We all flatter ourselves, I believe, that we are constantly improving — or at the least not regressing when it comes to knowledge and enlightenment. Lessons and intelligence gained in the past should be cemented into the growing, solid foundations of our intellect and behavior.
But, alas, I find myself often committing the same errors again and again as time goes on — and this distresses me to no end.
Short of screaming or running off a cliff in my vexation there seems little I can do about this. However, my frustration is tempered by the fact that all my friends have the same problem, repeating mistakes they shouldn’t.
You would think that after 50 years of sitting in deer stands I’d have the procedure down pat. Ha! No way. Two and three years ago I made the same silly mistake any rookie would. One of the first lessons hunters become aware of is to never take your eyes off the animal, not for a second!
Three years ago I’d just climbed into the stand at daylight, hauled up the crossbow, hung my pack, pulled on my jacket and heavy pants and settled down. I looked to my left and the biggest non-typical buck I’ve seen in Pennsylvania stepped out of the beech brush 80 yards away. The only thing I hadn’t done was place my binoculars around my neck; they were hanging on the side of the stand. I took my eyes off the buck, turned my head, grabbed the binoculars and when I looked back up the buck was staring at me. Even though I was 20 feet in the air he’d detected my movement, and I knew with a sick feeling in my stomach that he’d never come closer.
He was 4 or 5 years old with a big, wide nose and knew a thing or two about survival. His basic 10-point rack had stickers and a drop tine. I’m still sick about it.
The following year I repeated the same mistake in archery and rifle season. Am I that thick? Evidently. Finally, the lesson sunk in and this year you can bet I never took my eyes off any deer I could see and in consequence was very successful.
The same rule applies to spring gobbler. It’s drilled into my head that the very slightest motion will spook a gobbler; they’re 50 times more sensitive to motion than a deer, but little things can happen despite your best, iron-clad intentions.
We’d left a gobbler that had gone silent and were almost back to the car. It was a steep sidehill, a tough climb, and I was tired. Didn’t that bird begin gobbling his head off once again? I looked at my hunting partner and he looked at me. With a sigh of exasperation we turned and headed back down the hill and across the valley to the far side.
We’d called to see if the bird would answer — and he hammered right back at us. He was coming fast and we were forced to set up in a poor location, a very steep bank just 10 yards to our right. Didn’t that gobbler come down the hill, cross upstream of us and come up that steep bank. His last gobble was so close it almost took my hat off.
I guessed where he’d peek over the bank and was just inches off. The big, red head popped up and I couldn’t stop myself from swinging the gun just an inch or two to the left. I swear, my body moved without me willing it to, out of my control. The gobbler immediately saw the slight motion and vanished.
What? What just happened?
You never move. I absolutely knew that, but moved involuntarily. Aggh!
When you’re fishing for big trout with an ultralight never set the hook hard. Big trout are heavy, they don’t move toward you like smaller trout do; in fact, they swing their heads away from you. After breaking off on some monsters and suffering for weeks afterwards, I learned to tighten up on the big boys, then tug once or twice. That sets the hook and keeps your line in one piece. But bigger trout are few and far between and, being human, you tend to forget, especially if you become excited.
It was one of those bright, sunny April days, but as evening drew near the sky hazed over and the barometer began to drop. This happened just as a major feeding period was to begin, according to the solunar tables.
The first hole produced a 14-inch holdover. Wow, talk about a good sign. The deep rapids gave up a 12-inch brown, then a 15-inch brown from underneath a current-swept willow bush. The stream was heavily fished, but browns are finicky and smart. However, this evening the weather and conditions were absolutely perfect and the big ones were on the prowl.
The next hole was the biggest and deepest. No matter how many people fished it, there were always big trout holding there capable of completely ignoring everything thrown at them for weeks, months or years.
I stalked the hole carefully and cast far up the rapids so my bait wouldn’t splash in the hole itself and alert the trout. I must have made a dozen casts without a sniff. But, the fact that smaller trout and shiners were ignoring the bait showed the big ones were moving; lesser fish were simply afraid to draw attention to themselves for fear of becoming a meal.
Yet another cast and as I tightened up in the eddy something heavy grabbed the nightcrawler. Oh, boy, this was it! Keyed up, I set the hook in a reflex action. My rod bent double, a huge side flashed in the depths and my line snapped right at the rod tip.
For several seconds the line floated on the surface and I almost leaped in to grab it, but with hip waders on that could have been fatal. The line vanished and I sat dejectedly on the bank and almost cried.
That was five years ago and I haven’t snapped off on a monster since, but the next time? I wonder.
So, here’s to the pain of lessons once mastered, but disregarded in the heat of the moment. Maybe, just maybe, next time you and I will get it right.
(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is email@example.com.)