Murphy’s Law

(Or Hunting as I have experienced it!)

Part 1

Hunting is one of those lifelong pursuits with a single unwritten purpose!  To humble a man.  Well, at least this man. And, being a man, I was completely unprepared for the journey and slightly un-accepting of the lesson. For how could it be me, the greatest hunter of lizards ever to walk the earth, a stalker of squirrels without peer. How could it be me that has had all these troubles? 

Yet as I look back I can’t fault myself so much, I fault those around me for setting up such unreal expectations with their bravado, their incredibly vivid tales detailing every aspect of their hunting prowess and their truck beds fairly layered in wild game. How is a young-un supposed to react to such things?  Seeing a father and older brother, grandfather, their friends and acquaintances preparing for days, leaving amidst such incredible excitement and pats on the back only to return with these grand stories and the cooling carcasses as their proof.  (Even my grandmother got in on the action! I have the pictures.)  Did they simply leave out some of the more salient details?  Maybe out of neglect or possibly even fear of letting my young ears hear of their failures? Were they sheltering me? Or was it simply selective hearing on my part?  For me, I prefer to believe they were unwilling to face the reality I’ve had to live with all these years! (Maybe they need therapy) For certainly it couldn’t just be me! Maybe it is. Ooo, not a good thought. But right or wrong I’ve had Mr. Murphy lurking over my shoulder every time I entered the field and sometimes he visits well before. The only real unknown was to what degree he would interfere.

I should have known, based on my first real hunt, that things would not always go well, and I’m here to tell you brother that your friends and family will not always give you the pertinent information you need to be successful! Even the small details they leave out can be critical. 

“Here’s a jar, go get some ants to feed the turtle!” Seems pretty simple to a five year old, yet so much responsibility, and of course a great adventure, one into which I poured my soul. So I set out on my first real hunt! Not contemplating the action, simply the glory. Did they tell me not to stand on the pile while chasing the little buggers? NO! Did they tell me not to make them mad? NO! Did I learn these simple rules? Absolutely! My first real hunt ending in painful abject failure and a very cold bath to drown the one hundred and one hangers on that attached themselves to my very young and to this point, perfect skin. The only bright side being the fact that I did bring back the game! Admittedly, not in the traditional sense but quite a satisfactory jar full. Only later did they tell me the turtle wouldn’t eat them if they were dead.  Ingrateful @%#!
With such a plethora of experience to draw on, I find my self at a loss at just how to relate it all, and I hope that some small wisdom will be passed down so that the young hunters that follow after me will be more prepared than I. I could categorize these events as acts of god or human nature, pass them off as mechanical failure, the uncanny ability of the game and so on. Instead I will relate the events as random musings and leave it to the reader to put the information in its proper perspective as he or she sees fit. 

The next experience I relate as it was told to me by my brother when I asked about a small scar I carry over one eye. I asked as it’s a scar I don’t remember receiving. His eyes glaze over and he gazes far back in time looking with his own pain on the event. He asks me to imagine how it was for him, having a little brother tagging along always asking “Can I?” Causing “him” no end of aggravation. He says to me that day, “Just what are the chances of me actually shooting an arrow into the air and having a little brother go chase after it, even though I’m yelling over and over, No?” I’m here to tell you it’s about a hundred percent. I got the scar, but my brother’s pain was his bow wrapped around his backside because dad was not amused. I suppose that one actually was my fault, but you’d think he could just let it go after all these years.

Did I not mention above that I was the greatest hunter of lizards to walk the earth, with the uncanny ability to know just where a lizard will run and just where they love to hide? It was not uncommon for me to bring home several of the elusive creatures after each foray into the wilds of the mesa. In fact I’m slightly surprised there are any left. But even here, in the innocence of the chase, Murphy found me. Witness the crafty Blue Tail which ran darting from bush to bush purposefully staying just out of my reach and casting its contemptuous gaze back in my direction with a disdain that only a reptile can perfect. Drawing me on until it disappeared into a hole in the side of an arroyo. I still to this day believe he was luring me and a friend of mine to our doom. With no apparent exit and a glint in our eyes, we commenced to digging it out. For hours it seemed we scrapped and dug with duteous concentration, following the hole as it transited the entire face of the ledge. Absorbed as we were in the chase I finally see the object of my desire, beady little black eyes gleaming in the end of his little tunnel. Triumph! Suddenly I hear my friend yell “watch out!” and two things happened in that surreal moment. The entire side of the arroyo gives way burying us to our chests in sandy clinging dirt and that Blue Tail ran untouched out of the avalanche only to scampered away leaving the scratches of its tiny claws as it passed over my wrist, and as it ran past I swear it carried an ear to ear. Or should I say, tympanic membrane to tympanic membrane smile! 

I will relate two other lizard experiences, though there were many more. The first occurred as I chased after a wily old Sand Digger that went to ground in a garbage heap left by some thoughtless non-hunter. I got down on my knees and gently peeled back a sack only to find that same lizard comfortably snuggled up to a rather unhappy diamondback. Needless to say that adventure is very prominent in my memories! As well as the time a mouse ran up my pant leg in just a similar circumstance. That’s the moment I learned to dance. It was almost enough to put you off huntin'! Almost, but not quite.

As I grew older, I found the shooting sports were far more interesting that simply chasing down lizards and putting them in a jar. Yes, I discovered the wrist rocket, the bow and the BB gun. Did you ever notice that if you leave a lever action BB gun half cocked and pull the trigger the lever snaps closed with a loud crack? And you can do it time and time again. What a laugh. Great entertainment right up until you get comfortably careless and leave some fleshy part in the way. Suffice it to say the blood blisters ringing my palm far outweigh the fun.

Through it all I remember being a very good shot with my BB gun, even shooting a Black Bird right out of the air; at least I think I did because I saw it fall from the middle of the flock as I myself tumbled off the branch of an old apple tree. It was a day or two before I felt much like looking for its carcass and I think the neighbor’s cat got the benefit of that one.   

Ah, but now a real hunt.  Stalking the forest in search of the oh so elusive squirrel. You know the ones that chatter and scream at you from every tree. Our intent that day was to claim one of the furry beasts but not tell anyone about the claiming. Seems people frown on such things in a park. In any case we were not to be deterred by a simple thing like others people’s squeamishness or something so mundane as rules. Not even by the nice Golden Retriever that lived with the parks caretaker, a dog which liked to spy on our every movement. Did it know something we didn’t? We carefully stalked almost ten minutes before finding our quarry quaking in a tree. With regret I pulled the trigger. Regret because that traitorous four legged flea bag rushed in to snatch up the evidence. Then he took off in a beeline right back to the cabins. It never occurred to us that a dog could have actually caught a squirrel and that we’d probably been ok if we hadn’t chased that same freeloading mongrel yelling and screaming and waving our guns right into the middle of the campground. I sure do miss that BB gun.

Now as I look back, I try and think of ways I could have foiled Murphy. After all, I could have just saved the squirrel and shot the dog! Don’t think I didn’t kick myself for not thinking of that. Especially at night when all the neighbor’s dogs seem to bark in unceasing mockery. I should have worn tighter pants to keep the mouse out, and everyone knows rattlesnakes love to hide under grocery sacks, but I’m not sure I’m to blame for drowning all those ants.

Eventually as all boys do, I matured and put such trivial pursuits behind me. I graduated to the big guns and the fraternity of the Deer Hunter! Did Murphy care about my maturity? No… he followed me there and he follows me still.

Part 2

Now it must be noted at this point, that the hunting version of Murphy is not content to simply mess with you in the field, in the blind, or the woods! He has free reign in any activity remotely associated with the sport and the examples are endless. Like the time we set out to sight in our rifles. We carefully set out our targets, paced off the distance then calmly each of us put five rounds into them. Carefully we opened the breaches and sat the rifles down, then we ran like crazed idiots to see who'd shot the best. A pattern which was repeated time and time again until I cut my run just a little too close to the truck, bending the tongue of the hitch around my kneecap (quite possibly the other way around!)  Think of laying there in agony, wondering how you’re ever going to walk again and your so called friends are yelling and laughing about the three bullets you failed to place in the bull. They of course were perfect! A fact you can’t confirm from the shade under the truck. Kind of makes you wonder what friends are for. 

I got my revenge on one of them though. He wanted to impress a new girlfriend so we decided to take her out and shoot my brand new shotgun. I shot a couple of times to demonstrate the hows and whys then let her have it. Figuratively of course! It was a great laugh fest for all of us I tell you. When she touched off the round it scared her so bad she simply let go of the gun and ran the other way. My brand new shotgun fell gently toward the earth, almost in cartoon slow motion, only to stick barrel first into the soft sand. Then with stately grace it tipped over, crashing in a gentle puff of dust. Boy I sure showed him! Not even a peck on the cheek as I remember. The echo of her scream still rings in my ear. Though to be fair the scream could well have been mine.

But now a real hunt. Early season teal on a steel shot only refuge. I of course am blameless in this one. With no duck stamp I can only hump the decoys for the other “real hunters” and wait till the shooting is over so we can go quail hunting. So hump I did. Right to the middle of the refuge. We had not long to wait because the warden came by to check their loads. Seems they we’re told by the kindly gentleman behind the counter at the department store where they secured their rounds that these new copper coated shot are a great substitute for steel and will do less damage to your gun! Cheaper also. At least till you pay the fine down at the magistrate. Not to mention the two mile hike in waders because the warden conveniently left his ticket book in his truck, which was polar opposite of yours as far as the swamp goes. I don’t remember getting any quail that trip. And speaking of friends, don’t let them brag about their skills and how many ducks they’ve taken. Especially to the undercover federal marshal posing as a fellow hunter, and especially when your friend likes to stretch the truth a bit. A strip search of your truck does wonders for finding things you’ve lost.

Ahh! Now to deer hunting. An honorable pursuit which has held me in awe since I was a professional ant hunter. I was fortunate to go on several before I could carry a gun and I got to see first hand how it would be. It was all successful hunts with my young eyes aglow helping carry and dress the meat. Such high expectations. And yet from my first deer hunt to my first successful deer hunt, it was exactly five years. The first year I had a young buck in my sights and a very old gun. Model 1896 .30.40 to be exact. A buffalo gun meant to shoot very long distance and an elevating sight which, as I moved through the forest, some how set its self on 400 yards. Needless to say the shot at a 40 yard buck was about four feet too high. Even the buck looked suppressed as he wondered off. Dejected, I stumped back to camp willing to tell every graphic detail of my hunt in abject misery. Then my brother shows up and throws me a deer heart and says “Come on. Dads with the deer!” Deer not buck - so, “Deer?” I say. “Yep, we got two.” I just tucked my dirty little secret away for a while. 

Over the intervening years I did shoot at another buck, yet foolishly I borrowed a gun from a gentleman who swore it shot “dead nuts!” Given my gun was in need of repair, a fact I didn’t find out about till we hit camp, I accepted. I emptied that .270 down hill at that deer and with each shot swore there was no lead at all in that gun. For the last shot I nestled the scope into the eye of the buck; hell I’d shot every where else, then touched it off. Rocks flew up at the rear hooves of my target finally motivating him to leave. Never ever borrow a gun. Murphy just loves that one!

It is said that a deer hunter’s success can be measured in some degree by the number of animals he harvests. I myself killed many a buck in those years while never firing a shot. In fact I was deadly. It seems every where I went the deer fairly jumped out of hiding. Yep. I’d go in after 'em then get the pleasure of gutting and carrying someone else’s buck back to camp. Sometimes there’s just ain’t no justice. 

Year five Murphy took pity and I harvested my first deer. Oh the glory of such success. I boasted I was now good enough for bigger game. I convinced my hunting partners it was time for Wapiti (that’s elk or big damn deer to all you deer hunters!). And low and behold I was successful again. First year and with a borrowed gun even. Truly I had finally beaten Murphy and overcome all obstacles. Graduated to become one of the greatest hunters of our time. So good in fact I disdained the gun and took up a more manly sport. I became a bow hunter. Little did I know that Murphy was simply setting me up (again). And since I dared to scoff at him he took it out of my hide in spades. 

I graduated to the bow in the renaissance of elk bugling when Mr. Carlton started marketing the turkey call as a great substitute to challenging a bull. I bought it. Literally. Then I practiced and practiced driving my wife to distraction. And the season came none too quickly. We arrive in camp after dark and start a fire and I decide to practice some more. Boy was I good. I had a bull into the edge of camp with only three tries despite the fire. The morning would be hunting Valhalla. I would once more assert my prowess on a hapless quarry. I called in three bulls that day, one of them twice, the first only 200 yards from camp. Perhaps he was waiting for me from the night before. No matter, Murphy decided to tease me a little, allowing me to take the shot. For surely it was he who allowed that tree branch to grow right where the limb of my bow could reach out and smite it. The arrow passed cleanly between the bull’s outstretched legs. For me I prefer to think he’s now a gelding. The second bull Murphy let me call to within 10 feet. Not kidding as I have a witness. Yet when I drew the bull ran and as I turned and shot I killed a tree that wasn’t there a moment before. You see Murphy has control over everything, even nature. And so it went. The very next day I showed my calling skills by calling in hunter after hunter. They would all exclaim how great I sounded, “exactly like a bull” they’d say. I’d smile and nod my thanks. Then I called one in carting a hand gun. “Funny lookin' bow” I says as he tries to hide it behind his back. He looks at me kind of funny and says, “You seen a bull down here? We heard one!” “Naw! Just the wind. By the way. Which way are you planning on huntin'? I wouldn’t want to interfere.”  He points and I go the opposite direction - quickly, looking for a warden. Another year goes to Murphy. 

And so it goes. Murphy and me we’re a pair. Sometimes he lets me win just to keep the game interesting, but most times he’s content to play with me. Witness the time I call to a bull and move toward it. He’s holed up so I cut across an open with a bunch of blow downs, my wife dogging my heals. We are half way across when she whispers, “there he is!” I go to ground and freeze with her right beside me. The bull, oblivious to us and looking for a fight, walks past then stops, obviously confused because he expected a pipsqueak puny little bull he could easily whip. I believe this to be a testament to my calling skills! As he stands there bewildered, I go to full draw. Did I forget to mention it was a cold morning? Murphy made me wear the gloves and naturally I'd never practiced shooting a bow with such an enhancement. As the broad head touched my guiding finger it stopped, my finger now being approximately a half inch bigger. My draw however didn’t stop, and the nock popped off the string. There I am at full draw with an arrow dangling in the wind, me trying desperately to grab it with two fingers and somehow put it back on the string. Kneeling and staring at a 5x5, holding back 70 pounds with two fingers while the other two and your thumb are scrabbling wildly for the arrow is a sight that even I laugh about. Murphy tells it over drinks and I’m sure he gets round after round bought for him - all at my expense. 

These are just the highlights of my ongoing relationship with Old Mr. Murphy. I’m sure he has as many years left in him as I do, though I’d hoped to outlast him. Or at least I’d hoped he would take pity on my maturity (or dotage) and let me hunt on in dignity. But in truth I’d probably miss him.
So if you are in the field and see me, don’t be surprised if a little cloud follows just slightly behind. You can wave and shake your head but just remember. Murphy is a hunter s well and he may just be hunting you.