Issue 8.4 - Hunting Rituals by Ronnie Garrison
By Ronnie Garrison
If you have hunted much, you probably have rituals you go through. Some, like sighting- in your rifle, are critical for success. Others, like carrying a buckeye in your pocket, are more mental than critical. But even those mental rituals can be important, since confidence breeds success.
Being a member of a deer club that has a camp each year will introduce you to many more rituals. For years, a big iron pot hung over the fire at Big Horn Hunting Club. Not only was a fire burning constantly from camp opening until the time we all left, water was added frequently all week to keep the pot full for washing dishes or other hot-water needs. Then we got a gas-fired water heater that produced all the hot water we needed. Guess what? The kettle stayed over the fire, and we still kept it full of water.
Don’t dare shoot at a deer and miss during camp. You have to admit missing when you come back to camp, since others surely heard you shoot. And the ritual at many camps, and even in non-camp groups, is to cut out your shirttail if you miss. I’m pretty sure some guys carried an old shirt they didn’t like in their truck just so they could change if they missed a deer.
Blooding is another common ritual. When a youth kills their first deer, some blood from it is smeared on their face, usually just a finger mark down one cheek. And the youth will not wash it off for days; it is a mark to wear proudly!
In many clubs, it is a ritual to eat the liver of the deer the day you kill it. There are some good reasons for this. It tastes good—if you like liver. It is easy to process in the woods. All you have to do is set it aside when gutting your deer, then slice it up.
Showing respect for your kill is another ritual some of us continue. This comes down from Native Americans who depended on killing game for their survival. From the time I shot my first bird with a BB gun, I have always felt a tiny spark of regret for killing something. So when I read about ways to show respect to the animal for giving up its spirit for your needs, I liked the idea. Of course, the most important way to show respect is to make a good shot, killing the animal with as little suffering as possible.
As soon as I confirm the deer is dead, as the Native Americans would do, I pause for a minute, looking at the beauty of the deer, and thank it for its sacrifice, remembering what it took to outsmart it in its natural habitat, or just the luck I had that day. That makes me even more determined to use every bit of the deer I can and waste nothing. That is another way of honoring a deer or any other animal you kill.
In Europe, a similar practice developed. A successful hunter would place a sprig of an evergreen into the deer’s mouth, then put a sprig of the plant into his cap, connecting the two. The sprig in the deer’s mouth also honored its last meal.
Some of my rituals bring back good memories. On my first dove shoot when I was about ten years old, one of my uncles gave me an old army surplus gas mask bag for my hunting stuff. I killed my first dove that day, and to this day I carry some necessities for the hunt in that bag. It has my skinning knife, bullets, a couple of plastic garbage bags, some rope, a spool of cord, and toilet paper.
I mentioned a buckeye for success earlier. When I was a kid, many of us carried a buckeye for luck. We would cherish it and polish it often, making it shiny and bright. It was as necessary as our pocketknives, and we went nowhere without both.
Zeroing-in your gun is critical, especially if you have a scope, which most of us do. Old iron sights didn’t change much, but a scope can change a lot from year to year, causing you to miss your shot. Firing a few shots at the range before season opens, and again if you drop your gun or hunt in widely changing temperatures, makes sure that if you get your shirttail cut off it is your fault, not your gun’s fault.
The Griffin Gun Club opens its range each year, usually the first Saturday in October, and members are there to help you make sure your gun hits where you aim it. They are experts at sighting-in a rifle and can fine-tune with just a few shots.
Get ready for hunting by going through all your preseason rituals, and zero-in your gun. Then, as you hunt and experience your rituals, remember where they came from and why they are important.
Read more from Ronnie at fishing-about.com.