Jan 10, 2015

Break Some Rules

As far back as I can remember I've heard the phrase, "You know what They say." So who are "They”?  I have no idea and by now you’re probably wondering why I'm italicizing and capitalizing They. I'm not sure why.  It's just that I've always envisioned They as a group of bearded, really old, smart guys with long, gray hair and white robes sitting at a big round table on top of a snow-capped mountain. Don't ask me why They were all guys - they just were. Apparently, these old sages knew just about everything about, well, just about everything. So it seems like I should capitalize and italicize the name of this wise, omnipotent group who seemingly established all the rules for normal behavior.

I'm not saying They established the rule of law. In Wisconsin, the Legislature and the governor establish our state laws. At the federal level, laws are passed through Congress if, of course, they can get them through both chambers before the president passes them via executive action. They also don't determine our hunting and fishing regulations.  Those come from both the Wisconsin Legislature and the Department of Natural Resources.  I really don't know for sure how all this works.  I do believe, though, that some of the people who come up with some of our regulations have probably never set foot in a boat, duck blind, or deer stand.

Lately I’ve been really interested in the "rules" of acceptable standards of conduct during the pursuit of game and fish.  Did They make those up?

For example, one of the first things I was always taught as a wee little deer hunter was to never pee within three ZIP codes of my tree stand.  I know for sure that rule isn’t in the 2014 Wisconsin Deer Hunting Regulations - and I doubt it's some obscure law that could be found in the state or federal register.  My dad taught me the "no peeing near your, or anybody else's, stand" rule most likely on the way home from the hospital after I was birthed. My grandpa probably taught my dad the rule in a similar manner, and my great-grandfather most likely did the same for my grandpa.  And so on and so on.  I bet I could trace the establishment of this rule back to the first guy, or guys, since it was most likely They who first decided that it was usually, generally, normally, almost always a really bad idea to pee where one hunts.

It just so happens that sometimes even They are wrong - and I can prove it.  Back in November I was bow hunting with my brothers near Neshkoro, Wisconsin.  Bill, Joe and Dan are avid, excellent hunters and I know for sure that they were all taught the "no pee" rule in the same manner I was. 

Now Dan just might be the best bow hunter among us, given that his harvest count is nearing triple digits. But Dan may also be the rebel among us who is either a really slow learner or one who doesn't always care what They say. 

During peak rut Dan did the unthinkable - he not only violated the "not peeing within three ZIP codes of your stand rule," he actually peed from his perch 20 feet above the forest floor.  Like the rest of us, Dan spends long hours on stand during the rut, but he disobeyed yet another established rule.  You know what They say: "When hunting peak rut, you’ll spend long hours on stand, so always bring an empty bottle to pee in." He didn’t do that.

Five minutes later, he had an arrow on a nice buck that actually approached from downwind to sniff his version of buck lure.

Another rule I learned early on, probably established by They, was the rule about keeping quiet while on stand. I recently broke this rule, but the result was certainly favorable. 

In October my dad and I traveled to Georgia for our annual whitetail hunt. If you judge by the amount of aluminum and glass in the recycle bin, we had a really good time. Unfortunately, after an inordinate number of hours on stand, I was not able to seal the deal on a mature buck.

After the last morning hunt, my good friend Watson Mimms told me about a specific "cull" buck that had regularly shown up on camera on a piece of land we call the Lookout Tract.  Watson, the appointed land manager, was adamant about removing this, less than desirable, beast from the herd before it had an opportunity to pass on less than desirable genes.  He implored me to take the rifle instead of the bow to up my chances of removing the buck from the herd.

I headed to the Lookout Tract, fashioned a quick ground blind, and settled down for the afternoon.  With 30 minutes left of legal hunting time, I saw a young four-pointer enter the field to dine on forage oats.  Shortly thereafter, a doe joined him.  With five minutes left, I decided to throw in the towel, and although I'd be traveling back to Wisconsin without venison, I was completely content with the awesome memories forged afield with family and friends.

I stood up and began gathering my gear and was just beginning to unload the rifle when a large deer materialized to my right. I now had about three minutes left of legal hunting time and was frantically scanning the buck’s headgear to see if this was the cull buck or another on the hit list. My buddy, who owns the land, has some pretty strict rules about what we can and cannot shoot, so I wanted to be absolutely sure this buck was on the list. 

Unfortunately the deer, a mere 50 yards in front of me, wouldn’t give me a clear view of his rack, so I decided not to shoot. 

I set the rifle down and continued packing up my gear – making plenty of noise.  With about one minute left, I looked up, and the deer were still standing in the same spot. Finally, and in frustration, I yelled, “Hey!” assuming it would send them on their way.  Nope.  The larger buck simply picked his head up and gave me a perfect view of his rack.  He was the cull buck in question, so with about three-tenths of a second left of legal shooting light, I loosed a round at him from the .270 bolt action Savage I was packing.

I wonder what They would say about them apples?

So what's the point of all this? The point is that long ago They made many of the rules we take as ironclad norms.  I’ve offered just two examples of where They were wrong. 

In the future I’m going to question every rule They established on that snow-capped mountain so long ago, and I will do my best to break as many as possible.  Although I plan to break a whole bunch next bow season, I'm not going to wait until then to begin.  I'm going start with ice fishing, probably around the time you are reading this column. Granted, I may wait until I have three walleyes in my bucket, but then I plan to forget everything They say and come up with my own norms and methodology for catching the last two.

Stay tuned. This could be a hoot!