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Getting Skunked

You would be hard pressed to find a meal more expensive than wild game. While prime steak and lobster can run you into the hundreds of dollars at a fine dining establishment, wild game can go into the thousands. Now before I get told, “But Johnn you can buy venison or buffalo jerky at 7-Eleven!” I should say that I am talking about true wild game. The stuff at the convenience store is a product of the captive cervid and buffalo industry where deer and bison are raised behind fences like cattle. True wild game can't be sold in a restaurant.

Here's why it's expensive. Let us examine hunting whitetail deer in the Eastern United States. To go out in the field means you require a few basics. Even if you don’t get all the camouflage and the boots you still require:

· A hunting license

· A hunting permit for the species/season

· A weapon to harvest your quarry

· A single bullet, arrow, or shell (for a perfectly placed shot)

Those are by my estimation, the bare minimum of what you need to hunt whitetail deer in most states. You probably won’t be too successful but theoretically that’s all it takes. Now if you would prefer to be on the successful side as well as responsible (because good hunting means good game care after the shot) you can add the following:

· Tree stand or blind

· Camouflage clothing

· Good boots

· More than one bullet, arrow, or shell

· Binoculars

· Rope

· A good knife

· Game bags

Lastly, consider some other things you may need:

· Time off from work/free weekend

· Car or truck

· Gas for said car or truck

· Toll money (like here in New Jersey)

· An internet connection and device to find where to go

It adds up quickly. I will save you the cost analysis of what it takes to hunt whitetail deer. I’m sure somebody has put it all in a spreadsheet. But like anything a person likes to do – if they like it enough it’s all worth it. I like hunting but I have never taken a deer or anything larger than a chunky squirrel for that matter. I’ve been hunting on-and-off since 2015, mostly off due to a hectic work schedule that required lots of travel. But I enjoy it and continue to enjoy it. The preparation is half the fun. The organization, the methodical plotting, the weather watching, all of it is enjoyable. But the absolute best part is being in the woods. There is nothing that compares to being up a tree or down in a hollow when the woods wake up. Firstly, the woods are a cacophony of sound in the dawn hours. What you think is a moose or freight train ends up being a chipmunk or a squirrel. Things are constantly walking around, around you. It’s terrifying. The first time I went in before dawn and got up in the tree and turned out my headlamp was one of the scariest experiences of my life. And imagine, I was 28 years old! I know plenty of guys and gals grow up in the outdoors but I was not one of them. I came to hunting much later in life after some friends and I stumbled on a TV show called “The Wild Within” which would later become “Meateater”. I read all Rinella’s books henceforth and that was that.

This is all a preface for my last trip to the woods last Monday. The Fall Bow season opened up here in NJ in the zone I hunt last Saturday 10/2. 10/2 was also my sister’s 30th Birthday and as much as I love the woods, I love my sister more. New Jersey bars hunting from public lands on Sunday – why I do not know, maybe to accommodate hikers. This meant the first day I could get out was Monday so I took the day off and went.

The forecast called for scattered showers. I looked at the radar and deemed a little rain wouldn’t be the end of it all. I have read that plenty of folks routinely kill big deer in between the raindrops and figured I may as well try. I already had the day.

I had scouted the area I wanted to go and found plenty of sign in the way of scrapes and rubs and even a few beds on the end of my range. So I woke up early and drove up to the mountains of North Jersey and hiked in to state land. It was foggy and misty and I quickly realized the places I had scouted were still a ways off. Always the impulsive type, I took a quick right when I saw an opening in the woods. I called an audible and decided that this spot, where I had never scouted, would be a good opportunity. I climbed up a skinny elm tree and waited for dawn. I took the script, crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

As it should have been expected, I saw nothing. Eventually, the light came through the woods and I heard human voices. I realized where I had hung my stand was only a few hundred feet from a campsite. Busted. Knowing I couldn’t take a shot I descended the tree and walked another 200 yards deeper into the woods. I found a much nicer opening with lots of oaks and falling acorns and picked a tree that offered good shooting lanes.

Nothing still. I sat and sat as you do and saw three squirrels. Besides them, a jay and a chipmunk. Then the rain turned on. It had rained intermittently throughout the previous night and early morning but right around 10:00am it kicked up to a storm and I pulled out my slicker and bundled up and waited. An hour and change later it abated but only slightly and still no deer.

I didn’t even see a deer. I thought I heard plenty but unless you see something you’re never really sure. It was as boring and as miserable as sitting in a tree for eight hours can be. I went home soaked. However, I wasn’t down. The saying “a bad day of ______ beats a good day of work” applies here too. I learned that not sticking to my plan means that I do not know if where I scouted earlier in the summer was good or bad. For all I know there were tons of deer there. I learned that hunting in the rain is still hunting in the rain. And I learned that even though I got skunked, I can’t wait to do it again.

I fished as a kid but in my twenties I got into fly fishing. It took me a long time to get any good at it but since then my flyrod and I have caught fish in Wyoming, Montana, Alaska and good old New Jersey. I’ve caught sunnies, trout, crappie, bass, and Arctic grayling all on the fly and I’m barely half a fisherman. I say this because it didn’t happen overnight. It took trip after trip of getting skunked. I think getting skunked is the best thing that can happen to you in pursuit of game. If you pay attention you learn something. If you don’t get discouraged and decide to keep coming back then you’ll learn to execute on what you learned. It might be a little hokey to say that getting skunked is a great metaphor for life but it is. It also means that you got to go out in the field or the woods or the stream or lake or whatever and that alone can be enough.

Until the next time – I hope you keep getting skunked. I know I will be.

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