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Next Season

All season long, every day looked promising. He was so elusive, but you were sure the Buck would finally walk into your sights.

But it didn’t happen.

You could feel that big buck just writhe with glee – if that is possible for a deer – when he dropped another can of ‘deer season whoop-ass’ on you again.

Why, you even got a bit of a chuckle. “Dang! That deer is schooling me hard. Givin’ me a complex you are Big Boy. A regular complex! Next year. That’s MY year. You wait and see who’s laughing then. Yeah!”

Alas this season ended on the same note as the previous 3. Despite your confidence filled pronouncement, you got your butt kicked again:

Hunter 0 … Buck 7.

Seven times you’d come to the hunting ground. Seven times, in hand, a perfectly engineered planned. Seven times YOU went home seeing nothing more than beautiful sunrises, memorable sunsets, dozens of birds and small animals. You observed as nature used the shade creatures, formed as the clouds, dancing across the sky to trace the passage of time for all in attendance; you included.

Each day that passed, you left the woods later and later. Sure the hot coffee, soup and a very welcome, 3 fingers of Scotch, were always a luring siren. But a stronger pull; even stronger than the urge to hang the Buck on the cross-beam, was keeping you in the woods.

In the early days when you first started hunting you didn’t understand. It just didn’t figure! Dingle-crackers!… it was cold, wet, tiring, cramped, windy … it was down-right miserable at times. But so many times, you didn’t even notice it. You even began enjoying it.

That’s it. You stayed longer because you just plain liked being in the woods.

After a time, you began to realize that finally, you had begun to act natural.

Everyone who is veteran hunter of a few years, knows that no one needs to head out to their stand at 4am in the morning. Only a masochist or a neophyte would do this. Right?

Well, yes. For the first few years.

Then you would just keep on doing it, because you realize there’s no better place to get your morning shut-eye, wake-up to warm coffee and a roll, see the sun rise, hear the birds wake-up ritual and watch the entire woods world come to life.

Any questions?

Naturally you did your fair share of eyelid surveys. Most likely this was when the Buck got His chance to see you as well. Yeah. if you hadn’t been having such a good time you might just have taken that ‘big bad boy’ home this year. Eh?

But you never laid so much as an eye-twitch on the Buck. Yeah. That’s true. That’s OK. There’s next year.

To keep in pattern with the previous years, you religiously went back to the scene of your miserable failure to revel in it’s success.

Because you knew he still roamed the hills, woods, creeks and swampy bottoms. He was still there; whether you were or not.

The wind would drop and the frost clinging to the trees, glistening like diamond dust with the first rays of the sun would shimmer in place; or the high-noon shadows pouring through the leafless canopy would suddenly go mime; or the misty glow of the forming evening fog would provide a sanctuary backdrop for the moment you’d see him.

Ah, but not before He had slipped silently out of his bed. Never quite revealing his ‘serta-in-the-grove’, stealing his way to a splendid spot, befitting of his regal offering: your annual chance to see Him. Then He would offer his annual greeting snort. On cue, as choreographed as a Shakespearean actor, you look up!

There HE is.

Wow! He’s grown so much. His rack has become huge; intoxicating. His massive shoulders and neck still showing the muscle and blood engorgement of the rutting and mating ritual and exercise.

What a sight He is.

What an opportunity. Yeah, you think, “OH! If only it as still ‘in season’! If only I had my bow! If only …”, but this fades and gives way, to just .. “Wow. He is beautiful. I know he’ll spook and be gone for another year. Wouldn’t I love to capture this image to look at any time of year?” And that’s when you raise the camera and take the 3 photos you get before He is out-of-sight.

Make no mistake about it … this IS His domain.

You know it.

He knows it.

So do all the other animals in the woods.

“Yes.”, you say to yourself. The the ephemeral wisp of the moment takes on a Brigadoonesque atmosphere. Time just seemed to stand-still while He stood there.

Surrounded by the royal walls of his riparian realm. Each woodland surface draped in the muted glow of the diamond dust of late fall frost. Winter is soon to appear. His rack will once again fall, feed the mice of the woods and possibly tantalize a woodsman seeking the fallen coronets.

The ice fog hangs thick across the winter wheat field in the distance. “My, Oh, My!” You repeat to yourself as you remember how it provided the ermine backdrop so fitting this royal creature.

The fog begins sending drizzles. skittering down through the branches now as you make you way back to the truck.

One last time you turn and look at the opening where He, The Buck, stood, showing Himself to you. A shiver runs through your system. No, it’s not the cold. It’s the anticipation.

You’re already planning the next seaon.

Sankalai

Nothing moved.

Not sound. Not time. Not my mind.

Everything was in lock-step frame.

Only my eyes were in motion. But not real motion; scanning, perceiving, transmitting. They were only in a primal recording mode.

Time – and everything in its being – was on hold.

Three months earlier I had set out across the vast array of preserves spanning the wild back country of Botswana. I was in pursuit to find and locate the perfect bull elephant for my wall.

No. Not pursuing a dead head, with lead, but an image of pixels.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a hunter and I don’t have a problem with pulling the trigger and delivering lead to a target. However, I reserve that option for animals I will personally consume. Elephant is not on my dietary list. Therefore, I personally don’t shoot them to kill them.

I neither condemn, nor condone the actions of those who do kill these beasts.

In some instances the killing of the giant beasts becomes a necessity. An unpleasant reality in our over-crowded and resource strapped world, it has become a necessary, if not unpleasant business.

Managed kills are accomplished, in many instances, by sport hunters with large wallets and a lucky draw. The economics are sound. The fees paid do bring beneficial stimulation to strapped economies and to provide funding of protective forces; Game Wardens; for numerous species occupying the killing fields.

For me, though, there is neither pleasure or purpose in killing these amazing beasts. Thus I would not participate in the killing – outside of self-defense.

My preferred wild life capture technique is through the lens of a camera. The end uses for my efforts, find themselves as varied as the subjects themselves. Mostly though, they are a record of my life experiences while leaving only historical preservation as any trace of my being there.

Whether animal or vista, each is chosen for visual consumption in the same manner. I venture into the grounds, I pursue quietly and unobtrusively. I observe and note particular habits and quirks of each environment as well as the season. All of this is done long before I partake of its riches. In the truest essence of the word, I am hunting whether it be animal or location.

Whether for myself or for my clients, I choose the hunt carefully. The KEY word here is …choose.

Two months, 26 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes later; after 12,000 plus kilometers had been tallied on the Land Rover’s odometer; and numerous blistered seat-rashes had been recorded on my butt; I was still without the photographic goal.

Oh, there were photos. By the gigabyte. They would be filling my larder of visually stimulating projects for years to come.

But, the trophy bull elephant image, was still only a dream.

That is – until 5 minutes ago.

The morning had opened with the customarily expected noise of the bush. A slight breeze and the ubiquitous hum of the insect life: good, bad and the ugly. A chined offering, conjured a raspy pied-piper allusion, floating on the breeze with the chatty voices of the birds. This day had begun like any other.

But there was a different air about it.

I sensed a moment coming. The only question was, would I be ready for – IT?

Captured moments don’t just happen. They are the result of planning and execution.

Yet, regardless of the effort put into getting into that moment, the exact timing -when it happens- is never a known commodity.

The three axioms of Moment Experience Planning are:

  • You are in charge of preparing for the execution.
  • You have a shot at being at or in the execution.
  • But, you have no control over the timing of the execution.

Thus, in reality we are never really in control, of anything: at any time. We are only along for the ride. Learning to ride the wave of the unknown, toward -hopefully- an exhilarating conclusion we can survive.

That’s the rush. The excitement. The draw of it all.

Of course anyone can experience a moment by accident. It’s what we call, luck. Such encounters more often result in lost, rather than in captured, opportunity.

To hedge one’s odds for realizing the full impact of any potential moment, work. Every element must be brought as far as conceivably possible, toward a successful conclusion – fully expecting the moment hoped for – to execute. This is the ultimate thrill, in a moment experience.

Preparing for the moment and getting into it, is the very heart and soul of HUNTING.

Hunting, contrary to the vacuous opinions of the uneducated, is not about killing. Hunting is about properly executing on a vast array of knowledge. Any part of which, found out of order, could spell failure with little to no hope for a mulligan. All of this is necessary before any consummating opportunity to kill is presented.

It is therefore, quite possible to hunt and never kill and still have a great hunt. But, equally true, the hunter can never know the true power within the hunt, without consummating the hunt with a kill.

Misunderstood by many:

Not every hunt must end in a kill to make it a good hunt. But equally true – a human must experience the mental and spiritual challenge that is found only in the kill – at least once – to fully appreciate the value and power found in the responsibility that rests with the choiceto kill or not to kill. This is not a lesson learned intellectually.

The scene that unfolded before me, in that split-second of time, was as unplanned as any in all my life.

I had no control of – or over – the moment.

I did have control of the use in that moment.

The camera found footing on the monopod.

The lens drew its focus.

The synapse began firing in reflex mode and the hold was as smooth as any trigger hold ever executed. As in anything in life that exudes success, timing is everything. And this moment was all about timing.

When the shutter stopped firing, 14 frames of one of my most memorable experiences in life had been captured. The span of that moment-in-time, was less than 24 seconds.

The bulk of life is truly the Journey and not the Destination.

But it is the Destination, to which we look, for Journey justification and the dream of a return.

I will return.

Thus, two months, 26 days, 12 hours, 14 minutes… and 23.7 seconds later… I had my bull elephant trophy.

And so do you.

Ruff Double Memory

What hit me first – even before the crawling chill making its way through the clothing layers since stopping, hit me – was the distinct memory: “I’ve been here before.”

Déjà vu? No, not at all.

I had been there. In the exact spot. It was December 1958 and in a light snow, with a very crisp chill in the air. Only then my feet were a size 6 boys and freezing like exposed chicken knuckles! At least now, my feet weren’t freezing. But the blood laced adrenalin jitters were still there. And I loved it.

As I look down at the single ruffed grouse posing in ‘la mort avec l’honneur’ alongside my dad’s old double-barrel shotgun, resting in the skiff of snow, I am launched back in time to my first grouse hunt on that cold December day in ’58.

Dad came into my room well before light to wake me. But he didn’t need to, I’d hardly slept all night. He barely got the door opened with I popped out of bed like the 20 gauge shells from dads old side-by-side. “Well, aren’t we perky?” He said with a big grin forming around the deep cleft in his chin. “Breakfast in 15. See you in the kitchen.” “Yes sir. Be right there.”, I replied, while jumping into my clothes.

A few splashes of water on my face, brushed teeth and a token stroke of the comb and I was good-to-go.

Mom was just finishing the pancakes, oatmeal, cold raw milk and coffee when I slid into my chair.

“Say bud. ‘Spose we could get this ‘early rise and ready quick action to become a regular part of your morning ritual? Hmm?”, she said, smiling in front the more serious suggestion.

I knew I was busted. So I tossed back a bit of humor hoping to get unhooked. “Well, I guess I could, if there was a hunting or fishing trip connected.” I attempted to slide that slick sales job by with a ‘cute kid grin’. I lost. Oh, well, who cared. I was heading out to hunt with dad.

Breakfast is never better than those taken just before you head out afield or to the water with dad. Odd, the viewfinder on the camera fogged up just as I remembered that bit of history. As I waited for the fog to clear, I remembered the few moments before that first grouse bust out of the cover.

When I went with dad in the field and there was a gun present, I quartered dad on his left side like a shadow. Dad stood between 6’1″ and 6’2″ tall in a lean 175 lb. frame of all muscle and sinew. Grandpa, his dad, always told him – and me and my brother – that what we needed most was…’seasoning’. This was Grandpa’s way of telling you to get back to work and toughen up. I don’t believe Grandpa was much into fun. He was too busy being a drill sargent in practice. As a result of many years of conditioning, dad was not easy to keep up with. But when we hunted in the woods, he was a lot easier to shadow. I was eager and he slowed down a bit. He enjoyed being in the woods and didn’t want to loose any time of it. A great combo that worked to keep me from a constant, “Hey, keep up!” reminder.

I really enjoyed those times. Even more so now the older I get. Well, of all things, that eyepiece keeps fogging up. Gotta wait for it to clear again.

Old Suzi, dad’s 10 year old Brittany spaniel, pushed ahead of us at a comfortable distance with her nose to the ground and one eye in the trees. She knew those birds sat in trees and she wasn’t about to let one get by her. It didn’t happen often either.

I was a chatter box as a kid, but I knew to keep my comments, questions and musings to myself once we hit the trail. If I had a serious question, when I could get dad’s attention, he’d gladly answer it. But I just knew that I really didn’t want to over-use my ‘field access’. So I learned to compartmentalize the questions and formulate them into as few as I could later on. A valuable lesson as I learned later on in life.

As I was doing some of this ‘formulation’, meaning I wasn’t paying attention, dad pulled up in an abrupt stop. Yep! I ran right into his left hip pocket. He didn’t move but I bounced off. Dad looked over his shoulder with his finger to his lips, then reached down an helped me up. We had no sooner gotten regrouped when the grouse blasted from the bushes!

That bird scared the holy bejeebers outta me! That’s for sure. But dad, he just went into one of the prettiest ballet’s I’d ever witnessed to then … and possibly since.

The grouse quartered left, dad was in full sight, swing and follow-through when he squeezed off the left barrel. I just happened to be in the perfect line to see the entire scene. Dad, in swing, squeeze of trigger, flight and crumple of the grouse and Suzi in her trademark, hindleg hop-n-point! Just before dad would shoot, she’d look more like Trigger under Roy Rogers than a Brittany on point.

Like it all happened seconds ago, I can still hear the sounds of the rustling leaves, the drum of the grouse’s wings, dads wool clothing rotating on his body, his feet making a bit of a rotation-friction squeak, then the click of the hammer – then the entire world was encompassed in the blast! Man! for a 20 gauge shotgun, that gun could really make noise.

Well dogged! The viewfinder fogged up again. At this rate, I’ll never get this thing photographed.

You know, I was surprised, when even through the racket, I never took my eye off that grouse. In mid flight, one moment it was heading out of sight, then it just crumpled and fell in a rocketing arc, hit the ground and scooted in and under the leaves. Before we could flinch, Suzi was already on the bird, mouthed it and was in return. I remember it was smaller than I’d thought. Beautiful. Soft. Limp. No longer flying. It was dead.

I had a sudden pang of conscience. I looked up at dad and asked, “Did we have to kill it?”

Dad looked back, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “No son, we didn’t have to kill it. But we chose to. That one idea is the most important thing to learn about hunting. When you decide to take an animal’s life, that decision will be a permanent choice. One that you can’t undo. You cannot take back that decision. It is a natural part of life; taking an animal’s life. But we must always do so being fully aware of the results of our decision. Something will die because of our choice. Never take that responsibility lightly. That’s a big lesson for a little guy. But I believe you’ll understand. If not now, then in time. Are you OK?”

I looked at him and then at the dead bird on the ground at his feet. It sure was pretty. I looked back up at him to say something about how ‘pretty’ the bird was. I remember noticing his eyes looked… ‘moist’. I started to ask him, but he just smiled that wonderful smile that only my dad could give and said, “After all these years, I still take the responsibility seriously. Always remember that.”

The camera lens fogged up again. Must be the cold.

Memories are like that. I’ve never forgotten it. I pray I never do.


View the print, Ruff Double Memory and the details for ordering a print.


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