Many moons ago, when I was a young, eager deer hunter, my woods’ gear consisted of a rifle, a compass, a knife and some waterproof matches. Maybe a candy bar if a whole day in the woods was planned. I wore olive-colored gum-rubber boots, dark green wool trousers and a black and red checkered wool shirt. No hunter orange in those days.
My how things have changed! Today, my deer hunting day pack is a yard sale: water bottle, mini-stove, propane, tea bags, metal cup, hand warmers, drag rope, whistle, GPS, topo map, dry socks, energy bars, wool neck-up, Leatherman, doe urine, scent cups and assorted other survival paraphernalia. Today I wear top-shelf Danner thinsulate boots, camo Gortex clothing that costs as much as my first 30-30 hunting rifle and hunter orange clothing that lights me up like Times Square.
Maine’s legendary buck hunter, Dick Bernier, who passed away recently, always wore a green jacket and no blaze orange when he posed for a photo taken with his trophy bucks. When asked about that he assured me that he wore the orange when he hunted. I always wondered if, indeed, he shed the vest when he got out of eyeshot and “on the track.”
These contrasts may all be explained partly by advancing age and partly by the times in which we live.
My motto as a young deer slayer was “travel light.” As a gray-haired, long-in-the-tooth, lucky-to-be-in the-woods-still vertical old hunt geezer who sits a lot near deer runs, I tell myself, when I rest my pack and my left hip, “Any fool can be uncomfortable.”
One thing I know: the digital age has infiltrated our hunting heritage at warp speed. I shudder to think what the future will bring. This fall in Maine for the first time, turkey hunters will no longer have to visit a tagging station. They simply register their kill online with IF&W! And game wardens, who used to catch poachers by sitting in the bushes in the rain on cold, dark nights, have begun to nab scofflaws by using their cell phones and social media from the truck cab. (Be careful what fish or game boasts you post on Facebook).
A fisherman who wants to check a pond’s catch limit is out of luck if he forgets his cell phone or loses a cell signal. No more hand-carried law books. Ugh.
In Maine and New Hampshire, lost hikers have become a near contagion as more and more younger people rely on cell phones, instead of maps, compasses and woodsmanship.
In my early days, the hours in a tree stand waiting for deer to show were used for clearing the mind for personal introspection and some deep thinking. Not today. Deer hunters in tree stands click away on their cell phones checking the stock market or texting their hunt buds.
If you are a deer hunter, there is a certain irony in taking too many gadgets and distractions into the woods. After all, the solitude and the simplicity has always been the main attraction for most of us who hunt, right? “Simple pleasures are the last healthy refuge in a complex world,” said Oscar Wilde.