"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TWL Classics - To the Hunt

Two years ago I started my volunteer outdoor writing service through a local newspaper's public blogging site. Unfortunately, through powers beyond my control, my archives from that source are gone and lost forever. Luckily, I saved rough drafts of my work on my computer, and once or twice a week I'll re-introduce a past column back into the wild of the World Wide Web. Enjoy!

Originally Published January 2008

My truck is four thousand miles past its last oil change. My knees and back are shot from miles of traipsing through palmetto flats and swamp bottoms. Worse still, my dog barely recognizes me, and I am all but broke from traveling so often.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For me, hunting season is not just an opportunity to escape the house or work for a weekend - it is a passion, a way of life born from being raised in the outdoors of Polk County and Central Florida. I am one of the lucky ones. From September to April, I actively hunt throughout the Southeast for just about anything that has a sanctioned season. When not actually hunting, I’m actively researching new ways to spend more time in the woods.

Already this year I’ve hunted deer in three different states, and ducks in two. Chased hogs in South Florida with rifles and dogs. I’m catching gobbler fever and close to donning the vest, laying out the decoys in the front yard, and calling to the neighbor’s cat. I dream of Africa and constantly check prices for hunts on the Dark Continent as if I could afford it right now. If an outfitter offered hunts for a giant slug on some tropical Pacific island that runs hunters a merry chase and tastes good wrapped in bacon and grilled, I’d be scheming on how to get there and what rifle I should bring.

As I said, I am one of the lucky ones; however, writing about hunting – or fishing for that matter – is a unique task. One can write about football or baseball without ever taking a snap or swinging a bat in a meaningful way. Come to think about it, there are numerous major television networks, publications, and radio stations geared around this very model. To write about the outdoor life, an author must actively engage in these activities or the reader will color them a fraud.

This, of course, leads to some challenges when dispensing advice. Let’s suppose I write an article about how to harvest a deer in a particular place during a specific time of the year with a certain firearm I feel is the most adequate for the situation. Some will take it as the suggestion it was made to be, and others will read it as gospel and go out of their way to tell me I’m wrong. If you need proof of this, read the “Letters” section of any outdoor magazine. Or check online blogs and forums.

Another trouble with writing about hunting or fishing is within the game itself. Hunters and anglers go to great pains to try and predict what their quarry will do under certain conditions. Much ink has been spilled trying to explain the many wrinkles in deciphering game activity. I use this example all the time – I once read that a gobbler will never cross water to come to your calls, and that was true until one old boss tom did.

My point, if I am forced to make one, is that the best way to become a better hunter is to be in the woods and learn for your self. The ultimate goal of this blog is to help discover ways you can enjoy your pastime – to be active and enjoy the tradition and adventure of sport hunting. At the very least, hopefully I can help you slack off a few minutes of work discussing what you love to do.

Living in Polk County, this should not be too difficult of a task. We are fortunate to be surrounded by plentiful public land, and opportunities for private land access for a wide spectrum of game animals. The central Florida hunter is also blessed to be within a tank of gas or so away from some excellent hunting prospects to the north in states such as Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolina's.

Of course, there will be some advice-related topics as this is the nature of the outdoor writing business. Certainly, some people enjoy discussing different hunting strategies and equipment, and I hope to keep readers updated on dates of applications, special hunting opportunities, and any legislation involving our sport. But most of all, I want to use this forum to broaden the scope and bring into focus the multitude of hunting possibilities available to the Polk County outdoors person at a time when the sport seems to be at its least accessible point.

As we prepare to put another fall hunting season - hopefully a successful one - in the books and ready ourselves for the doldrums of February and the blissful return of spring gobbler, I’d like to propose a toast to our fortune in the woods and on the water. This naturally would be better around an oak campfire and with an actual drink in hand, but still - to the hunt, the memories of years past and the promise of the future!

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