Enjoying the conditions (afterwards)

Hunters and anglers are, in many ways, like normal people. Which is to say, we like to boast. Normal people who have hunters or anglers for acquaintances understand, and sometimes accept, that. The misconception that normal people have about hunters and anglers pertains not to whether or we are given to boasting, but to the nature of that boasting.
Stereotypes to the contrary, it is not fundamentally the size or number of fish caught, or the weight of the deer shot, or the size of its rack, that is the subject of the boasting. Hunters and anglers like to boast, as I said. But we don’t like to be boastful.
Let me explain. Take this week’s weather, for example. After a strangely balmy November, with several days in the high 50s or low 60s, and no trace of snow accumulation in my yard, winter is finally showing a hint of arriving at Addison County.
As I wrote this column on Tuesday, there was a dusting of snow on the ground outside my window. It was enough that tracks of bear and bobcat showed up in a short walk through the woods by my house, in addition to the usual coyote and deer tracks. (Just the fact that at least one bear was still walking around, and not hibernating, says something about the mildness of the past month.) The evening was not yet late, and it was already colder outside than at any time yet this fall.
And the forecast was for worse. Or better, depending on one’s perspective: With up to six inches of snow expected Tuesday night and Wednesday, with wind gusts over 50 mph and temperatures below 20 by midnight, my kids were already thinking snow day. (Note that in two paragraphs I’ve already complained about both the warmth and the cold of the past two weeks.)
Of course winter can end as quickly as it arrives in Vermont. Tomorrow afternoon, the snow is supposed to change to freezing rain and then rain, and who knows how much snow will stay on the ground? It was only a couple years ago that we had a week of temperatures in the 60s in the middle of January, and I actually found worms just two inches deep in the soil as I was pulling up invasive honeysuckle.
While writing, I was thinking about Wednesday, the middle day of the nine-day long muzzleloader season. That’s is the final hunting season of the year, at least for me, because I am not yet a waterfowl hunter. It is my last chance to harvest local wild game until May. I have not yet gotten a deer this year — much as I enjoyed both the bow and rifle seasons, there is no venison in my freezer.
And this adds to the importance of the day for me. In the midst of a busy week of giving and grading exams, evaluating students’ final projects, finishing a book, having guests and preparing for the holidays, Wednesday was also a morning I had hoped to hunt for three hours before going to work.
Therein lies the rub. Outdoor sports happen to take place outdoors. Now, gently falling snow, or even a light rain, can make for wonderful hunting conditions. Most hunters I know were wishing for snow back in rifle season so they could track deer. And of all of the hundreds of times I’ve left my stand to hunt on foot, the only handful of times I have ever stalked a deer within bow range were either in wet snow or cold light rain. Snow or light rain I can handle. I can even enjoy.
But am I supposed to enjoy sitting in a stand during 30 mph wind and freezing rain? No. But I’ll be out there anyway, even though I know that no deer in its right mind will be moving through the woods past my stand in those conditions. Why will I be out there, then?
Because on Thursday or Friday, when I bump into my hunting friends, and they ask me how I’m doing this muzzleloader season, instead of telling them about the six- or eight-pointer I shot, I can boast about something even better: I was out hunting on Wednesday, suffering through the hardships of miserable weather. Snow on my arms, melting down my neck. Fingers and toes freezing. Wind driving stinging ice into my face.
It’ll be great. I’m already looking forward to it. Looking forward to telling people about it, that is. I’m dreading getting up at 6 a.m. and actually heading out into that mess.
But that’s what it’s all about. That’s what hunters and anglers really like to boast about: how much we endure and how much we suffer. Come to think of it, I guess we really are like everybody else.

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