Let's take a look at some of the people encountered afield in the past month or so and the archetypes they represent.
Duck season was not yet open. I was scouting a lowland creek near home, looking to see if I could get Selma, my kayak, in there to jump some wood ducks out of the bends in the upcoming weeks.
|It turns out I can...|
It was an early morning on a Wednesday, so I didn't expect to meet any people out there, but I did. As I scrambled up out of the Alder scrabble onto the railroad tracks that bisect the property, I almost literally bumped into Mark. The typical stilted conversation of two slightly startled guys ensued.
"Morning. Scouting for deer?"
"Ah... nice area for deer. I saw a couple rubs back that way. I'm gonna head upstream, look for beaver dams. Good luck."
That's where the typical exchange usually ends. I was obligated, by some unwritten code, to imply I agreed with his choice of scouting area by telling him I'd seen some sign or heard of a big buck coming out of that area in the past. You don't crap on another man's dreams. If he'd told me he was scouting for tribbles or fraggles I still would've felt obliged to hem and haw, and finally mumble something about it looking like good tribble cover. Politeness sometimes requires fibbing. Like telling her that her ass looks fabulous in those pants, it's the way of the world. Not that it's a bad looking area for deer, it is. I had seen some rubs... this time.
Mark looked a little new to the woods. He was wearing hard shoes that would fit better in a cubicle. He carried a clipboard full of aerial photos of a public hunting ground, printed from Google Earth, you could walk across in ninety minutes if you pushed it, and his pack looked like he was going to summit K-2 after a business lunch downtown. When he asked if he could accompany me upstream, my first thought was that I didn't want to be telling the cops I was the last one to see him alive later that week, so I said sure. I regretted that decision minutes later.
Mark was a talker. And worse than that, as I should have guessed from the cognac cap toe oxfords on his feet, he was a salesman. Double whammy. Or maybe he was a money manager or an investment advisor... I can't remember. I stopped listening sometime around the first mention of mutual funds. I went out in the pre-dawn light to find likely looking outside bends with some timber in them, he went out to network. Or perhaps he simply can't help reaching for that stack of business cards the second a new face trapses out of a ditch, into his line of sight. We soon parted ways, and though I might have been able to avail myself of his financial services, and I'm sure he's a nice guy, his card was relished to the bin almost immediately, if only because he wouldn't shut the hell up.
A week later I sat on my miniscule, butt cramp-inducing camp stool, camo from head to toe. This time it was after work, and I was waiting for the doves to come into roost on another parcel of public land near home. I hadn't seen any other vehicles in the parking area, but this wildlife area is quite large with multiple parking lots, so I was only slightly suprised when I glanced to my left, only to see an entire Cabela's catalog slowly making it's way toward me. Crushed under the mighty burden of what must have been the entire deer hunting section at any of the major hunting and fishing retailer, this guy had it all.
I've already admitted that I'm a bit of a clothes horse and a gear nerd, but this guy put me to shame. I was a mere piker in his presence. He was either going bow hunting for the entire season, or his wife had kicked him out with a garage full of his belongings on his back. I saw the normal items you would expect on an archery hunter -- the bow... obviously, the range finder, binoculars, knife, backpack. But beyond that, the poor pack was bristling with every conceivable piece of gear. I saw a water purifier. Let me stress that there's a convenience store 30 minutes away, tops. I don't know, maybe he's still living out there. I didn't catch his name when we exchanged pleasantries. He was panting too hard from carrying a metric ton of stuff out to his tree for a couple hours of hunting.
Fast forward a few days, and we find ourselves somewhere on the same chunk of DNR land, down by the creek this time. I'd walked the banks for a couple hours, unsuccessfully attempting to jump wood ducks. Unsuccessfully attempting to even see wood ducks, actually. I'd decided to take the stool off my back, and wait out the last hour of light cloistered in some willows near a spot where the creek widens nicely. It's a spot I've hunkered down in quite a few times, watching the sunset, and even harvesting a woodie or three once in a while -- the adult equivalent of a living room cushion and blanket fort for the hunter. Just as I was slipping into daydream land, a black lab pup burst into my lap, and nearly caused a major heart attack, doing the happy dance and face licking young dogs do when they get to go hunting. His owner soon appeared on the opposite bank, having had the same idea about walking the creek for ducks, and called him back across.
The next time I was down there I saw the pair again. And the next time. Ted and Brandy are regulars, just like me. They know the spot. It's close to home and easy to hit after work. Both of us being hunters, and relatively well raised and civilized, I guess, we've come to a point where we expect to see each other, and shoot the breeze a bit. It's public land, and you always hope against hope to get away from others out there, but running into another dude of like mind and personality, doesn't feel like much of an intrusion. We're not gonna exchange vacation pictures anytime soon, but I'll shake his hand and pet his dog when we cross paths.
At the other end of the spectrum we have Grunty McGee. This guy is pretty common. Brian, his cocker Buddy, and I were finishing up the woodcock season last weekend down in the southeastern corner of the state. By noon Saturday we could tell the flights were gone, and the hunting was going to be tough, but we pushed brush hard most of the weekend, just to say we finished strong.
|All those heady woodcock dreams, and it's over for another year. A man could shed a tear.|
In that particular spot, the bird thickets are separated by open spaces so you put the dog in one end of the cover, hunt it to the other end, then just sort of amble across the prairie to the next birdy looking thicket. It was during one of these relaxing jaunts to the next stand of willow and dogwood that we encountered ol' Grunty. From his gear and clothing, he was an obvious pheasant hunter. From his demeanor, I don't think he'd gotten any in a long time. Probably no pheasants either.
Not much can be said about the actual exchange because there wasn't one. I was ready stop, grab some water from my vest, and bemoan the lack of birds, but good ol' Grampa Grunty was having none of it. He strode by us not five feet away, without so much as a tip of the cap. Our greetings were met with stone silence and lack of eye contact. I'll never understand those guys. I just hope they are happy in some way, not too busy to be bothered while trying to shoulder some unknown pain in a life that failed them.
Finally, we reach the most dreaded outdoor encounter. The most vilified and annoying guy you're likely to meet afield -- the Blowhard. The know-it-all who has shot more game, landed more fish and women than you and I, mere mortals, will ever hope to. This self-aggrandizing asshat comes in all shapes and sizes. Young and old, weak or stout, carrying a $5000 English side-by-side or a Sears & Roebuck single shot, he can barely contain himself long enough to ignore what you have to say.
I met one of these wonderful gentlemen while walking for pheasants not two weeks ago. He had one more bird in his vest than I did at that point, which only encouraged him to share his considerable and superior knowledge concerning everything from the proper shot and choke tubes for pheasant hunting, to how best to train pointers versus retrievers. All of it stated as surely as gravity would have taken him to ground had he tripped, which I was so wishing he would. There's nothing to do with that guy except get away from him as fast as you can, let him go tell his wife how she folds laundry wrong or something.
Hunters are a cross section of humanity. Just as with any other group of people, there are a handful of cretins and twits surrounded by the majority of good folks out doing what they love. I look forward to going out there alone or in my small party of close friends, but sometimes you run into other people, and you just never know what you're going to get.