For every hunting story you’ve read, there was at least one other one the writer couldn’t tell you…
I’ve been an outdoor writer for a while, but before that I was a reader: I used to marvel at the glossy hunting magazines, the writers’ tales of derring-do in the face of rotten weather and tricky critters. Now that I’ve been behind the scenes and seen how the sausage is made, I’m here to tell you that for every hunting story you’ve read in a magazine, there were two or three ones from that very same hunt that the writer can’t tell. Usually, the reason why is because it wouldn’t fit into the space allotments our editors (blast the ink-stained wretches, every one) give us. Sometimes, however, it’s because what just went down is weird, embarrassing, or worse. Although I’ve changed names and details to protect innocent and guilty alike, here’s one of the first stories I couldn’t tell…until now.
Most of my early hunting experience was in the Northeastern U.S., so I always wondered where people got the idea that hunters like to ride around on our tailgates, swigging beer, whooping. and spitting. I never saw anyone do it, so I figured that it was just another outdated cultural trope. Why would anyone do that? It seemed unsafe, for starters, and what was the allure? Then I became a gunwriter.
I was way out West, evaluating a particular gun-and-glass combo by way of a prairie-dog hunt. Or, more precisely, a prairie-dog shoot, given that the little Black Plague-carrying buggers don’t do much to evade the gunfire coming from 200 yards away. After a long evening picking off the ‘dogs, it was time to head back to the ranch house, which was a good 10 miles away over unpaved roads. The guns weren’t ours, of course, so we secured them cozily in the cab of the truck for safekeeping. That left the bed of the truck for the writers (which, as any editor will tell you, is still much too good for us). We opened the tailgate, got situated, and the guide drove off.
It was a beautiful sunset, the truck was bouncing, the mood was high, and we were unencumbered by seatbelts. We’d been shooting in the hot sun all day, and we’d been up since before dawn. We were tired, maybe a little dehydrated, and definitely a lot loopy. My boots dangled over the rutted ranch road as I watched a flock of bats take to the darkening sky. I don’t know who started the Rebel Yell contest, but someone did–and the next thing you know, we were ay-yi-yi-ing like we were born to it.
There was only one problem…we were out West, the roads were dry, and every whoop came complete with a simoom’s worth of dust. The prairie dogs are part of the problem there, you see: They may be cute, but they extirpate every single green living thing around their town, and they do it from the roots up. That part of the ranch looked like a moonscape. It really didn’t matter if you were Rebel Yelling or not; the dust cloud would invade any available moist face-hole it could find and immediately transform into nostril mud.
Luckily, our wise guide had prepared for the presence of outdoor writers by stashing a six-pack of light domestic beer in the back, which we promptly cracked open. And why not? We were done shooting for the day, the guns were unloaded, and we’d be leaving them locked in the truck overnight. Truth is, I wasn’t exactly drinking the beer–more like using it to swish out my mouth. And what to do with muddy mouthwash beer when it’s served its purpose? Why, one must spit it out!
So, that’s why people think Western hunters ride around on tailgates whooping, swigging beer, and spitting. Because they do. And it’s awesome.
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