Even best deer hunters at times shoot blanks

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D.S. Pledger
Sunday, December 1, 2013

Many hunters went into this past week's deer season with high expectations.

After another year of reading valuable tips about deer hunting, learning new techniques from various outdoors programs and upgrading their equipment with the latest scents and gizmos, that big buck was as good as in the bag.

But as the hunt winds down tonight, many of them have been skunked and feel let down. Indeed, over the past decade I've noticed that more of today's sportsmen have developed unrealistic expectations of hunting success.

Some of this disparity between real-world hunting and the idealized version in the glossy magazines and on TV becomes apparent while watching those Alaskan reality shows on TV. A couple of them (“Life Below Zero” and “Alaska—The Last Frontier”) follow around a number of individuals and families living out in the boonies that eke a living off the land. They trap, hunt, fish and garden to survive in this rugged country.

While a few of the situations might be staged, for the most part, one gets the impression that a cameraman simply tags along with them and records what the homesteaders are doing throughout the year.

I find the hunts to be the most revealing.

On a recent episode of “Alaska,” Atz Kilcher, his son and his daughter-in-law are trying to put some meat in their freezer by bagging a mountain goat as they stumble up the scree-littered mountain slope carrying their packs and rifles.

When they spot a billy, the old man does a sneak to get above it while Atz Jr. and his wife wait to see if it spooks towards them.

If this situation were being shown on one of the “sportsman channels,” Atz would nail the goat with a 500-yard shot, using a bipod to steady his shiny new rifle chambered in some whiz-bang caliber. The rifle report would then scare several more animals towards the kids, who would then shoot at least one more, and the scene would end with high-fives and handshakes.

What actually happens is that when Atz gets into position, the billy has left the scene. Bad weather starts to move in, and he's forced to abandon the heights and the trio set out for home, pelted with rain and narrowly avoiding getting stuck on the mountain by an early-season snow.

There'll be no goat for the Kilchers to eat this winter, but that's how things can often work out when you go hunting in the real world.

On an episode of “Life Below Zero”, Glenn—a loner living above the Arctic Circle—cans a shot at a running elk and loses his chance to put 100 pounds of meat in his cubby.

Sue, a “hermitess” who lives even farther to the north, bats only 50 percent on ptarmigan, while Marty, the trapper, finds that his traps are being sprung by a wolverine.

Later in the program a young Inuit fails to recover a seal his mother just shot.

These are folks who live in the outdoors, hunt for subsistence and certainly know what they're doing. They have their problems, though, due to weather, bad terrain and simply not seeing shootable animals.

Although they are pretty good shots, they are not trained marksmen, and there are always a few flat-out misses, too.

Indeed, failure is more common than filled tags.

They accept the fact that that's the way things go when you hunt, yet many in the “lower 48” are so geared to a successful outcome that a hunt that fails to produce at least ”some shooting” is a disappointment.

It's nice to be positive, but over the years you learn to be realistic, too. Many deer seasons will offer no opportunities, and even if there are a few, things can and will go wrong. If that's what happened to you last week, cheer up—you've got a lot of company, including some of those homesteaders up in Alaska.

D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at maus16@centurytel.net.

Last updated: 1:28 pm Tuesday, December 3, 2013

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