Hunting & Heritage  |  01/03/2013

Strangers Aren't Always So Strange

I put four bottles of red wine and a few nips of brandy on the counter at our local liquor store. A voice behind me said, “That’s a good sized collection.” Turning, I saw a squirrely-looking guy, wiry, with a stubbly narrow beard and boney face, wearing a dark bandana on his head and a much-too-worn Harley t-shirt. Living in a small town, I recognize most the locals even if I don’t know their names. He wasn’t familiar.
“It’s for hunting camp,” I said.
“Oh yeah? Your husband’s heading to deer camp?” he asked with a chuckle, probably wondering why a bunch of manly men hunters would sip wine instead of bourbon or beer.
“No, it’s for girls’ hunting camp.”
“So you hang out, drink wine, take walks, stuff like that?” he continued with a smirky half smile starting on the left side of his mouth.
“No, we hunt,” I replied, loving the direction this conversation was going. He gave me a doubtful look that said, “Yeah sure.”
“Fourteen women, ages 39-73. We all have our own bird dogs that we trained ourselves. Actually, I think there’ll be about 19 dogs at the camp this year. We hunt. Hard. All day.”
His eyes lit up, “Really? What are you hunting?”
“Grouse, I mean partridge, and woodcock,” I answered, going with the local term – “partridge” – for ruffed grouse.  “Up in northeastern Maine, in Eustis. Most of us have pointing dogs, but there’s a Lab or two in the group. Partridge are pretty good up there. We’re hoping some flights of woodcock come in.”
That seemed to convince him and flip a switch in his mind. He instantly pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and showed me a photo of his living room with handsome deer mounts covering the walls. I admired them. We launched into a conversation about how this year’s deer and bird seasons were looking, what the odds were he was going to get a buck during bow season, and how tough the Maine woods would be for bird hunting until more leaves came down. Then we moved on to the relative merits of duck hunting and goose hunting, my hunting dogs and his non-hunting dogs. Twenty minutes later, I picked up my double-bagged collection of bottles and turned to the door as my friend and I wished each other good luck and good times hunting. Expectations overturned, enthusiasms shared. Pretty cool.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.