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.