Here in the Middle West deer and turkey seasons have come and gone and the season of the duck is winding down. Thus begins the long dark winter of man’s soul, a dreary time with few opportunities to disappear for days on end without being charged with desertion.
Much has been made of the close, organic friendships between women — when they are not backstabbing or manipulating one another. According to descriptions of a UCLA friendship study, female friendships shape who women are and who they are yet to be. “They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are,” the study reportedly discovers. And whereas men respond to stressful situations with the old fight or flight impulse, women counteract stress by dialing up their girlfriends.
That’s why it’s hard to imagine a show like Sex and the City for men. The closest men come to Carrie and her posse are the loveable losers of King of the Hill known for hanging out by the trash can, swigging Jax beer and muttering the occasional “Yup.”
This is what happens when you turn a huntsman into a husband.
Hunting is not just an excuse for men to get together and, à la then Vice President Dick Cheney, “accidentally” shoot attorneys. It is a chance for men to get together and talk — or not talk — and not feel weird about it. Equally important it’s an opportunity for men to get back to basics. Lost in the woods or freezing in a duck blind, man’s primitive instincts kick in — assuming they are not too benumbed by Wild Turkey. Since conversation in a duck blind is taboo, the hunt is one of the few chances we have to do some serious thinking without the distraction of the television set. Mostly we think about how cold and bored and miserable we are.
Sadly few women understand the importance of this male ritual. Unlike the fair sex, men cannot sit on a cell phone for hours talking about what drives them crazy about other men. Men need a gun in one hand and a beer in the other before they are able to talk to one another. The hunt gives men an excuse for both. At least during deer and turkey seasons, which last through the fall and early winter. Or in summer, when it is not unusual for men to disappear on long, elaborate fishing expeditions to Montana.
There is a popular myth that males turn into wild men when we go a-hunting or fishing. The fact is there is a long-established etiquette associated with blood sports. For example, one rule of trout fishing stipulates that fishermen “do not encroach on another angler’s space.” Trout fishermen are encouraged to employ the “visual rule of crowding” and attempt to keep out of sight of other anglers whenever possible. Nor will an angling gentlemen monopolize a good fishing spot on the river. He will fish for a while, then move on.
IN WINTER DESPERATION some men will brave sub-zero temperatures to hunt the migrating snow goose (Chen caerulescens). Here in the Midwest snow goose season is open through April 30, though the birds’ numbers have grown so exponentially a longer season has been recommended. For a mere $500 per night, one can stay in a rustic hunting lodge that includes a private room, palatable meals, a morning hunt, one round of skeet, and, most important, a full bar. For the most part, though, hunting lodges are a thing of the past. Most goose hunters will check into a nearby Motel 6 or Budget Inn, which, it must be said, lacks the charm and camaraderie of the old rustic hunting lodge — at least as it exists in my imagination.
Besides wintering geese one can — until mid-February — stalk the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) or swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus), though there is not much point to it. It’s hard for one’s wife to accept that you are going to be gone a week to hunt varmints that can be easily found beneath the sweet gum tree out back. You have a better chance of getting away with this if you live in the South and your rickety children are starved half to death. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee often recalled how squirrel was considered a “Southern delicacy,” especially when fried in a popcorn popper. Such anecdotes got the presidential hopeful many votes south of the Mason-Dixon line.
It has been my experience that most females will demand to go hunting exactly once. Women naively see the hunt as a chance to bond with their boyfriends or husbands. Of course, their presence defeats its whole purpose which is to isolate oneself from female society for a few days, while regaining one’s masculine bearings. Thus the smart men are likely to make the trip as unpleasant as possible. They may find the buggiest place in the swamp to make camp. They may choose the weekend of an expected ice storm. They will constantly remind their love-interest there is no talking allowed as it scares the game. After a weekend of this she will likely second Mr. Murphy’s observation that “It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasure should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.”
I remember hearing Garrison Keillor recount how in the old days Minnesota men were known to go stir crazy during winter and were sometimes found by their wives squatting naked and grunting round a campfire they’d built on the living room floor. All these men needed were a few days in a heated duck blind. Considering the alternative, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.