BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN – AND IT’S A BIG, BIG OUTDOOR WORLD! – LURES, GUNS, ART, AND SO MUCH MORE
Sporting Collectibles by Jim and Vivian Karsnitz. With information on antiques, decoys, hand loading tools, shot shells, shell boxes, target balls, licenses, traps, books, paper arts, prints, advertisements, glassware, stamps, and much more.
“I never lost a little fish. It was always the biggest fish I caught that got away.” – Eugene Field
A TROUT OF A LIFETIME – UNTIL NEXT TIME!
A big trout is an extraordinary creature – built for power, speed…and battle. Some, like this guy, are more than a match for any fisherman.
We all wish to catch a trout like this one day. If any of you already have, then you know that maybe, just maybe, there is another fish like this out there…deep below the surface…finning…watching…waiting – for one more cast…
May your waters be wild, and big!
And Oh, By The Way – You Might Want To Get A Larger Net…
Original Pencil Drawing Of a Brook Trout By Charlie Manus of Marble, Colorado
“The nice part about fishing all the time is that an angler can spare moments for just sitting and watching the water. These spells don’t even have to have a purpose, but it is hard not to discover some secrets during such interludes. The fisherman without a schedule doesn’t need to rush about, casting furiously in a hunt for every possible trout. For this reason, he usually catches more of them”. — Gary LaFontaine, Trout Flies: Proven Patterns
A moment of beauty is where you find it, all around. Today I saw it in this work of wildlife sculpture by Gene Adcock and Jeanie Renchard, found below the twin summits of Mount Sopris near Carbondale, Colorado.
“Golden Bears” Sculpture By Gene Adcock and Jeanie Renchard. Photo By Michael Patrick McCarty
“All but beauty will pass – beauty will never die. No, not even when the earth and the sun have died will beauty perish. It will live on in the stars.” – William Robinson Leigh, Frontiers of Enchantment, 1940
“Winslow Homer was an American painter, illustrator and etcher, one of the two most admired American late 19th-century artists and is considered to be the greatest pictorial poet of outdoor life in the United States and its greatest watercolorist”. – From Winslow Homer: 216 Colour Plates, by Maria Peitcheva
“The place suits me as if it was made for me by a kind of providence.” – Winslow Homer, Speaking of his love for Quebec
Things are definitely going to happen when you put a boy, a dog, and a deer together, somewhere in the waters of the Adirondack Wilds, and no doubt that there is more to the story behind the makings of this scene. After all, what could go possibly go wrong?
Few artists have ever been able to capture the mood and nuance of a sporting moment like Winslow Homer. His “Hound and Hunter”, completed in 1892, is certainly a wonderful example of the master’s art. One look, and I am transported to a time gone by, drawn to and within it like a bloodhound to a hot scent.
Like so many great paintings, it begs more questions than it answers, and I for one want to know more. So much more. No doubt you have some questions of your own.
It has been one of my very favorite Homer paintings for many years, and it was one of the very first header images that I ever used to help illustrate Through A Hunter’s Eyes. Apparently I have a good eye, for as it turns out, it may have been Homer’s favorite work too!
“There’s no such thing as too many paintings and prints. Or bronzes of Labradors and pointers and Brittanies and setters. Or glasses with pintails and canvasbacks and salmon and trout flies. Or pictures of you and Charlie with Old Duke and a limit of bobwhites, or a pair of muleys, or a half dozen Canadas, or about a yard of rainbows. Or old decoys and duck calls. There are never too many memories of days past or too many dreams of good times to come”. – Gene Hill, from A Listening Walk, 1995
*”Hound And Hunter” did produce some controversy at the time of its release to the general public. The use of hounds to drive deer before the gun was seen as unpopular among many, even then, and Homer repainted parts of it to make it more appealing. Yet, it remains, as Homer himself referred to it, “a great work”.
“There is no feeling in the world like that of seeing ducks dropping out of a winter sky coming to decoys that you have made with your own hands. Sometimes I can’t even shoot, the sight is so beautiful. Carving decoys lets a man understand in a very personal way that there is so much more to hunting ducks than shooting them.” – Charles Frank, Southern Living Magazine, 1985
Folk Art, or Fine?…It’s All Fantastic To Me
Simply said, I absolutely love vintage sporting books, wildlife art, and all manners of hunting and fishing collectables…but decoys ride the shimmering waves high above them all. They make my heart sing, and the look of a good one almost always takes my breath away.
Why this is, exactly, I could never say for sure, or should I say – completely. The full battery of descriptive words elude me still.
Nor can I tell you why the mere sight of them always seems to cause that sudden catch in my throat, or fully activate the location of that special human gene that causes the quickening of the hunter’s heart.
What I can say is that New Jersey decoys are a special breed of bird, and that some of the best of the breed can be found at The Baymen’s Museum at The Tuckerton Seaport in Tuckerton, New Jersey.
Below are some photographs that I took at the museum in July 2016. Mere images cannot truly do them justice, for to enjoy the full effect you must take it all in for yourself.
I have done that myself, several times – but there has never been enough time to fully satisfy that mysterious part inside of me that always wants for more.
So don’t make my mistake. Set aside an hour or two…perhaps an afternoon, to wander the museum and contemplate these wonderful works of art. Steep yourself in the history and lore of the great bays, and learn just a bit of the lives of the carver’s that made it all possible.
There’s plenty of room. You may find me there too, close at hand, but far, far away…watching…searching…for those things that only a hunter sees.
For more Information and a photographic history of more than 700 New Jersey ducks, geese, and shorebirds, you may wish to purchase a copy of New Jersey Decoys by Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr.In Hardcover edition, 270 pages, 1983.
Another great reference is Barnegat Bay Decoys and Gunning Clubs by Patricia H. Burke.Published by Ocean County Historical Society, Toms River, New Jersey in 1985. In softcover wraps; 44 pages.
We usually have copies of each in stock. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a price quote.
Grancel Fitz was the first person to harvest all of the North American big game species then recognized by the Boone & Crockett Club, and he completed most of his hunts in the 1930’s and 40’s when travel to the distant game lands could be an exciting adventure all to its self. He took most of his game through the iron sights of his favorite .30-06 Springfield rifle too!
In his professional life Mr. Fitz was a pioneering giant in the field of advertising and commercial photography, and his work has stood the test of time and has since been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art.
Yet, his world outside of the more modern scene had much more to do with the natural world. His interest in hunting and conservation lead him to the Boone & Crockett Club, where he helped develop the big game trophy measurement and recording system that we know today.
He was a hell of a good story-teller too.
His book “North American Head Hunting” chronicles some of his most memorable hunts, and it remains a classic in the sporting field.
North American Head Hunting By Grancel Fitz
Published by Oxford University Press, New York, First Edition, 1957, 188 pages.
With chapters on hunting the Grizzly Bear, White-tailed Deer, Stone Sheep and Desert Bighorn, Mountain Lion, Bison, Elk, Mountain Goat, Moose, and Polar Bear.
“About twenty-five years ago, after I had been lucky enough to bag a couple of exceptionally fine big game trophies in Wyoming and in Alberta, it struck me that there were two things that I would like to do. First of all I wanted to collect one good representative of every legal big game species on the whole North American continent, for this was something that had never been done by any single hunter. Then, after that project was completed, I wanted to write a special kind of book about It”. – Grancel Fitz
This copy is in Very Good condition, with a Very Good Dustjacket.
Here offered at $13.95 (postpaid U.S.); subject to prior sale.
Please email us at email@example.com to order.
The ad text reads:
“Grancel Fitz: He has hunted every kind of North American big game and his unmatched personal collection includes record-class heads of 10 different species. His British Columbia grizzly, shot in 1953 near the Klina Klini River, tied the 63 year-old world record. Official score of skull 25 9/16”.
*We also have a rare signed copy for sale; description below:
North American Head Hunting, by Grancel Fitz.
Some light rubbing at edges; corner tips are a bit bumped. Some light dampstaining to the corner of one page. The dustjacket has some edgewear and rubbing. This copy inscribed “To Melville N. Lincoln, a sportsman and scientist to whom I am greatly indebted for information that helped me a lot. With all good wishes. Grancel Fitz Nov. 27, 1957”.
Melville N. Lincoln was the senior curator of habitat groups at the Los Angeles County Museum.
Signed copies are rarely offered. Very good in very good dust jacket. Signed by author.
$150 postpaid (in U.S.); subject to prior sale.
Grancel Fitz was a proponent of the “one gun for all big game” philosophy. His choice of an all around hunting caliber was the .30-06 Springfield, which of course is a most versatile and effective cartridge.
It certainly worked for him…
You May Also Wish to Purchase:
The Complete Reloading Manual for the.30-06 Springfield. Published by Loadbooks USA, Sylmar, CA, 2004, Spiral Bound.
This copy is in Very Good+ condition.
Here offered at $22.95 (postpaid U.S.). Subject to prior sale.
*Read More About The History of The Boone & Crockett Records Program Here
The world of sports offers a long list of heroes and icons, but few names grow even larger over time. The Name Babe Ruth is one of those, and for good reason. He may have been the most dominating baseball player of his time, and all time, and he is considered to be one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture. He was a living legend and his fame and persona completely transcended the game. I wish I had met him, or at least been able to watch him swing.
What is not as well-known is that “the Babe” loved to hunt and fish. It appears that baseball was indeed the perfect sport for a man of his appetites. For when his hands were empty of bats and gloves, they most often held a fishing rod, or his favorite shotgun. Babe loved his duck blinds, and the pursuit of feathered game. He liked to eat too, and he liked to cook what he acquired in the field. His favorite recipe could be a main camp meal, or a side dish to accompany his hunter’s reward. He called it “Wild Rice for Game“.
Or so notes, “Famous Sportsmen’s Recipes For Fish, Game, Fowl and Fixin’s“, compiled by Jessie Marie Deboth. It’s a lovely and unpretentious little volume, a copy of which I have had in my personal collection for some years.
“The sportsmen of America have written this book, by contributing their favorite recipes for game, for fish, for birds. The recipes reflect the quality of mind and spirit that makes the true sportsman”.
Miss DeBoth goes on to dedicate the work “to the sportsmen and true conservationists of america, the conservationists of our natural resources of wild life, and the true protectors of the rightful heritage of future generations of americans, admiringly I dedicate this book of their favorite recipes, as cooked by them in their favorite outdoors”. I am certain that Mr. Ruth would agree.
His selection calls for 2 cups of wild rice, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 3 cups of water. “Put this into a double boiler after washing thoroughly, making sure that the water covers the top of the rice. Do not at any time stir the rice – always shake it. Allow to boil for twenty minutes, then drain off the water and continue to cook over a low flame for fifteen minutes, then add: 3 finely chopped onions, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sage, 1 teaspoon thyme. This recipe will make enough to serve six people”.
Ray Holland loved his waterfowl too, and our recipe book lists his hobby simply as “Duck Shooting”. He grew up on waters teeming with waterfowl, and he shot his first duck with a muzzleloader shotgun in 1893 at the age of nine. For those in the know this is the equivalent of saying that Michael Jordan used to enjoy shooting a few flat-footed free throws in a pick up basketball game, and we all know how that turned out.
Mr. Holland was editor of Field and Stream magazine during its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s, and an author of sporting classics like “Shotgunning in the Lowlands”. An ardent conservationist, his tireless efforts to protect this precious migratory resource is one of the reasons we still have ducks to hunt today.
His recipe for “Roast Wild Duck” is as follows: “Cut up together celery root, turnip, onion, parsley, carrot. Fry with a few slices of bacon in roasting pan until whole begins to brown. Upon this place the duck, thoroughly washed and salted, either larded with or covered by a strip of bacon. Baste, while roasting, with red wine. When done, pour cream over whole and allow it to become brown. Remove duck, mix in flour, allow to brown. Strain and serve sauce over sliced duck and dumplings”.
Zane Grey is mentioned here, as Zane Grey, author. His angling exploits are now regarded as somewhere beyond legendary, and really not possible today. He wasn’t a bad writer either.
His contribution is “Broiled Oregon Steelhead“. He says, “It is rather difficult to choose my favorite recipe, but in thinking it over, I know of nothing more delectable than a fresh caught steelhead from a swift running Oregon river. This must be cut in pieces to fit an iron broiler, thoroughly salted and peppered and rubbed lightly with bacon fat and then broiled over a bed of hot coals protected on three sides by some built-up rocks on which the broiler can rest. I cannot give a definite time as this would depend upon the thickness of the fish. Anyway, cook until done”!
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. liked to roll his duck in clay and built a fire on top. “The time necessary, of course, depends on the size and heat of the fire, but in general, don’t be too eager and give the bird sufficient time”. Excellent words of advice I would say, but I wonder where he found the time, being the son of a rough-rider and a President and all, as well as a world adventurer in his own right.
The recipe list continues. We have “Javanese Rijstaffel (Rice Table) from Frank Buck, Explorer and Wild Animal Collector. And, “Swiss Steak“, with elk, moose, or caribou (elk preferred) from Elmer Keith, Hunter, Writer, and Firearms expert. Jack O’Connor, perhaps the most famous gun and outdoor writer of all time, talks of baked quail and bread crumb dressing. Or perhaps you would like to try a recipe for “Dry Panned Steak“, by Eugene V. Connett, publisher of the finest sporting titles of all at his cherished Derrydale Press.
And I simply must one day try “Slumgullion” by C. Blackburn Miller, “Shoepack Pie” by Robert H. Rayburn, or “Horton’s Mulligan Stew“, by the Honorable Karl Mundt, Congressman and former Vice-President of the Izaak Walton League.
When I have tried all of these, I shall make “Skunk Meat For the Camper“, by Paul A. Meyers. He muses, “Contrary to ordinary belief, skunk meat is very palatable and tasty. Skin and clean the skunk, but be sure to remove the odoriferous glands. Parboil meat in a strong solution of salt water for 15 minutes. Drain this water and add fresh, season to taste, and allow to steam gently for one hour”. Can’t wait!
On the other hand, I think I will roast up a duck first, maybe laid under some coals of a camp fire beneath a starry night. Wild Rice will bubble in a nearby pot. I’ll finish my dinner with some of the raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries of Ozark Ripley’s “Outdoor Pudding”, and maybe add a finger or two of fine scotch in a metal cup to wash it all down. I will sip the scotch slowly, and ponder what it may have been like to play baseball with Babe Ruth. We could have shared a hunting story or two, and perhaps a plate of food.
All excerpts from “Famous Sportsmen’s Recipes For Fish, Game, Fowl and Fixin’s“. Compiled by Jesse Marie DeBoth. Privately Published, 1940, 96 pages.
—Jesse Marie DeBoth was herself a celebrity cook. Called “Home Economist #1”, and “The woman with seven million friends”, she was a syndicated newspaper columnist and noted cookbook author. She conducted incredibly popular traveling cooking schools in the 1920’s through the 1950’s.
—-This work is out of print and fairly scarce. We generally have a copy or two for sale. Quote available upon request.
I am honored to announce that I have recently been approved for active membership in the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
The OWAA is the world’s leading organization of outdoor media professionals. They are the largest association of its kind too, and the oldest, having recently turned 90 this past April.
I am not quite that long in the tooth, but I can say that membership in this group is something that I first aspired to belong more than 50 years ago.
As stated on their website:
The mission of Outdoor Writers Association of America® is to improve the professional skills of our members, set the highest ethical and communications standards, encourage public enjoyment and conservation of natural resources, and be mentors for the next generation of professional outdoor communicators.
What we’re about:
OWAA is a nonprofit, international organization that represents a diverse group of professional communicators dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience. Members of OWAA are experienced outdoor people, the nation’s best:
film and video producers
bloggers and new media communicators (e.g. podcasters, webcasters)
communications and PR professionals
We aim to offer world-class resources, support, and inspiration for our members as they inform the public about outdoor activities, issues and the responsible use of our natural resources. Through OWAA membership and adherence to its creed and code of ethics, members are commissioned to provide honest, thorough, informed, responsible and unbiased outdoor coverage.
Join OWAA as an Outdoor Media Member
APPLY NOW!OWAA is comprised of nearly 800 individual outdoor communicators from the broad, modern spectrum of outdoor beats, from shooting to camping, backpacking to kayaking, wildlife watching to mountain climbing. From these diverse backgrounds and disciplines, members gather beneath the OWAA banner to hone skills, share philosophies, develop profitable business strategies and network with peers, conservation policymakers and industry trendsetters.
Criteria for Individual Membership
You qualify as an Active Member of OWAA if you meet one of the following:
You have sold and published—in any media—five stories, articles, photographs, videos or illustrations on outdoor-related topics in the past year.
You have published a book or worked on an income-producing film or any form of audio on outdoor-related topics in the past five years.
You are a full-time outdoor communicator in any media. Please see below for a list of qualifying positions.
You are a citizen journalist who writes for a blog or other digital media that is updated with original content at least twice a month and receives 500 AUVs (Average Unique Views) per month over a 12-month period, or generates income.
If you do not qualify for Active Member status, you qualify as an Associate Member if you are paid for some work described above. If you do not join as an Active or Associate Member and are enrolled in a course of study at the secondary or higher education level, you qualify as a Student Member.
OWAA’s bylaws and Board regulate the membership classes, criteria, and application process, and supplement and control what is said here. All applications must be made on a form approved by the OWAA Board, which will require that the applicant agree to be bound by certain principles of the organization, including the OWAA Code of Ethics.
Applicants for Active or Associate Member status must be sponsored by an OWAA Active Member. Both the applicant and the sponsor must verify that the applicant qualifies for the membership sought. Headquarters may be able to recruit sponsors for those desiring to apply and lacking a sponsor. An application for Student Member status must be signed by a teacher or educational advisor of the applicant.
All members must continue to meet membership criteria while in OWAA and may be subject to periodic credential reviews.
OWAA individual membership is intended to improve the personal and professional skills of our members. Individual membership should not be used to promote products, agencies, organizations or businesses.
Professionals working in the following areas qualify for OWAA membership. Other professionals may apply; consult headquarters with any questions.
Newspaper or Magazine writer, columnist, editor, designer or staff member: Works in one of these capacities for print or online publications.
Newspaper or Magazine freelancer: Works for print or online publications on a contract basis.
Photographer/Videographer: Works for magazines, E-zines or other outdoor-related publications.
Illustrator, Cartoonist or Artist: Published in any medium.
Film Editor, Scriptwriter, Director or Producer: Works in one of these capacities on a full-length film or video.
Broadcast Scriptwriter, Editor, Photographer, Director or Producer: Works on television or aired video or audio production in one of these capacities. Guest appearances do not qualify, but guest-hosting does apply.
Book Author, Editor, Designer or Producer: Works on a published book in any of these capacities.
Lecturer/Educator/Instructor/Nature Interpreter: Works in any of these capacities.
Full-Time Employee of Nonprofit Conservation or Recreation Agency: Public relations, publications and public information staff, and others who disseminate outdoor or recreational information.
Employee of Outdoor-Related Industries, Agencies, Associations or Organizations: Public relations and marketing staff.
You can read more about The Outdoor Writers Association of America Here
We have some limited copies of Let’s Go Bowhunting by Doug Walker.
Doug is a member of the Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame and was one of the very first regular members of the Pope & Young Club. He was a friend of Glenn St. Charles, Howard Hill, and Fred Bear. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of archery and bowhunting and big game hunting in general.
Doug Walker passed away in 2011.
Cost is $34.95 (plus $4 shipping in U.S.)
Subject to availability.
*Read More about Saxton Pope and The Pope & Young Club Here
“Plainly speaking, a Pronghorn is nothing more than ‘prey on the prairie’, in the natural scheme of things. Just ask the prowling coyote, or one of his peers. Yet, he is not so easy to capture or kill. His speed is most obvious; his eyesight legendary. Still, you might just say that he just doesn’t look all that tough.
Well, you would be wrong…
Hunt him fair, and hard, and you may begin to discover an entirely different aspect to his personality. Hit him well with a broadhead or bullet, but perhaps just not well enough, and you will learn what he is truly made of.
For in his veins roars the blood of the fiercest warrior. His heart is the heart of the lion, and it will not stop beating so easily. May we all fight for life, all life, as tenaciously. It has been an honor to pursue him, all of these many years…”
What do antelope, wily coyotes, and wild fires have to do with each other, you might ask? Well, since it seems to be the year of surprise and big adventures just let me take a minute to tell you about it.
Let me also say right from the start, that no – I’m not making it up. Ernest Hemingway once said that the secret to his writing was that he had no imagination, and that he had to experience a thing to be able to write about it. Or something like that, said he, I am quite sure.
I would not be so brazen as to compare myself to Hemingway, but I can relate to his predicament. My imagination has never been that well-developed, and in some cases it just wouldn’t matter. No one would believe you anyway.
I had decided to treat myself this year to an unguided, private land archery pronghorn hunt in northwest Colorado. Bowhunting for the king of the high sagebrush desert is one of my absolute favorite endeavors, but years of public land hunting have taken their toll on both body and spirit and have worn me quite thin. Tags are increasingly more difficult to draw, and competition for a prime waterhole has become fierce. It has become, quite literally, more than I can bear.
And so, reluctantly, I yield. I yield to the younger guys, and gals, and to those much hungrier and more aggressive than I. Private lands held the key to my peace of mind, and a waterhole all my own.
I found the right place.
Mine was a very special slice of mother earth, a true oasis, home to pronghorn, and sage grouse, mule deer and a myriad of small and furtive creatures. To sit there, relaxed and hidden, even for part of a day, was worth every penny that I spent.
The antelope on this particular ranch were plentiful and had been only lightly hunted for several years, creating a healthy supply of trophy class bucks.
Weather conditions were perfect. It had been hot, dry, and windy for several weeks. Water was in short supply, and they were very, very thirsty. Cautious and still careful when coming to drink, but not wound like a heavy spring as they so often are on more heavily hunted ambush spots.
So, as you can see, all factors suggested that this would be a very special bowhunt, and indeed, it was. You could say that I was more than successful by standard measures, though perhaps not exactly in the way I would have liked. Still, “success” is a very special word in the life of a bowhunter.
Yet, this is not so much a story about success, or strategy, or any of the many things involved in a great antelope hunt. This is a tale that begins after the shot. It is a story about follow-up, pursuit, and… recovery. I made a great shot, but not a clean kill, though deadly in the end. It happens, and when such circumstance lays its burden upon you it is always bittersweet.
But to backtrack a bit, there had been one major glitch in my gittyup, which was my choice, or lack thereof, of a bow for this hunt.
I am a traditionalist at heart, and I almost hate to say it but I prefer to shoot a finely tuned compound bow with a sight and release when hunting trophy pronghorns over the water. Archery has always been a game of inches, and those inches are particularly critical when a live target is involved.
Yes, the distance is short and you can generally pick your shot, if they stand still long enough. The reality is that an antelope presents a relatively small target with an even smaller vital area. More importantly, they can jump a string like no other animal on the planet. Their reactions to the sound of an arrow coming out of the bow can stretch the outer limits of acrobatics, and belief. Arrow speed and precision rule the day.
Unfortunately, I was unable to follow my own advice this time. To put it plainly, I am injured. My shoulders have not been working like they used to for quite some time, and a fall on the mountain a month ago really shook me up and has left my joints out of whack. At this point I am still unable to draw my compound or my heavy recurve, but I had booked this hunt a year before and was just unwilling to admit defeat.
I filled my tag with an off-the-shelf 40# Samick recurve named the Spirit II, with no sights and three leather-covered fingers on the string. It was like being twelve years old again.
I had positioned my pop-up blind on a mild slope above the stock pond one week prior, to let the animals adjust to a new-found element in their world. First light on opening day could not come soon enough, and the action began right away.
The first two small bucks came to drink at 7:30 a.m., stared at the blind for just a moment, and had their fill. They strolled about without a care in the world, and I knew right then that things were going to go well.
From then on out I was visited about every half hour by does and fawns and bucks of all ages and sizes. It was my own little wildlife show.
At one time I had a juvenile buck at 16 yards to my left and his brother at 16 yards to my right. The buck to my right must have been really parched, and I had to laugh as he worked himself out to the center of the pond and sprawled out like a half-drunk teenager. He slurped and sucked the murky water like he had never tasted anything so good.
I passed twelve legal bucks that morning, and there were five or six that would have easily qualified for the Pope & Young record book. Two of the bucks were particularly nice, but they approached from directly across the pond and left without giving me a perfect shot.
Time just flies along when you are so completely entertained, and it was 1:00 p.m. before I knew it. It appeared that the action had slowed down, but as I reached for my thermos and my last coffee of the day I heard the sound of thumping hooves in the hard-packed dirt behind me. It was a buck, and he flew past the blind and dropped his nose in the water before I could grab my bow.
This buck was big – old and solid and my mind screamed “shooter”. That on-board computer that we all call a brain only took a moment to calculate and prepare.
The arrow was gone as if someone else had released it, and I remember being somewhat amazed as I saw it hit within a millimeter of where I had been aiming. I knew immediately that it was over, though I stifled the urge to celebrate, just yet. Still, I knew that within mere minutes I would be working to get that wonderful meat that I love so much out of the hot sun and into my cooler. Or so I thought…
The buck bolted away from the pond, and then…just stood there, barely out of range, stock still, but a bit wobbly. He stood, and I waited, and waited…, a couple of minutes stretched to five, and then ten, and then I knew that something was terribly wrong.
I ran the image of the shot over and over in my mind, and I knew that without a doubt I could have not placed the shaft any better. It was simply impossible for this not to be a fatal wound.
The buck obviously had other plans, though it was another 45 minutes before he finally began walking again and disappeared over the hill. Certainly, it was simply impossible for him to go very far.
And again, as so I thought…
I peeked cautiously over the top of the hill and found him bedded at about 35 yards, looking away. One more little half-step, and I watched in horror as his head whipped around and he stood…and then ran like he was never hurt down the hill and across a wide open valley.
He didn’t stop until he was 700 or 800 yards away, and for the first time I felt that terrible pang of anxiety of a great hunt gone bad. A bowhunter’s worst fear is to leave behind a wounded animal, and I was beginning to seriously doubt that I would be able to recover this wonderful trophy.
And then, he stopped, and again, just stood there. I stared, took a good like through the binoculars, and prayed that he would just give it up. And then, he laid down, gingerly, and there was hope again.
By now it had become obvious to me that somehow my shaft had penetrated one lung, but not both, even though the buck had been standing fully broadside when I released the arrow. Perhaps the broadhead had hit a rib or other bone, or he had somehow twisted before it had arrived. Either way, it was a deadly wound, and this animal was in big trouble.
Unfortunately, this buck did not get the memo. Before long he was on his feet again, heading for an area of tall sagebrush far up the ridge. I could do nothing but sit helplessly and watch him go. Hope can be a fleeting thing.
A couple of miles later I was on top of that ridge, having made a long, winding circle out of his line of sight. I gave it my best guess, and I tried desperately to locate him as I peered through the brush.
It was important to see him before he saw me, which can be a tall order to fill when dealing with pronghorns. I finally saw him about 80 yards below me, head up. He saw me first; he was up and he was gone.
It had become obvious that the only way to recover this antelope was to forget about stealth and push him hard and fast. The key now was to keep him in sight and deny him any chance to rest and recharge. Of course, that is easier said then done.
The air was desert-lizard dry and dead calm, with shimmering bands of heat rolling ahead like a mirage. I was beginning to feel like one of the bushmen of the Kalahari, and I thought of a documentary film I had once watched.
For the bushmen the hunt really didn’t get started until they had lodged an arrowhead in the body of an animal. Arrow placement was not always so important to them, because it really did not matter where it was hit. A non fatal arrow still takes its toll, and pursuit is what they do best.
Always moving, tracking and trailing, never quitting. Here, the earth becomes quiet and still. Perception slides into the realm of discernment and immaculate vison, and most of all human concerns vanish upon the wings of an ancient prayer.
But, there was an ill wind on the way that day, and things were about to get very strange…
The first thunderclap went off over my right shoulder, causing me to stop suddenly and stare up into a slightly hazy but otherwise cloudless sky. I looked far to the southwest and saw the darkening horizon of an approaching storm, as the wind came up and another boom of thunder rumbled over my left shoulder. I took a step and saw a bright flash over the near ridge in front and to my left, as the sun burned the sage through a faltering sky.
It took some time, but I found my buck. He was really tucked in the brush this time, but stalkable. I did my best to use the roll of the hill to close the distance. At forty yards, I nocked an arrow. One more step, I thought, and then he was up, again, and pounding down and away along the edge of a rough-looking ravine.
Not to be outdone, I quivered my arrow and made a run for it. He looked tired and stiff, and I remembered thinking that this would be his last good run. I was ready to put this cosmic misadventure far, far behind me. I was not planning on telling too many people about it either.
It was then that I saw two coyotes rise from the shadows and come to rapt attention as all hell broke loose.
They had been bedded in the shade under a deep cutbank, and they must have been shocked out of their paws when an obviously wounded and otherwise compromised antelope practically bowled them over.
From that point on it was all just a blur.
They were on him in a flash, nipping at his heels as one coyote really poured it on and outflanked him to his right. The buck turned and gave one last burst of speed as the other coyote swung to cut him off. He turned again, but it was too late. He began to slow, then stopped…and waited for what was surely next to come.
I had some catching up to do, and the last thing I wanted was to watch a pair of big, snarling coyotes rip and strip my precious prize. I screamed for all I was worth as I stumbled down the draw, racing to insert myself into that classic standoff between predator and prey.
One coyote stood in front of the buck, looking up from under his nose. The other hung back and behind, sliding back and forth and looking for an opportunity to charge and hamstring the buck in one quick, surgical slash.
I wished that I could tell you what happened next, but I can’t. I had to go down again before I could climb to the other side, and for what seemed like forever I was out of sight of the action. When I reached the top the buck was down on his side, and still. The coyotes circled, ready to dive in and tear. I was almost there…
I screamed at the top of my lungs and screamed some more, and they either could not hear me or were simply too focused on the kill. Finally, when I was about fifty yards away they spun around to face me, in obvious shock and disbelief that I had seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Both hesitated just enough to make me a little uncomfortable, and then they turned-tail and bolted like their hair had exploded.
Half-stunned myself, I followed their progress while gasping for air, sighting down my sweat covered nose, and saw…fire.
Oh my God!…
Thick, billowing clouds of black smoke rose steadily from behind the next hill. Now it was my turn to be jolted with a wave of electric current, and I practically dropped my bow in the dirt right then and there.
A blast of wind snapped me out of it, and I turned behind me to see a wall of black clouds and dust headed my way. I dropped my pack at the downed animal and stood, a bit confused and unsteady on what had suddenly become very shaky ground.
But not for long, for I had some decisions to make.
The quickening wind buffeted and swirled, and I watched with almost morbid fascination as the plume of smoke twisted to the east, then to the north and away, and then back around – towards me. Could this really be happening, I mumbled?
More than once I put down the urge to step away, and run. I have seen wildfire in action, and I know how fast it can move and how rapidly things can go seriously wrong. I began to cape and quarter, and I can tell you that my knife was cutting along much faster than normal.
I suppose the next decision was not really all that tough at all. I was over 1 1/2 miles from my blind and another mile from my truck. To carry out everything in one load in my small pack was not possible, as much as I had wished otherwise. I wondered what might be left when I returned to gather up my second load.
A bow or a pair of binoculars can be replaced. Antelope horns are funny looking things that stand upon the head and are made out of hair, and I am pretty sure that the coyotes didn’t care much about them either. Meat is meat, red and real, made of fiber and protein, and in death, gives life.
I took the meat.
It took what seemed like forever to arrive back at my waterhole, and then another tough bit of time to return with my truck. The wind flew steady and the rains came, hard and wild, and then were gone as fast as they had appeared.
The fire laid low, for a while, and then took off with renewed vengeance as I marched back towards the cape and horns and other gear. I saw the flashing lights of trucks and other emergency vehicles in the distance, approaching fast. It was going to be a long night for a whole lot of people.
I cannot fully explain that series of cascading events that occurred on that day, and the images on my mind are still close at hand. I could find no tooth marks or punctures on the buck, so I can only assume that having a coyote in his face was finally enough to push him over the edge. The arrow was broken off deep inside his chest just exactly where it needed to be. It should have been a very swift demise right from the beginning.
I have never encountered a tougher animal.
I am also quite certain that those coyotes are also a bit perplexed. After all, just how is it that a big, easy meal could literally appear in their bedroom, die without apparent cause, and disappear just as fast into the hands of a raving, two-legged lunatic? Like I said, some things you simply cannot make up.
A native american friend once listened carefully to a somewhat similar story of mine and said that what had happened had been the universe talking to me. I didn’t understand it at the time, and his words have stuck with me for a good, long time. I would like to think that I am beginning to understand it now.
I have learned a few things about my role as a hunter.
It’s all about respect, for life or death is a most serious business and there is no going back. Life is precious; hard-won and even harder kept, considering that so many factors conspire to take it away.
It is the hunter’s responsibility to kill quickly and cleanly, and in most cases, that is exactly what occurs. The topic of wounded game is never pleasant to talk about. It will never be politically correct, and it is a conversation most often avoided as if it had never happened. When discussed at all, it is usually spoken of in hushed and guarded tones, even among friends.
But truth can be stark. Realities must be faced, even when they are hard. It goes without saying that it is even harder on the animal. Perhaps that is never more evident than when a big game animal simply refuses to succumb.
A wounded animal deserves much more than concerned consideration. It deserves our full attention, and all of the resources that we can muster. We owe them that, and more. We owe them everything. They give up their lives so we may live.
Call it God, or Grandfather – the creator of all things. Call it Spirit; call it whatever you will. There is a life-force which permeates every living cell of every living thing, dancing and vibrating with everything there is and ever was. It is wide-eyed wonder, a masterful mystery, and a gift of all gifts.
It can speak to you about the eternal spark of elemental and sacred things, in a way that simply cannot be ignored. You may hear it, if you listen, in a place where the hunter meets the hunted within the heartbeat of the world
Occasionally, you need a little help from your friends, even when they didn’t intend to offer it. It also helps when they have fur and fangs and a lust for a belly full of meat.
Sometimes, the universe can play clever tricks on the cleverest of all creatures, called coyote. I see them now, in my mind’s eye, pacing and pondering, howling at the heavens in hunger and unfulfilled need. Strange things can happen in the land of fire and new beginnings.
“Lightning across northwestern Colorado is suspected of sparking about 30 fires over the weekend, keeping firefighters running from one blaze to another… More than 4,000 lightning strikes hit northwestern Colorado on Saturday and Sunday”.
The biggest fire eventually grew to more than 1.5 square miles before being contained. “The fire was pushed in multiple directions by erratic winds from passing storms”.
There is a good chance that I witnessed the very first lightning strike that started it all.
—-From the Glenwood Post Independent, Tuesday, August 18, 2015, and from 9News.com, Denver, Colorado,
The front cover illustration for Run, Light Buck, Run: The Adventurous Life of a Lone Pronghorn and a Man on Arizona’s Paria Plateau by B. F. Beebe. Illustrated by Larry Toschik. Published by David McKay Company, 1962. Written for the juvenile audience.
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A Journal of Wild Game, Fighting Fish, and Grand Pursuit