Leaving my stand for the last time of the 2017-2018 deer season I started my last trek off the ridge, the leaves and soil underneath were slippery due to a recent short-lived snowfall and I lost my footing.
As I started to fall I instinctively pulled my hand away from the trigger and held my rifle up to protect it.
It dawned on me this practice was drilled into me by my brother-in-law who, while crossing a steep creek bank years ago, had fallen and busted the stock on his rare Colt 20-gauge automatic.
It then dawned on me that every little trick I have learned, everything I do out of instinct is actually a learned behavior passed down to me over the years by other hunters, fishermen, mentors, and most of all, friends.
As a youngster many moons ago I recall standing, readying my gear and preparing to enter the woods for a bow hunt with my uncle, when he stops me, tells me to turn around and as I do I feel a mild cool breeze hitting me in the face.
He pointed out that if we proceeded we would be pushing our scent right to the deer ahead of us and we needed to circle around and enter from downwind. The same uncle that taught me even when there is no wind, the natural thermal currents move up the ridge sides in the morning and down in the evening due to the temperature gradient.
Something instilled in me many decades ago but has stuck with me to this day and is a common practice now.
Trying to make my way to a stand midday in the dry leaves, making noise no matter how slow I move, then another trick taught to me by an elderly friend who had spent years as an avid hunter popped into my head.
He explained to me that a man and a turkey sound a lot alike when moving through the woods, so I should make a few soft yelps with my mouth as I walk along slowly and to even stop and scratch in the leaves on occasion,
I’ve found this tactic has put me on top of deer over the years that I otherwise would have never known were there.
As I started to introduce my two sons to the outdoor world I first taught them safety, then moved on with other lessons to help them be more successful.
But from the very first… lessons of always pointing their weapon in a safe direction, unloading it before crossing a fence to explaining the difference between territorial rubs and core area rubs.
So, as I sit and recall all the many things taught to me over the years, my mind questions who taught the person that shared it with me? It’s a question that can never be answered but only imagined.
I can picture a group sitting around a campfire, a mix of old and young alike. The young eager to learn as the old-timers share their stories, listening to every word hoping to pick up something to gain an edge on their quarry, or a safety tip, something to make the old-timers recognize them as having passed that ritual and now being a true part of the group.
I now smile when my sons return from a hunting trip and I watch them exit the vehicle, check to make sure their weapon is empty, then repeating it right before entering the house, knowing this lesson started many generations ago, passed along and knowing they will one day pass it on to their own child or someone else.
I imagine when you’re out on your next hunting or fishing trip, you will catch yourself doing something and you will recall when and where that same practice was shared with you, and perhaps it will bring back a pleasant memory and perhaps put a smile on your face.
A lot of these people have passed through this world now and have gone on, but the lessons taught remain as part of their legacy and we owe it to them and to whomever taught them to share it with who we can.
Knowledge is a great thing to have, but an even greater thing when shared.
Sometimes we think we may have nothing to share as what we do as outdoorsmen is common knowledge, but we all have a little something to pass on to someone else.
Sharing this wisdom is generations old, let us keep this tradition alive for generations to come.
(Roger Smith lives in Bonne Terre, Mo., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)