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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Magazine Hunts

My wife says I receive too many hunting magazines. Patient woman, her concerns are legit. The outdoor media that washes into this home – in print, on TV, and through cyberspace – consumes much of my free time. Nothing new to me; may be more than she bargained for, though.

The truth is hunting represents the last vestiges of childhood imagination. No longer do I costume like Batman or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – that you’ll know of, at least. Around the age my superhero fixation fizzled, I discovered hunting literature. At night I’d read stories of manly men like Peter Capstick and Finn Aagaard and their African pursuits. And there was John Wooters and Gary Sitton, knowledgeable and common-sensical teachers of the technical and moral aspects of the sport. Craig Boddington was - and still is - the in-real-life embodiment of my dreams, chasing blue bears in Alaska and sitatunga in Zambia. For sure, I sit and peck on this computer today about my own modest excursions out of hero worship. I guess pretending to be an outdoor writer is the closest I approach dress-up anymore.

Quite frankly, I’ve achieved more in the hunting world than I could have ever hoped for as I cut grass and stared out of classroom windows. But that doesn’t pause my incessant scheming to ditch real life and pursue these fantasies. I tell people, not in jest, that each hunt I go on is an adventure I’ve waited my whole life for. And that’s a special feeling.

A handful of hunts from past reads continue to resonate as the years progress. While it’s no secret I’ll hunt just about anything, the following is list of whispers into God’s ear.

We’ll begin with still-hunting the Big Woods and deep snow of Anticosti Island for whitetail. When I was young, Anticosti – located in the Gulf of Lawrence in Quebec - was the Shangri-la of deer hunting, and where-to-go ads in the back of magazines were plentiful.

A dense population of deer ensured wildly successful hunts at a time when numbers of deer were more important than the Industry of Antlers today. The deer don’t grow all that large in body size or headgear, and as a result, the popularity of the island has waned. Not that I care. I can’t wait to hunt Anticosti.

We’ll stick with deer, sort of. West Texas offers a potpourri of fall hunting possibilities - Carmen Mountain whitetail or “fantails,” Desert Mule deer, Rio Grande turkey, javelina, wild hog, and a variety of small game. Way back when, Boddington penned an article in Petersen’s Hunting about a “fun hunt” near San Angelo. Those in his camp cranked shots at just about everything on the above list. After reading this, I actually called up outfitters in that area requesting brochures. Javelina and Desert Mule deer were of particular interest, and still are. And the Carmen Mountain whitetail subspecies has picked up popularity points in recent years, maybe as marketing competitor with the Coues deer. A life-long Floridian, I have an active Internet job search for San Angelo - if that relays how serious I am about this area’s hunting opportunity.

This next one is where my path splits with the majority of my hunting running mates. I want to go chasing the mountain lion out West. I blame Outdoor Life for this one. They’ve always published those adventure stories, and tales of fabled cat trackers from the turn-of-the-20th century popped up from time to time.

Done correctly, this is a grueling hunt of cutting tracks, releasing the dogs, and following the big cat into whatever corner of Hell it can scratch its way into.

From what I’ve read, it’s an endurance contest with one fanged, snarling, angry animal at the other end of success. The kill is typically easy; the physical challenge of this hunt sets it apart. Most of all, I want to see the dog men in their element, work a trail, and experience a style of hunting that is poorly understood and quickly disappearing. I just don’t want to end up immortalized in an “Outdoor Happening” cartoon in OL when that cat pounces.

This next one may wrinkle the noses of other hunters as well, and represents the greatest potential for a letdown. I’ve long wanted to hunt axis deer. Wooters did this to me back in ’94 or ’95 when he wrote a column about axis deer spreading through parts of Texas. I soon discovered these beautiful deer occupy ranches in Florida and spent many an hour on the stand with quixotic hope that an escapee would wander past me.

Today, there are several ranches that offer axis deer hunts, but the cost is considerable for what you get. Plus, these properties are high-fenced so it is tough to gauge the level of sportsmanship required on such hunts. The day will come when I’m posed with one of these spotted beauties; just hope the experience matches my anticipation – a tall order, for sure.

Finally, I want to hunt elephant, for a great many reasons. One, I gotta go to Africa. Talk about childhood dreams always arrive here. The old ivory hunters were men of legend. I’d like the plains game and buffalo thing, maybe leopard, but an elephant represents the ultimate adventure.

Just listen – a 21-day safari tromping through the wild African brush to get within 20-25 yards of a highly intelligent animal that can crush you to dust. After judging the ivory to be of trophy dimensions – no sure thing after following miles of spoor - you slide that double-barrel to your shoulder, fight back the adrenaline, and hope for the best.

Once the loud work is finished, the local villagers come to celebrate and retrieve as much of the animal as possible for their consumption. And from what I’ve read, it’s not even close to that easy. Some may assume this is the epitome of obnoxious trophy hunting, but if you grew up on African novels, it’s nothing shy of romantic. Even the words “ivory” and “double-barrel” make my knees weak.

Who knows about elephant? More than the rest, it’s more likely to remain a fantasy. You’d think with all the places I want to travel, this would be a tough list to narrow down, but no. These hunts jumped off the pages at me years ago and I continue to hold them dear.


Downeast Duck Hunter said...

I to have fallen prey to the possibilities suggested by the outdoor genre and am hellbent on getting to Arkansas for a January duck fest, to the Rocky Mountains for elk, and Quebec for caribou.

The caribou is doable for I have connections and just need to capitalize. But it always seems that the money for that can be better used at home.

So I ask you this, my deer hunting grounds are very similar to that of Anticosti and what firearm and caliber would you intend on taking? I'll be back to see what you choose. Very nice post, good read...


Mark said...

I can definitely relate to your feelings here. My hunting dreams are made up of hunting elk and mule deer out west, and Eastman's Bowhunting Journal is one of the magazines that fuels that. Though I do get tired of hearing them tout their own mantra of "public land DIY", that is the way I chose to hunt.

I don't have any desire to hunt African game at this point, but that may be simply due to my lack of exposure about doing so. I have no intentions of ever "buying" a hunt, and that is my impression of how most African hunts go down. That said, my opinion on that may be due to ignorance. What have you found to be a good primer on hunting Africa?

Ian Nance said...

DEDH - I have a friend who has a place in Maine. I just have to get over my flying fear to go hunting up there. The gun is more important than the round, really. In my locker, and from what I know about my friend's place, I'd go with my Marlin Guide Gun in .45-70 for stand hunting or my slick Mauser .308 for creeping or tracking.

Ian Nance said...

Mark,I understan what you mean about buying the hunt...but would you hunt Africa by yourself, if you could? As for a primer, I'm not too sure. Start with Ruark's Horn of the Hunter and go from there. From people I know who have gone, the general consensus is if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Get an idea of what you want to spend and what you want to hunt and focus on that. Seems less like a bought hunt if you focus on a few of key trophies.

Anonymous said...

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Downeast Duck Hunter said...

I was there at the gun shop inspecting a Marlin Guide Gun in .45/70 and the Ruger Deerfield Carbine in .44 Magnum. I opted for the Ruger but still may spring for the Guide Gun down the road, it just is one of those guns I want before I die. I also know quite a few people who swear by the .308 including my best man who I just trashed on over at my site. Take care,