Larry Case: Facing fear in the outdoors

The long shadows and bare trees of late fall and winter go hand in hand with hunting season in many locales. It's a scene that could also be the start of a horror movie.
The long shadows and bare trees of late fall and winter go hand in hand with hunting season in many locales. It's a scene that could also be the start of a horror movie.

"To him who is in fear, everything rustles." - Sophocles

What are you afraid of?

The dictionary tells us fear is a feeling induced by a perceived danger or threat and that it occurs in certain types of organisms. It changes metabolic and organ functions and ultimately behavior, leading to such actions as fleeing, hiding or freezing.

This is a pretty good definition, but I'm not sure we think about any of that when we are afraid of something. We just know we're scared. But fear (and how we deal with it) affects those of us who claim to be sportsmen and outdoorsmen.

Just consider that for a moment. All manner of tales and traditions in the outdoor world have a basis in fear. Maybe this stems from the times when our ancestors sat around a big fire roasting a hunk of mammoth tenderloin, hoping the saber-toothed cats and cave bears would take the night off.

Here are a few of the best-known fears related to the outdoors:

- Being in the woods. This may be the greatest fear many of us have today. We live in a world where we are rarely alone. We are often in a crowd, in what we consider a safe environment, usually with an electronic device in our possession.

When hunters who have this problem finally get to the woods, it can be intimidating. There is a lot of talk about going back to nature, solitude in the forest and so forth, but when it comes down to it, sadly, many of us are not accustomed to being alone in a remote place for very long.

Over the years, being associated with a lot of hunters at work and hunting on my own, I would think, "What are people really afraid of out there?" It was always a little strange to me that a big he-man hunter loaded for bear with a large-caliber rifle, maybe a sidearm, a knife that Crocodile Dundee would lust after and other goodies would be afraid of anything!

Some of the things hunters have told me they fear: snakes, bears, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and Bigfoot. (OK, I made that last one up, but I would bet someone out there believes in Sasquatch and is fearful of seeing one.)

- The dark. This is an old one most of us have to admit to at one time or another. Again, maybe it goes back to when we were sitting around the fire, knowing we were not at the top of the food chain. Usually our modern-day hunter deals with this fear in the darkness before dawn, often on the way to a tree stand.

I'm an advocate of the "nothing is there in the dark that ain't there in the light" thinking. I don't believe in ghosts, werewolves, Bigfoot, zombies or whatever it is some people seem to fear.

But the thing about the dark is this: everything is different. Mostly you can't see, and the things you can see don't look the same as in the daytime. All of our survival instincts (left over from back when we were sitting around that fire) go into hyperdrive.

I will share one little experience with you about traversing the woods in the dark.

Once I was dropped off on a back road during a spring gobbler hunt. This was in a Midwestern state, and I had never been in this place in my life. (This is an old tradition in turkey hunting - take visiting hunters, drop them off in the middle of nowhere and tell them, "There is no way you can get lost.")

As I was making my way out of there that evening - in the dark, of course - I suddenly heard as plain as day and very close the long, drawn-out howl of a wolf.

I mean a wolf, like a gray wolf, not a mangy little coyote or a dog. Now I had heard wolves before and knew what they sounded like, but I certainly did not expect to hear one in Ohio while turkey hunting. It turns out a resident was raising timberwolves in an enclosure. My hosts had somehow neglected to tell me this. (Oddly enough, they thought this was amusing.)

- Getting lost. This is another classic that has haunted hunters since the first mammoth hunter left his house in Siberia and wound up in downtown Nome, Alaska. Daniel Boone is generally attributed with the quote, "I've never been lost, but I was mighty turned around for three days once."

All hunters think about getting lost, but I believe less so than we used to. Why? I think many hunters these days do not really venture far enough from the truck to have much of a chance of getting lost.

For many of us, hunting is a short walk from the truck or the ATV, then we climb into a tree stand. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that; this is just what some hunting is like now. There is less traveling over large expanses of country than back in the day, though, and that is a pity.

Go somewhere this fall and take a walk over the country. Make it somewhere there is a chance of getting turned around like Dan Boone.

If you can work it in to sit somewhere and stare into a fire, all the better. Don't fear what rustles.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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