September 2006
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

Well, here we are again. It is late August, it’s hot and the future holds the promise of cold mornings, frost and deer hunting. We all should be starting to think about our food plots all the while thinking about that first cold morning of deer season and hoping that this year will yield large racks and plenty of them.

I myself am starting to pour over the latest magazines looking for that one tip that will change the season. I tell myself that although one dead deer pretty much looks like any dead deer, by looking at all of the pictures I am actually sharpening my hunting skills. The more deer you see, the easier it becomes to pick them out of the trees. You see I am actually training my eyes to see the parts of deer so that when they see these parts through the brush, they will know what they are looking like. I am building an endless supply of images that my brain can use to classify what my eyes are telling it and then it can help me see the deer. Well, that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

I find myself checking out deer hunting on the Internet, all the while hoping that I will be able to hang another monster on the wall.

When approaching a deer hunting philosophy, I keep three sayings in my mind.

The first one is that no one ever killed a deer from his or her nice warm, soft bed. In other words, if you are going to take a deer, of any size, you have got to be in the woods, not on the couch or in bed. To me, taking a deer is a matter of playing the averages. If you are in the woods often enough, you will see deer. If you see enough deer, eventually you will see one worth harvesting. If you see enough worth harvesting, one of them is going to be "the big one." It’s all about averages.

The second saying I try to keep in mind is that I can sleep all I want to when I’m dead. I have always been one of those "morning people." It drives my wife crazy. When I was a kid, I was almost always the first one up in the house. To me there is nothing as great as watching the sunrise. I’ve seen the crack of dawn in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, the plains of Nebraska, the Gulf of Mexico, the Georgia woods and many Alabama forests and fields. I cannot imagine why people would want to sleep when every morning such beauty is out there just waiting for someone to see it and it’s free!

The third and last saying that defines my hunting philosophy, and this is probably the most important, is that it’s better to be lucky than good any day of the week. There are people that say that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. Fooey! There are people out there that say that you make your own luck. Poppycock! (I have always wanted to use that word.) There are people out there that say, you don’t need luck when you have perseverance, I say, "Hah!"

I have been prepared for opportunity every time I have hit the deer woods, but it took ten to fifteen years of deer hunting before I killed my first deer. When I killed that first deer I had only my rifle and a pocketknife. For years I had gone to the field with a hunting knife, rope to drag a deer, twine to tie certain parts of the alimentary canal closed and even knew where I would take the meat to be cut up. Never got a deer. The day I killed my first, I started not to go, but the saying about not killing one at home came to my mind, so I went. I got started so late that I only had time to get my clothes on, grab my rifle and go to the woods. I had never gone hunting so unprepared in my life. In my opinion, that throws the old opportunity meeting preparedness right out the shooting house window.

I have persevered with the best of them. I have sat through twenty-degree weather, rainstorms, lightning storms and mosquitoes have drunk gallons of my blood. I have done all of this so that I could persevere and harvest a nice deer, all to no avail. I have climbed down from many a tree whispering to myself, well if you shoot one you have to clean it. I have walked down miles and miles of dirt roads, trails and brush so thick that a bull elephant would turn around all so that I could get remote enough to find that spot where the Boone & Crocket bucks run around like a bunch of idiots just asking to be shot. I have crawled down 500 yards of mesquite-covered sendero in south Texas on my stomach (I still have cactus thorns in my knees) only to find a herd of cows in the food plot where there was supposed to be dozens of huge bucks. I have sat for hours in that same south Texas sendero and seen dozens of monster bucks that I was unable to kill because I was there to kill a management buck. Talk about stress, I had a loaded rifle in my hands. All perseverance will get you is frustrated.

The last saying is probably the truest saying that has ever been. Let me remind you, "I’d rather be lucky than good any day of the week." Let me give you an example. Usually I suffer from a genetic anomaly my dad called, "Ricks Luck."

Ricks Luck is what made my dad back out of a real estate deal in Wyoming that turned out to be one of the richest oil strikes in the history of the state. Ricks Luck is what made my great-grandfather turn down as much Destin land as he wanted, for twenty-five cents an acre, because you couldn’t farm those "sand hills." He had the money to buy only about five or six hundred acres.

Ricks Luck is what made the military funeral team late for my dad’s funeral. That is a story all its own, but suffice it to say that my late father is probably still laughing about it. After the funeral was over, when the military finally showed up, all the members of my family and extended family looked at each other and said, "Ricks Luck."

I have never considered myself a good deer hunter. And I certainly have never considered myself a lucky deer hunter, except once. The first "racked buck" I killed was what I call a nice buck. He wasn’t huge but he wasn’t tiny. He did have eight points and his antlers were wider than his ears, but he wasn’t a monster. While I still consider him a trophy, he ain’t something you would write a magazine article about, unless you wrote one on the type of buck to pass on. I’ll never have to worry about Cabela’s calling me to put his horns in one of their stores. But, when I got him, I was lucky, I didn’t have to persevere, I didn’t have to suffer. As a matter of fact the longest walk I made was going to him after the shot.

I was dropped off not ten feet from the treestand. I loaded my rifle at two o’clock p.m. and let’s just say that at 2:25, I was standing over my eight point calling the camp for someone to come and get me. They hadn’t even gotten the other hunters on their stands. It was a prime example of pure, unadulterated, unashamed, uncaring LUCK.

Having lived with Ricks Luck for more than forty-seven years, I have learned not to depend on luck for such things and have learned that not every hunt needs to end in a harvest. It makes you thankful for the things you have and the opportunities you have been given. I am lucky to have seen all those sunrises; I am lucky to have a wonderful wife, a great daughter, a family that loves me, and I have a good education. I was lucky enough to have a great set of parents and a fantastic brother.

I guess "Ricks Luck" doesn’t necessarily mean bad luck, just a certain kind of luck.

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