Nothing warms up a frozen deer hunter like hot cocoa, hand warmers and a new gun book.
Back when I was young, I didn’t fully understand what Dad meant when he said the best part of deer season was getting ready—the week leading up to gun season and the excitement of preparation. Sitting on a cold stump and staring at trees was not as much fun, he said. I thought he was just being a curmudgeon; he turned out to be the voice of experience.
In a similar vein, the late Dan Shideler (who edited the Gun Digest annual book and Standard Catalog of Firearms) said he’d got almost as much enjoyment from reading about guns as shooting them. I thought about this parallel as I sat there on opening morning trying desperately to keep warm by forming my little hand warmer packet into all sorts of fun shapes.
That’s when it struck me. I’d crossed the Rubicon. It must have been the near hypothermic condition into which I’d gradually slipped that made me see the wisdom of those who had gone before. Yes, a warm house and a good gun book started to sound damn good!
Now, nothing makes you appreciate that warm house more than an all-day sit in a frozen ground blind as you watch your dreams of a big buck evaporate like a desert mirage.
Not helping matters: Quite possibly the coldest Wisconsin deer season ever recorded, at least since the last ice age. So I sat shivering, feeling like part of some weird experiment in human endurance. I thought of Jack London’s novel, To Build a Fire, the horrific story of a Yukon gold panner who gets caught in the sub-zero arctic and slowly freezes to death because his fingers stop working. That didn’t inspire any happy feelings.
It did make me relish the annual pilgrimage to the local Fleet Farm the day before. You see, that was the getting ready part. It was the warm part.
Sometimes, there in my blind, I’d just stare at the beautifully figured stock of my .280, and take my mind off the cold pain for a split second. But then the ache would creep up each finger as the nerve endings began to freeze again.
Eventually, a deer would mosey on by. Its luck would run out. The rifle would get to do what it was designed to do: Shoot game.
This tool, fashioned from wood and metal, works like a precision clock whose internal gears and windings all do their part to produce the end product of time keeping.
The rifle’s trigger assembly actuates the firing pin. The pin ignites the primer, in turn the powder. The bullet is driven with a precise amount of pressure down the bore. The exacting tolerances deliver the bullet down the scope’s path to its intended target.
All time and space comes together right here: Intricate systems meeting a wild animal in one place. All have to work in order for man to eat.
The shot happens, and wonder of wonders; I’m no longer cold.
With the deer down, there follows hard work—gutting, dragging, lifting, hoisting and butchering.
Later that night, in a warm abode (the couch, tucked under five blankets and two comforters), with a hot chocolate milk in one hand and a good gun book like Gun Digest 2014 in the other, there is only one thing left to do—reflect.
Here is warmth and comfort, an opportunity to think back on the day’s hunt. I open the book and find only good things. No cold, no hard work, just page after page of reading enjoyment and wonderment—like an endless catalog in which a gun owner (a warm, comfortable gun owner)—can window shop and dream.
Dad, and Dan, both gone now, were sure right. The day before the hunt. A good gun book. These gems are almost as good as the real thing. Well, almost.
Recommended Links for the Gun Digest Annual Book
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1944-2013 3-Disc Gun Digest Digital Library