Meditation Room

While sitting in the doctor’s office one day I was thumbing through an out of date magazine about homes and home improvement. Besides the obvious thought that I needed to find a doctor that subscribed to outdoor magazines, my eyes caught an article about a trend in home design, meditation rooms. It is described as a place of “spiritual sanctuary” to get away from the stresses in life. The room is arranged using feng shui (Chinese words for “expensive furniture”) to provide flow and energy in the room. It was described as even having an altar with spiritual symbols as a focal point.

This got me thinking: What would my meditation room be like? I can tell you right now my altar would be an open fireplace with a long mantel to place my spiritual symbols on.  Not one of those with gas logs. I’m talking about build your own fire with kindling, matches and oak logs. It must be part of my prehistoric DNA. We don’t burn much wood so I cut and split my own. The smell of fresh split oak logs in the Spring is part of the anticipation of crisp Fall days and the barely perceptible sound of a bell as Ben works his way through grouse cover.

I already know which spiritual symbols will sit on the mantel. There’s the first quail my son shot when he was 12. I had it mounted with the empty 20-gauge shell he used to kill it. It symbolizes a new generation of hunter and memories over the years he and I have spent together in the fields. Next to that would be a picture we took that same day of my dad, my son, and me giving thumbs up before we left the house. It’s priceless. Also on the mantel would be an old Zebco 33 reel that belonged to my dad. That’s the only kind of reel he used over all the many years we fished together.  It symbolizes my introduction to the outdoors and memories of small farm ponds and slab crappie at Weiss Lake. Of course there’s got to be a couple of old leather dog collars lying on the mantle with reminders of days in the field with Babe, Belle, and Ginny. There are, and will be other dogs, but the memories are there to symbolize why I bird hunt: I love what dogs add to the sport and can’t imagine that I would hunt without them.

A framed print must hang over the mantle. There are several still in tubes I’ve gotten through my membership in one or another conservation organizations. One called “Watchful Monarch” of a ruffed grouse standing on an aspen log that might work. But I think the one that best fits the meditation room is hanging over my office desk right now, “Setters at Sunset”. The name pretty much says it all. “Watchful Monarch” can go over my desk.

That takes care of my altar. Now to feng shui the room to give it flow and energy. In one corner would lean the Winchester Model 42 .410 Uncle Jim gave me. There’s no telling how much game that little gun killed in its lifetime. Uncle Jim hunted everything with that gun with the exception of dove or quail when he stepped up to a 20-gauge. It was his “back door” gun. If you’ve lived in the country you know the one I’m talking about. It leaned in a corner loaded by the back door to shoot at squirrels in the bird feeder or crows in the garden as the situation warranted. The gun was in bad shape when he gave it too me and I had it reconditioned. I’ve only shot it a few since, killing a woodcock on a recent hunt. I don’t know, it just seems sacrilegious for me to use it much after the life it lived. Maybe this is the best way to retire it.

On one wall will hang the full head mount of the trophy chamois I shot in the Bavarian Alps of Germany while in the Army. It reminds me of the German hunting tradition of honoring game that is harvested and Herr Obermayer, a barrel-chested Jagermeister that took me on that hunt. There are a couple of small rehdeer mounts I also harvested in Germany that will hang beside it. They’re not trophies, but take me back to a time of high seats and the friendships developed on those hunts.

Of course there will be some fishing gear around. A couple of Dad’s old rods (with Zebco 33’s of course) are still in my possession. I wish that included his old metal tackle box to sit with them. It takes me back to the day we went winter fishing for bass at Patterson’s Lake and the picture of a burr headed seven year old grinning ear-to-ear holding a stringer of bass. Uncle Bob’s old fly rod will stand in one corner.

It’s a Wright & McGill graphite 4-weight rod and I have no idea what he used it for. Uncle Bob would buy stuff he thought he needed and never use it. He liked to fish but mostly on lakes for white bass and crappie. Knowing Uncle Bob, he went trout fishing one time, bought the rod and never used it again. It’s still in the original metal tube.

There would have to be a hall tree by the door to hang hats on. And I’ve got hats: blaze orange, camouflage, and about six or seven others which rarely get worn. One hook would hold my hunting vest. It’s got to be there so I can heft it every now and then during the off-season and sort through the pockets. Mingled in with the 20 gauge shells, dog whistle, and pocketknife are pieces of leaves and tree branch from last season. There’s probably a grouse or quail feather still in the game pouch with a pack of cheese crackers from last season. It’s there to heft and remember times past and anticipate days ahead. I just can’t figure out why the vest seems to get heavier each year even with the same stuff in it.

That will pretty much get me started in my Meditation Room. I can add to it as time goes along. On second thought, maybe I don’t need a meditation room. I’ve already got one. I’ll take Uncle Bob’s fly rod in and get the guides re-wrapped since it is old.  Hang a little 4-weight reel on it and take it out on Shelton Laurel or Upper Laurel stream during the Delayed Harvest period next year. It’s the right length at 7 ½ feet but a little stiff. With my fly-casting skills it really won’t make a difference.

Dad’s old rods are still in good shape. Maybe I’ll just oil the reels and put some new 8-pound line that Dad said worked best on the 33’s. They’re not much good for trout streams but there are a couple of friends who I may be able to coax into taking me out for crappie at Lake James next Spring or even walleye on Fontana this winter.

While writing this I can look over my shoulder at the little Model 42 shotgun in the gun cabinet. Just like an old bird dog whose heart is in hunting but body can’t keep up, it wants to be out there. I would like to bag a grouse with it to complete its life cycle. If not there’s an oak and hickory ridge in the Pisgah to find a few squirrels. And maybe my friend and his beagle will take me out for a little rabbit hunting. There’s nothing more stress reducing than a crisp winter morning accented with the deep baying of beagles ending in a crescendo at the bark of the little .410.

Shrugging into the hunting vest, slipping the gun out of the case, and as the dogs whine and tails beat against the side of the box this winter I will realize I’ve got the greatest “Spiritual Sanctuary” of all.  It is natures feng shui called the outdoors.

Giving Thanks

This week we all gather with family and friends to give thanks for Gods blessings on this country, and the bounty we enjoy. As hunters and anglers, we should be especially thankful to our forefathers’ conservation efforts for that bounty. No other nation in the world enjoys the bountiful wildlife of the United States or the bounty of opportunities we enjoy to pursue our sports. In my first life in the Army, I got to travel to different countries. In Korea, the only place you can hunt (and that’s just for pheasant) is an island off the southeast coast of the country. Gun ownership is severely restricted. Although there may be fish in the countries lakes and streams, I don’t remember seeing a whole lot of folks doing it.

Germany has a long history associated with hunting and fishing, if you’ve got the money. That history is typically associated with the landed gentry and most of the traditions that are part of the sport today started hundreds of years ago.

Hunters receive their license in a formal ceremony that is part of the tradition.

But again, gun ownership is restricted and people who want to hunt must go through a lengthy training course and then pay high fees to hunt on public land. No ten hour safety course, buy a gun, and head to the woods there. I had the opportunity to hunt in both countries, simply because of my military status, something the average citizen can’t do. Although I appreciate the traditions associated with German hunting, I enjoy the bounty and opportunities here even more.

I’m thankful for my friendships established through hunting, fishing and shooting experiences. In fact, I’m not sure I’d enjoy the outdoors as much without those friends. Sure it’s great to go hunting or fishing by myself sometimes. But doing it with a friend always brings a new level of enjoyment to the experience. As serious as the pursuit of game is, our approach is not so serious. I’ve never met a hunter or angler who takes the sport so serious that they can’t laugh at the muffed shot or big fish that threw a hook. At least none of my friends are like that. If I ever run across one of those folks it will probably be our last encounter. Hunting and fishing is too much fun to take seriously.

I give thanks every day for the wisdom of our founding fathers in writing the Second Amendment. Again we are fortunate in this freedom compared to the rest of the world. We shot skeet at a Korean range when I was there. Gun owners there must keep their guns locked up in the police station and check them out when they want to shoot. Unfortunately, there are those in this country who don’t understand the importance of this freedom and would like to take it away. We must remain ever vigilant.

I’m eternally thankful for hunting dogs, and particularly English Setters. I seriously doubt I would ever hunt again if it wasn’t for the dogs. It’s not just about the ability to find game. Let’s say dogs bring a certain personality to the experience? Anyone who has had a setter give them a woeful look after their solid point was wasted by a missed shot knows of what I speak. And anyone who has followed a pack of beagles on the hot trail of a cottontail on a cool November morning will attest to the beautiful sound their voices make during the chase. Yep, dogs make it all worthwhile.

There are a lot of other things on my outdoor thankful for list: the slim lines of a side by side shotgun (which I usually can’t afford), friends who share their venison, dove fields and lots of shells, beeper collars for thick mountain cover, and Express 7 ½ loads.  Since it is Thanksgiving let me not forget the wild turkeys that like to converse with me; just out of shotgun range. And how can I forget being thankful for the trout that is occasionally foolish enough to rise to my sloppy presentation. The list could go on.

There is one last thing we should all be thankful for and that is all the freedom we enjoy. As we sit down with family and friends to dine on turkey with all the fixings, a soldier or Marine somewhere in Afghanistan is eating an MRE. I’ve spent the holidays away from family. It’s a lonely time. Let us never forget that the freedoms and blessing we enjoy are thanks to those willing to sacrifice so that we may. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Last Bite – Letzter Bissen

 

Do you have traditions that are part of your game harvest? I’m not talking about playing poker in camp or who sleeps in which bed. No, I’m talking about at the site of the kill. A recent trip to Germany to visit family reminded me of the long established traditions there. No, I didn’t get to go hunting during this trip. Time with family was more important and it’s really not the prime time for hunting there anyway. But it was good to remember my experiences from 25 years past.

Now I’m not one into fist pumps or chest bumps between friends as a way of celebrating the harvest. Guess that’s one reason I don’t watch hunting shows on TV. Seems like that, followed by a “money shot” pose with the game, is the norm. Yeah, I know you’re excited because all your effort has paid off. Not saying it’s wrong. It’s just not me. It’s focused on the hunter, not the hunted. But is it really a way of honoring the life you just took? Guess I like the old German traditions.

IN GERMANY, YOU EARN YOUR HUNTING LICENSE

You earn your German hunting license, Jagdschein, you don’t get it. It’s not a matter of walking into your local sports retailer with a Hunter education card and buying a license. You have to go through a hunter education process that not only includes safety but also game identification, and discussion of all aspects of the hunt. It also includes weapons proficiency training in both rifle and shotgun. There is also traditional hunter dress. No camo clothing in Deutschland! Hunters dress in forest green clothing. There are a lot of traditions associated with hunting in Germany, one of which includes a rather elaborate ceremony when the Jagdshein is presented.

Hunters receive their license in a formal ceremony that is part of the tradition.

On many hunts where there is a large group of hunters, like a small game hunt for pheasant and rabbit, at the end of the hunt the game is laid out in a certain order of importance, hunters gather in a semi-circle behind the animals, and hunting horns are sounded to signify a successful hunt. How’s that for tradition?

Hunting horns are sounded at the end of a successful hunt.

During my time hunting in Germany I experienced several of these but my most cherished in called The Last Bite, Letzter Bissen. Each time a hunter harvests a large game animal there is a simple ceremony at the site of the harvest. The hunter breaks off a small evergreen branch and puts it in the mouth of the animal to symbolize the last bite. The guide, or Jagermeister, breaks off a small branch from the same tree, wipes it in the animal’s blood, and sticks it in the hat band of the successful hunter. He then shakes his hand and says “Weidmansheil” (hunter congratulations) and the hunter responds “Weidmansdank” (hunter thanks). It is the hunters honoring the life of the animal just taken.

Gamsbock I shot while stationed in Germany. The Last Bite is in its mouth.

DOES LOSS OF TRADITION LEAD TO LOSS OF HUNTERS?

Part of me kinda wishes we would inherit some of these traditions here in the United States. Yeah, I know. Hunter recruitment is down and making someone go through a lengthy hunter training program will make it even worse. But isn’t there more to becoming a hunter than just attending a six hour hunter safety course? I teach the course. Believe me, we’re not building future hunters who understand the game they pursue and their habitat needs. We’re simply checking a block to meet a regulatory requirement. Don’t we owe it to the future of our sport to build knowledgeable hunters?

Our system of traditions in the past was built on the family unit. Grandfathers, fathers, and uncles took a young person under their wing at the appropriate age. They were not only taught gun safety, but also the lost art of woodsmanship (to show you how lost spell check doesn’t recognize the word). Traditions included sitting around a campfire after the hunt talking about the details of the day’s harvest which leads to stories of past hunts. Or sitting on the tailgate of a truck after a successful upland hunt stroking the feathers of the bird and reliving the excitement of the point and flush of that and past hunts.

Nope, now hunting in America is an event. We ride to the field in ATVs, use GPS to find our location, play video games on our phones waiting, shoot the game and go home. We have forgotten that a wild animal has given its life so that we may live. Maybe re-establishing those traditions is just the shot in the arm hunting needs to recruit new hunters. It is our connection with the natural way. Weidmansdank.