keep him from running wildly through the trees and perhaps starting a major forest fire. However, my pragmatic nature emerged; I opted to feed tender to the fledgling flames. I attributed the aspersions that Charlie cast on me, and for that matter on my mother and several of my ancestors, to the excitement of the moment and decided not to hold a grudge.

Later, as I fried our bacon and eggs, I tried to assure him that very short beards and very short eyebrows were the “in” thing, but Charlie seemed a little sullen and distant the rest of the evening. Other than a couple of times when he muttered something about dangerous substances and nitwits not mixing, he wasn’t much inclined to communicate. In fact, he didn’t seem much like himself the rest of the trip.

Two long, hard, cold and fruitless days of hunting passed. We saw plenty of deer sign, but nary a buck. I remained optimistic, but Charlie’s general outlook on life continued to decay. It was the morning of the third day that he insisted on going home. I don’t think it was the magnesium incident, the forgotten toilet paper or even my snoring that drove him over the edge. It may have been the monster buck tracks we found in the snow around our campfire that morning, but more than likely it was the monster buck droppings that Charlie stuck his hand in as he crawled from the tent. He seemed to think the deer was trying to make some sort of statement. Charlie can be pretty sensitive sometimes.

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