Along the Trail 5-24-12

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Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship. Look for more articles coming in future editions.

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“You’re really ate up with this stuff, aren’t you?” I was asked – referring to my passion for hunting and the outdoors. I paused and chewed on the question for a moment…

“Yeah, I guess I am” as I looked around my little storage shed, converted to a “hunting shack”. Each deer on the wall. Each set of antlers no matter how small. Each photo and trinket evoking a memory from my past.

Yep, ate up…

That put me to thinking about my need for the outdoors and hunting in particular. Why had this bug bitten me so deeply? I wasn’t raised in a hunting family. We had more than enough food on our table. We fished every chance we had, but my dad wasn’t a hunter, nor my grandpa before him.

Maybe my drive to hunt comes from some long dormant gene, passed on in my Appalachian heritage from my mom’s eastern Kentucky ancestors when hunting was a necessity. Maybe it was brought on by one too many Sunday afternoons watching ‘Sports Afield’ or too many ‘Field and Stream’ or ‘Outdoor Life’ articles by Ted Trueblood, Jim Zumbo and others.

Whatever the reason, I am “ate up,” and being a hunter has become an integral part of my life and part of who I’ve become over the past 35 years – and, as I “mature” as a hunter and outdoorsman, I can look back and see the stages I’ve passed through: where I am now, where I’ve been and where I’m going – past, present and future and it brings a smile of satisfaction to my face.

There’s been a lot written about the stages of a hunter’s development. Different universities have studied the topic and most have come to the conclusion that a hunter will pass through five distinct stages in his/her outdoor “career”. The stages clearly point out that a hunter is made – it’s not something that happens overnight.

These aren’t hard and fast rules, but for the most part, the stages pretty well hit the nail on the head when it comes to my hunting life:

– Shooter Stage: At this stage, the new or young hunter is interested in shooting opportunities. Not necessarily bagging anything, but just the chance for a shot or shots depending on the game hunted. I can certainly relate as a 12 year-old kid with a single shot H&R 12-gauge firing off round after round at pigeons in a cut cornfield, barely a feather harmed.

– Limiting Out Stage: As unpleasant to some as this may sound, at this stage killing equals success. The number of animals taken under legal bags limits is the absolute measure of success. True again for me and my pals, as the numbers of squirrels taken didn’t mean a thing unless you had a limit in hand.

– Trophy Stage: Emphasis is placed on the quality of the animal taken. It can be a large set of antlers or the long beard of a turkey. The hunter typically will study the animal’s patterns, the “ins” and “outs” of the species.

He or she might even only hunt one specific animal. In order to be successful, the hunter at this point is only satisfied with a “trophy” specimen. This stage is the most foreign for me – I’ve had some limited success with “trophies”, but for me any animal taken legally is worthy of being a “trophy”.

– Method Stage: The taking of the game animal is still important, but it’s second to the method in which the animal is harvested. Bowhunters and muzzle loader hunters are perfect examples.

The satisfaction the hunter receives from using a specific weapon is more than the satisfaction from actually taking the animal. This stage fits me to a tee: I am an avid traditional bowhunter and harvesting an animal with a longbow or recurve is just the icing on the cake.

– Sportsman Stage: This is where the hunter “mellows out”.

He’s matured. The entire hunting experience comes into play. Spending time outdoors, preparing for the hunt, sharing with others. Typically, a hunter at this stage has years of experience, has many animals under his belt and the taking of an animal, although important, isn’t the pinnacle of their hunt.

A hunter in this classification will often be a mentor and share his knowledge with younger, less experienced hunters. Success is measured by the totality of the hunt.

I am getting here, not completely there, but I see myself with one foot in this phase and one firmly still in the method stage.

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So, fellow hunters, where are you?

Are you new to the game?

Are you the “shoot ’em up, bang, bang” guy?

In order to feel successful, do you have to come home with meat for the freezer?

Do you have to bloody your hands?

Are you only interested in a set of Pope and Young antlers on your buck and anything less than a 140″ class whitetail won’t due?

Will you only take your turkey with a bow?

Or are you happy to just “be” – be in the woods, being part of it, soaking it in and sharing with others, grateful for the time? Something to sit back and ponder, either in your front porch rocker or from 20′ up your tree.

– David Hewitt