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While sitting in the doctor’s office one day I was thumbing through an out of date magazine about homes and home improvement.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.

Building Lifelong Hunters

I recently read an article lamenting the impact that a loss of hunters will have on wildlife habitat and wildlife numbers in general. It is true in that we owe what we have in wildlife populations to hunter’s contributions through Pittman-Robertson Act funds, license sales, and conservation groups. And if hunter numbers decline so will the revenue from all of those sources. So the obvious answer is: we need to recruit more hunters!

The NSSF released a report in 2012, Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation. The report is based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data from a survey they collect every five years about hunter activity. When you look at the data hunter numbers have actually remained stable just under 16 million over the reporting years. The number of youth under 16 hunting has also remained fairly stable. The problem is: How do we retain those young hunters?

It’s not just a matter of getting them in the woods and fields. It’s about getting them out there under the right circumstances. In my previous life owning a small gun store, many parents came in wanting to get their kid a first gun. You would think they would be looking for a .22 rifle or small gauge shotgun. Nope, they were looking for a centerfire rifle to take the kid deer hunting. I even had one father want to buy a .270 for his eleven year old son. What is wrong with this picture?

You don’t continue the hunting tradition and build lifelong hunters by waking a kid up at 4 a.m., riding him or her to a tree stand on an ATV, and then having them sit there playing games on an iPad waiting for deer to walk in to a bait site. You build future hunters by starting them out in the woods hunting squirrels, field edges for rabbits, or sitting in a duck blind. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying taking a kid deer hunting is wrong. In my opinion it’s not the best experience in building a hunting tradition.

I know it’s “old school”, but it’s time to return to the old days. It all has to do with activity and the inquisitive nature of youth. Anyone who has children knows they can’t be still. Why not take advantage of that? A slow walk through the woods keeps them moving. It also gives an adult the chance to explain things they see. What kind of animal track is that? More importantly, which kind of trees attract squirrels? Why are ducks attracted to flooded timber? Not only that, there is more action. Action, whether it is in an oak/hickory stand or mallards gliding through flooded timber is the answer. Tell me this: Which is better to develop a future hunter, a kid shooting one deer sitting in a tree stand or three squirrels walking through the woods? To me the answer is obvious.

I place part of the blame for this culture to “kill a deer” on state game management agencies. As it is with most things you have to follow the money. In a state with large deer populations which attract non-resident hunters, there is more revenue from license fees for large game than small game. When is the last time you saw a state game agency promote its squirrel or upland bird hunting opportunities? I didn’t think so.

Large outdoor retailers and TV shows are also culprits. Look through any retailer catalog and there is an abundance of camo youth deer hunting clothing and gear. Try to find a pair of brush pants for a 10 year old. Have you ever watched a TV show with a kid on his or her first rabbit hunt? Neither have I.

Delta Waterfowl also had a recent article about the impact of the decline in duck hunters, even while duck populations increase. To build a lifelong hunter, and prevent a decline in hunter numbers, we have to start promoting the hunting experience that gives youth plenty of action and appeals to their inquisitive nature. That is the challenge because it takes a greater investment in time by the hunting mentor. It is not a “one and done” that a lot of parents look for in a deer hunting experience. It requires many days in the field to build a hunter.