Believe me, this ain't easy, folks — coming up with these informative, entertaining, extremely well-written outdoors columns every week. (OK, I'm stretching it a little.)
Long ago, I told you I believed it is my job as your humble — well, mostly humble — scribe to keep you up to date and informed while perhaps even leading you to do a little soul searching at times regarding what's going on in the outdoors world.
Well, gather round, brothers and sisters in camo, for the latest sermon.
Hunting season, what some of us consider the peak of the year, comes upon us like a thief in the night. We long for it, wait for it, and bang, here it is. Most of us are not prepared physically or mentally, but we barge on into it, make the same mistakes we always do, and then almost before we know it, the whistle is blown and it's over for another year.
As always, your highly qualified (in the making mistakes department) and semitalented outdoors columnist is here to help. Let's set some goals to think about for the 2018-2019 hunting season:
Slow down and smell the roses this year. OK, there might not be many roses out there between now and next February, but maybe you will get the idea.
Think about taking the time to enjoy all the aspects of every hunting trip you do this year. Many times I have written that if the success or failure of your trips to the woods depends or whether you kill something, you may be in the wrong business.
Now don't get me wrong: If the opportunity to take game comes along, and the shot is safe and legal, by all means take part in nature's bounty. I am just saying that once you get past the measure of the hunt as to whether you pull a trigger or fling an arrow, everything takes on new meaning.
Did you enjoy the trip to and from the hunting grounds? How about the company of various hunting buddies? Did you get lost in watching some hunting dogs work? During all of that quiet time on the stand, did you watch a couple woodpeckers chisel into a dead limb over your head or notice how long it took a squirrel chew into a walnut?
It's all out there; you just have to tune in.
Take a little more care with game. This is not a new topic either.
To get the most benefit from the wild game we bring home, meticulous care of the meat is necessary. It usually comes down to just taking the time to do it. Most problems with venison start because the deer was not field dressed and cooled down quickly enough.
Nobody likes to field dress, that is, remove the guts from a deer. No one wants to do this, but like dying and paying taxes, it has to be done. The best practice is this: If possible, remove the entrails from the deer immediately after it falls and start cooling the meat. In warm weather (40 degrees or higher), get the hide off the deer, quarter it and get the meat on ice as quickly as you can.
Do not make the classic mistake many hunters do when they take down a large buck. Often the deer is loaded on the truck and is then taken on tour, with the proud hunter driving to every camp and buddy in the area to show off the deer. This can go on for hours. Don't do it. Dress and process the deer properly, take pictures and brag on Facebook if you want.
About the same goes for birds and other small game. Rabbits, squirrels or a grouse will make better table fare if you skin and quarter them quickly instead of hauling them around all day in your hunting coat. Take a little extra time and you will be glad you did when it comes to serving them up on the table.
Take a kid (or someone who's not) hunting! I know you may be tired of hearing about this, but I am not going to stop.
Unless you have been living under that proverbial rock, you know we are in serious trouble with a decrease in the number of hunters. I have preached about this many times and will continue to do so. The outdoors industry and the hunting ranks have done a good job the past several years of initiating and putting on several programs for young people to interest them in hunting, shooting, fishing and all things related to the hook-and-bullet world.
The problem is some of these one-day events just don't seem to move the needle as far as increasing the number of hunters in the field. If the youngster is interested and would like to dive into hunting, he or she has to have someone take them. If the new hunter does not come from a hunting family, then someone (you or me) has to take the time to pick them up, see that they are properly outfitted and spend the time with them in the woods teaching the many aspects of the hunting world.
This is the only way for new hunters to be introduced to the sport and stand the chance for the bug to bite them and make them want to continue hunting.
Will it take away from your personal hunting time? No doubt. Will it mean you may not take home as much game as you did before? Probably. Will it all be worth it?
Only you can answer that, but I think so.
Don't forget this goes for adult hunters as well. If we introduce older new hunters to the sport, I think it is a slam dunk. Once they are brought into the fold, adults can take care of themselves and continue their hunting career with less help than youngsters, which means more boots on the ground.
Well, I hope you think these are some worthy goals. If you really get desperate, call me and I will tag along, help you smell the roses and take care of the field-dressing chores, and you can introduce me to your kind of hunting.
I won't complain about your cooking in camp, and I might even bake you a pan of cornbread.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.