I had an experience this past week that put some things in perspective for me. With all this hot weather, I haven't done much walking, and one evening as the sun set and the air cooled, I decided to take a stroll. I'm fortunate enough to have not much in the way of civilization in my immediate vicinity, and a walk usually consists of looking at trees, fields, and wild animals.
I often carry a firearm of one sort or another. Not because I'm paranoid about being attacked by a bear or a rabid coyote, but because I like carrying a gun. Our forefathers thought enough of gun ownership to write about it, and I tend to agree with them.
Being or staying familiar with your firearms also comes in handy when hunting season rolls around. On this particular evening, I was unarmed and not even thinking twice about it as I tooled along, wondering if or where I might see a deer, turkey or whatever. I am quite familiar with my local scenery, and often a patch of brown out of place will materialize into a deer, so for me taking a walk is sort of like practice hunting.
The sun had set and light was fading as I slipped up to a field edge. Seeing nothing in the field, I continued on when, out of the corner of my eye, a dark shape along the edge of the field about 30 yards away drew my attention. That wasn't there before and I stopped, realizing that an animal was watching me. A feeling of uneasiness swept over me when I studied the shape of the animal. It was either black or dark brown, with a roundish head and thick shoulders, and it appeared to be crouched. It's size was maybe a little smaller than a deer. An animal like a deer will let you walk by, sometimes at very close range, as long as they figure you haven't seen them. When you stop, they run away because they figure they've been spotted.
Well, I was stopped, and this critter was not moving. There were weeds between us, so I couldn't get a clear view of it, but I was becoming a bit disturbed by the creature's stance. I moved a little to try to get a clearer view, to no avail. The creature did not move a muscle. My hand went to my only means of defense, my faithful Gerber multi-tool on my belt. If this thing attacks me, I thought, I'll get out my screwdriver and poke him in the eye. The standoff continued for a few more moments, then I decided to get it over with and started toward the creature. When I got a little closer, the crouching creature turned out to be...a bunch of dead weeds. I felt a little ridiculous to tell you the truth. I walked back to where I first saw it, and again it did indeed look amazingly like some sort of animal. As I walked on, I thought about how sure I was that those weeds were some sort of animal. I also wondered if that's how the rare hunting accidents occur. In their eyes, do they actually see an animal that isn't there? There should be a great chasm between thinking you saw something and pulling the trigger.
Fortunately, hunting is an extremely safe sport. Accidents are rare, partly because "identify your target" is one of the primary tenets of hunter education with both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and parents raising future hunters.
n Ken Maurer, Herndon, is a licensed fishing guide and a regular contributor to the Outdoors Section. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.