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Monday, September 5, 2011

Rainy days

The first of September is here, and with it is a line of thunderstorms that will soak Memphis, Tennessee for the next two days.  This means no fishing, no shooting the bow out back, no scouting for deer, if you live in Memphis you’re stuck inside.  If you’re not careful you could get roped into doing chores around the house…lucky for me I have a garage I can retreat to/hide in. 
My garage has a tool room off one side…about the size of a large closet.  It has a workbench and a lot of shelf space and it’s where many of my toys reside.  Fishing poles hang on the walls, boots are in the corner, coolers, ammo, tools, and all manner of hunting and fishing gear line the shelves.  I can always find something to do in that room…something that I don’t consider to be “chores”.
So in times like these when the weatherman says we’ll be soaked for several days I go to the tool room…partly because I need to prepare for upcoming hunting events, and partly because I don’t want get put to work on a “honey do” list. 
September is a transition period.  I’m still fishing with all of my free time but deer season is coming up fast which means I need to start thinking about the upcoming bow, muzzle-loader, and gun seasons.  Today’s weather has me focused on gun season.  My reloading gear resides in the tool room and I have a few hundred pieces of brass to reload.    
Last night I started prepping brass for my 7 mm Mag.  This process brings to mind all of the potential held by the next hunting season.  As I de-prime and re-size the brass I’m reminded that each individual shell I load has its own potential.  Many of these rounds will be used on the target range to punch holes in paper…but some of them will be used in the field to punch holes in my dinner.  Many of these bullets will take a doe for the freezer, but perhaps one of these rounds will find itself staring down the barrel at a trophy buck.  Shooting a tight pattern on the range counts, taking doe for the freezer counts, and killing a trophy animal definitely counts.  All of these thoughts spur a desire in me to make the best possible ammunition I can…quality ammo counts.
So here I sit…in a small dry room as thunderstorms crash down upon Memphis TN.  Just on the other side of the wall the wind is howling, the rain is slashing, thunder is booming and I’m perfectly comfortable and able to focus on the task at hand.  I’m huddled over a small bench that is cluttered with reloading gear from one end to the other and I am focused like a laser on producing the best ammunition I can.    
If I do my job well then this ammunition will allow me to finish a job that begins months before the bullet is let off the leash.  Over the next three months I’ll scout for deer, hang stands in likely ambush spots, and learn as much as I can about the patterns these deer have established.  There will be a lot of sweat and some amount of blood put into this effort.  If it goes well then all of that work will add up to an animal in my sights.  At that point, when I slide the safety off, release half my breath, and take up the slack in trigger I need to know that the bullet I’m about to drop the hammer on is well made.  It needs to leave the barrel of my gun, arc through the air, hit the exact spot I intend, and then perform well enough on impact to kill quickly.  A lot is riding on this bullet.  Literally hundreds of hours’ worth of work hinge upon its performance.  This has to be a well manufactured bullet.
Reloading allows you to get one step closer to this sport than you could otherwise.  I could easily buy some ammo at the store, shoot a couple of rounds to sight in, and then go hunt.  I’ve done that before and it’s very efficient.  But doing it this way is different.  It is very satisfying to walk up to a deer that you killed with ammunition that you manufactured on your own. 
Reloading is as much an attempt at perfection as it is the simple combining of parts.  As you shrink the groups your rifle is capable of producing you become ever-more confident with your weapon.  You come to know its strengths and weaknesses just as you come to know your own.  The hunter who reloads, shoots, and learns from the process is a much more deadly predator than he was when he simply purchased ammo off the shelf and went to field with it. 
After half-an-hour or so hunched over the tool bench I needed a break to stretch.  As I sat up from the work bench I stretched, relaxed, and then stared at the wall as my thoughts drifted.  I began to wonder what my quarry was doing at this very moment.  As I sat there on that rainy day making ammo in my garage…what were the deer doing?
These storms were surely affecting the deer even more than they were affecting me.  I could change my plans, stay indoors, and remain dry.  The deer had few options. 
The first image that came to mind was of deer in the fields feeding ahead of the storms approach.  The overcast skies churn and turn darker shades of grey as the weather worsens.  As this happens the light levels drop and all of the colors in the woods get a few shades darker, and the shadows get deeper.  The reddish-orange summertime coat of the whitetail starts to show more of its browns and greys.  As the first drops of light rain begin to form a misty layer upon the deer’s backs they begin moving toward pine and cedar thickets that will shield them from the violent wind and rain that is approaching. 
It’s pleasing to imagine those deer moving silently past an empty stand that we hung on the field edge in years past.  Long since empty, the cold, wet, iron ladder still stands guard as these ghosts of the woods gracefully and quietly filter past.    
As clearly as if I were standing at its bottom rung I can see that ladder stand.  The ladder itself is a mix of bare dark steel and rust-orange paint that has been slowly worn away by hands and boots and weather over the years.  The pine trunk behind it is stained dark from the rain, and the tall khaki colored grass along the trails edge sways in the wind as gently as ever.  If there were a ladder to heaven this would be it.  It goes straight up for 20 feet and tops off on a platform overlooking a small cornfield next to a funnel of hardwoods in the middle of nowhere.  It’s as peaceful a place as you’ll ever find.
The deer have left the fields ahead of the heaviest rain and have taken shelter in the tight spaces that the woods have to offer.  Cedar thickets on hillsides afford a great deal of protection from the elements and are in some ways as close to a house as a deer will see.  Their broad branches come down low to the ground, they provide a smooth forest floor upon which to lie, and they do a wonderful job of breaking up the wind and keeping the rain off your back.  If a deer needs to hole-up somewhere a cedar thicket can’t be beat. 
So I am here in my tool room and there is a buck out there somewhere holing-up in a cedar thicket.  We are both out of the elements as best we can be, but if you compare the thoughts of a hunter making ammo in a garage and a deer holed-up in a thicket trying to stay dry you can’t imagine that you’d find much in common.  One thing is for certain…despite our differences we are on a collision course that could have us coming face to face sometime in the next few months. 
As this animal rests in his tight cedar-thicket he swats methodically at mosquitos and biting flies with his ears and his tail.  He scratches his hide with his hooves and he waits impatiently for the rain to pass.  When the rain and the wind die down he can leave this tight place.  While it offers fair protection against the wind and rain it is still a small and cramped world that places you at the mercy of the insects…there are surely other places this buck would rather be.
I guess in the end he and I might have more in common than I thought.  We’re both waiting for better times where we can move about and do what we want be doing, free of these weather imposed restrictions.  Soon this storm will pass, I’ll leave the tool room and he’ll leave his thicket.  Sometime this fall we might even meet…and if we do he’ll get to see what I’ve been up to on these rainy days of September.

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