January 2008
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

I was listening to a local radio show the other day on my way home from work. It was a talk show dealing with hunting and fishing. As you can imagine, this time of year, the main topic was deer hunting, in the spring it will be turkey hunting and in the summer it will be fishing.

On this particular evening, the topic was the harvest of does and its benefits to the deer herd. The talk soon wound its way to the new regulations in Alabama concerning limits on bucks, quality deer management and deer management in general. Everyone from hosts to callers chimed in with their theories, advice and the ways they did things. After a while one of the hosts made the comment, almost to himself it seemed, he wished deer hunting could be fun again.

I understood what he meant. When we were younger, we didn’t worry about buck to doe ratios, herd genetics, the breeding potential of bucks, etc. Back then deer weren’t managed very much by man; Mother Nature managed them and we hunters were the hammer on her anvil of selection. We just hunted deer and shot whatever bucks we saw because they were likely to be the only deer we saw. Dumb deer died first, smart deer died old.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel like we are in the golden age of whitetail hunting and I wouldn’t go back to those ‘good ole’ days for anything except for one thing. Now I’m nearing the half-century mark, I must admit, I wish deer hunting was fun again.

Back when I was between the ages of 16 and 40 things were different.

In those days, I could stay up until midnight or one in the morning and still get up before dawn and head out into the woods and not look back until dark. Now, I can go to bed with the chickens and could still use another hour of sleep. I used to have no problem staying awake in a tree stand, now I do.

I could sit on a stand all day without getting so stiff I couldn’t move.

I had vision like a hawk back then and didn’t wear glasses. I didn’t have to squint to see and didn’t have to worry about watching my breath on a cold day so I wouldn’t fog up my glasses and be blind.

In those days, I could drag a deer a mile or two back to the truck, now I wait for them to walk into the logging road before I shoot or at least to a spot where I can get the truck to them anyway.

Back then, I couldn’t wait to harvest a deer, now I think about whether or not I feel like cleaning one before I pull the trigger.

When I was in my twenties I didn’t even own a pair of gloves, now, not only do I have a pair, I also carry hand-warmers.

I wasn’t on blood pressure medicine until just a few years ago and didn’t have to worry about whether or not deer would react to human waste …by the gallon (good old diuretics).

In my younger days, I could go to the woods with nothing but a candy bar to keep me going, now if I don’t get a good breakfast, I get weak.

Back then, according to the scientists, we didn’t have global warming and it sure seems the mornings are colder now than they used to be. The idiot who thought up global warming never spent a January day in an Alabama tree stand! I find in the last few years, the Earth has gotten colder. I get colder faster and easier than then and it takes me longer to warm up. Last year about this time, I got so cold in a shooting house I had to take one of my jackets and wrap my feet and legs to warm up. I was wearing long underwear, insulated hunting pants and still darn near froze solid. When I got back to the lodge and looked at the thermometer it was a crisp 47o.

My bones didn’t hurt as much back then either.

My hearing was better as well, not only could I hear a twig snap but I could hear the firing pin hit the primer on the rifle shell and I always took comfort in the solid BOOM of the muzzle blast. Now I cannot hear the firing pin at all and the muzzle blast is barely perceptible through this ringing in my left ear.

There have been a few improvements though, I must admit.

I no longer have to save my money for two months to buy a box of bullets. Although I have been hunting with the same rifle for over 30 years, it seems I’ve finally gotten it broken in because things aren’t as hard to hit with it.

I am one of the lucky ones to have several nice racks on the wall, too many, my wife says. (But then she never did understand the concept of there is no such thing as "too many deer heads." She also doesn’t understand the purchase of another freezer is justifiable when you run out of room in your current freezer for one more deer.)

I also now get the pleasure of seeing my child experience all of the things I love about hunting.

The sunrises are just a little better. The birds all sound a little sweeter. The woods smell a little "woodsier." I enjoy just watching a group of deer in a food plot stand around and be deer.

Although I am young by many standards and am so healthy it ought to be against the law, I wonder if part of me is starting to see the end of the line coming and starting to appreciate the joy, beauty and wonder of being in the woods even more than when I was younger.

When my time finally comes, if I have any say so, I know where it will be. I hope I’ll be either in a tree stand waiting for one more deer or in some hardwood forest waiting for a turkey to gobble. Hopefully, they’ll find me next to my last deer or gobbler and I can promise you not only will there be a smile on my face, but hunting will definitely be fun again the following season.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.