Young Hunter, Be Cool

            The biggest problem facing the typical fledgling hunters is keeping all the other hunters from knowing he is a beginner. It's easy to spot a tyro. He lacks believability: the look, the swag, the smell the unmistakable the walk of the veteran. So here's a few tips that, heeded, will make even the rankest amateur look like a pro.

            First, let's talk clothing. Most beginners look they got taken in by a slick sporting goods salesman. Their crisp new caps, pants and jackets, complete with shell vests crammed with all the ammo they can hold, announce to all the world that this guy leaned to hunt by watching videos in a sporting goods store.

            Wearing all new stuff is a grave mistake.

            No true veteran of the sloughs would ever be caught dead in new duds. He either hangs new hunting clothes out in the weather for at least a month before the season starts, or he uses them to line the dog's bed. Some of the wilier vets bury their new stuff for at least forty days and forty nights in the dark brown soil found behind cow barns. Touches like these give your clothes that extra softness, crumple, and natural aroma befitting the old pro.

            Now no swamp fox ever carries a full shell vest. No more than four or five well-placed shells suggest both cool, and that you’ve fired the gun a few times. If the limit is five ducks, for Pete’s sake don’t show more than six or seven shells in your vest. In fact the coolest of the old pros never wear a vest at all. They just casually let it be known that if the limit is five birds, they carry only five shells -- three in the gun and two in the pocket.

            The perfect finishing touch to the look is a little blood. Some carefully placed streaks of duck blood on the pant leg where the duck sling hangs will suggest proof of past successes. Of course if no duck blood can be found, chicken blood or even the red juice squeezed from a rare steak will suffice, and these substitutes are a lot easier to get.

            Now that we’ve dealt with your look, let's talk about your behavior. There are certain things the veteran swamp rat just doesn't do. First, he doesn't shave. Very few of the hunters one sees on TV shave. You need at least four days’ growth to acquire that 'I’ve been out there' look.


            Secondly, never ask stupid questions like, “Didya get anything?” or “see any ducks today?” Such questions tell every veteran around that you’re a duffer.

Thirdly, if some guy comes along with a nice sling of ducks, for Pete’s sake don’t run up to him and start gazing at them as if you’d never seen a duck before. Ignore them completely; yawn if possible.

Finally, if you happen to find or shoot a duck yourself, don’t go carrying it around holding it out with two fingers by the wing-tip like a kid holding up his first skunk. Instead, stuff the duck along with a pillow or two into the game pocket of your hunting jacket with one wing hanging out. This demonstrates not only success, but modesty–the finest virtue of the seasoned hunter.

            Lastly, every beginner needs to learn the swamp walk.

            Everyone knows the veteran hunter by his unique stride. It’s a way of walking that takes him through foot-deep mud, hip-deep water, and head-high cattails as effortlessly as a heron stalking the shallows. Here’s how its done: 

            Keeping a deep crouch with shoulders hunched and elbows close to the body, thrust the left foot as far as you can out ahead of you. Then as you lift your right foot, point it straight behind you for just an instant, giving it a quick backward kick (this dislodges mud and supplies thrust); now, with left knee bent, thrust that right foot as far out in front as possible lurching forward as you do.

Proceed thus indefinitely

            The effect of the swamp walk is a kind of loping, reeling, lurching slouch of a gate that will win stares of amazement and whistles of admiration from every astounded gazer you pass..

            Now you are ready. Picture this. You are walking down Main toward the sportsman’s bar and grill in Gackle, North Dakota after a day’s hunt.

            You are rumpled; you are reeking, you are weathered, and you’re beard is Babe Winkleman perfect. Your game bag is bulging modestly, and your blood-splotched trousers whisper softly as you stride along–eyes keenly alert with one slightly squinted as if you were aiming at something. Suddenly an awe-stricken tyro comes running up with the perfect, worshipful question, “Bet you did pretty good, huh?”

            Smiling knowingly and letting out a bored sigh, you pat your game pocket and tell him–“Oh, I got my share.” Then you casually swamp walk off into the glimmer of a perfect October sunset.. The kid gazes after you, spellbound with wonder.

            See, young hunter? You gotta be cool.

            Gene Pinkney, 9/24/06