September 23, 2010
For those who don't recognize his name, Paul Quinnett wrote the back-page column in Shooting Times from 1988 until 1995. He earned a PhD in clinical psychology, specialized in suicide prevention, headed up the adult and elderly services department at Spokane Mental Health for 30 years, and later founded QPR Institute Inc., a suicide prevention education firm. He is the author of more than 1,000 stories, articles, columns, and essays. His books include Pavlov's Trout: The Incompleat Psychology of Everyday Fishing, Darwin's Bass: The Evolutionary Psychology of Fishing Man, Fishing Lessons: Insights, Fun, and Philosophy From a Passionate Angler, and several on the subject of suicide. As part of our year-long 50th anniversary celebration, we present this piece from the September 1994 issue of ST. It's one of my favorites!-
Joel J. Hutchcroft, Editor
Not long ago I read a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) that suggests something is fundamentally wrong with deer hunters. Deer hunters have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, so you can imagine my alarm when I learned there might be something wrong with them.
And I mean mentally.
Are deer hunters unstable? Are they weird? Stupid? What gives anyway?
My reading of deer hunters is that they tend to be quiet, well-mannered folks who don't care to hang around shopping malls, pool halls, or politics. Off in the woods following their own rules of fair play and fair chase, you don't hear much from deer hunters. Deer hunters make it a practice to not talk too much--except back at camp after sundown where they often engage in telling stories that occasionally bear some resemblance to the facts. Meeting a deer hunter for the first time, they don't strike you as crazy.
100 Percent Success
The people who conducted the NSSF study of deer hunter behavior (based on deer hunting success figures nationwide) drew the curious conclusion that deer hunters achieve a "100 percent success rate" in their sport. Imagine that. One hundred percent success.
You don't get a 100 percent success rate in any sport I know of. Not in basketball wins. Not in football victories. Not in stock car racing, golf, tennis, tournament bass fishing, or anything else. I know some pretty fair dart throwers, and even they can't throw bullseyes every time. So, if the animal rights activists are right (that the blood-thirsty deer hunter's only motive is to kill deer), then how do they account for the following findings?
€¢ In 1993 12 million deer hunters spent over 100,000,000 days afield. The majority of these hunters failed to kill a deer.
€¢ Hunting an average of 22 days for each deer taken, the average hunter kills a deer every 2½ hunting seasons. In some states the wait is an average of 10 years.
€¢ Hunters spend some $14 billion (that's $40 million a day) on their sport. The amount of money they spend while not killing deer does not seem to deter them.
Question: How can millions of deer hunters spend millions of days in the deer woods spending millions of dollars and not kill all that many deer? Are they slow-witted?
True, a few deer hunters don't have the sense God gave a goose, but the vast majority are savvy folks. For example, I hunt deer myself and know for a fact that I have more sense than God gave a goose--provided you don't include wild Canada geese in the lineup. Well then, are deer hunters just plain nuts?
Well, they surely are, unless, of course, deer hunters are after something other than deer. A day spent in the woods? An evening around a campfire limbering up tall tales? Or perhaps something even more elusive?
The authors of the study suggest there is something "intangible" about deer hunting that accounts for this consistent report of having "100 percent" success on each outing. If it weren't for this intangible, deer hunters would probably quit deer hunting and take up checkers.
So there has to be something else hunted and found besides deer on deer hunting trips. Why else would the average Joe or Josephine gladly spend some $850 each year on equipment, transportation, food, licenses, stamps, tags, and permits?
The Lure Of Lore
My answer? Lore. What is hunted and found besides big bucks is lore. Hunting lore to be precise. Hunting lore, by my measure of it, is more valuable than a big rack or winter venison. Hunting lore is priceless.
The one thing hunters can count on bringing back from a hunting trip is lore. It may be a big hunk of lore--like getting lost in a snowstorm and finding your way out again--or it may be a bit of lore no bigger than a robin's egg--like having a ruffed grouse go off under your foot and stop your heart in your throat.
Hunting lore isn't like golf lore or fishing lore or football lore. Hunting lore is unique to hunting, and only real hunters can get it. You can't step into a supermarket and pick up a six pack of hunting lore. You can't rent the video. You can't ease over to a couple of deer hunters at the corner tavern, eavesdrop on their conversation, and pick up any lore that will do you any good. You can't steal hunting lore, you can't borrow it, and you can't beg it. You have to go get your own.
Lore is lore precisely because it is authentic, and the only way to lay hands on the real McCoy is to get out there in the woods and look for it. Looking for lore helps, but sometimes lore just happens. Like that time my brother-in-law got caught between a sow bear and her cub. Some of the best lore comes from just barely not getting mauled, lost, or frozen stiff. Top-quality hunting lore can last a lifetime.
It's interesting, too, that every real hunter can spot phony hunting lore a mile away; it doesn't smell right, ring true, or bounce the way it should. Every so often Hollywood tries to put a hunting scene in a movie, and some nonhunting writer will attempt a bit of lore he picked up on the cheap. And for every real hunter who sees the scene, the movie is ruined.
If you pass it down carefully to the children you take hunting with you, good hunting lore can last several lifetimes. Campfires are lore training schools: How to look for lore, how to pick it up, and how to show-and-tell others is at the heart of the "Hunting Lore Academy." The Green Hills of Africa by Earnest Hemingway is an example of loreput in book form that will last generations.
But you can't get much more than a smell
for lore from good hunting books. To get your very own stock of lore, you need to actually go hunting. A lot. To different places sometimes. Back to the old haunts again and again. To keep your stock of lore fresh and exciting, it helps to mix it up, see new places, climb strange ridges, and explore far valleys.
While it's true that a little lore can go a long way with strangers, you need a lot of lore to keep up with your hunting buddies. There is nothing so pathetic as a hunter at a campfire who has just shot hiswhole wad and, staring vacantly into the fire, has nothing more to add. And God forgive him if he tries to make something up.
Since lore can't be ordered with a credit card through an 800 number, you can't plan for the sort of lore you're going to bag, although I suppose it helps to spend time deep in the Michigan woods or high in the Rocky Mountains or, if you can afford it, in Botswana or Kenya. Although I can't afford it, someday I'd like to try an African safari just on the chance that I could bag enough lore to fill a couple steamer trunks. A couple steamer trunks full of African hunting lore would put me on easy street if my elk-hunting party ever gets snowedin for a week.
But I'll settle for any lore I can get. Even a little lore, if you take care of it, will take care of you. For example, while putting an edge on some new deer hunter's blade, you glance up and see a "U" in the top of a pine tree. You dip into your porcupine lore bag and explain to the greenhorn how porcs chew the tops of pines like that because that's where the soft wood is.
How do you know that? Because on a mule deer hunt in the Fish Lake National Forest in southern Utah back in the early 1960s you once saw a porc do it. And speaking of Utah mule deer€¦
But there I go, sifting through my now vast store of hunting lore and putting the poor reader at risk of yet another digression.
Clearly, deer hunters are not crazy or stupid or anything else abnormal. The truth is deer hunters are like all other hunters, and all hunters hunt a great deal more than their quarry.
Whether or not game is killed, the true purpose of hunting is to find lore, stories to tell, traditions to build, skills to teach, and to nurture and blend friendships and family life with a love of nature. Then, with luck and hope in your heart, perhaps you will find buck tracks in fresh snow.
The hunt you then begin is not just to find and kill the deer, but to find the thing you didn't know you were hunting for until you found it.