“Don’t ya think it’s about time to break down and buy another cap?” I asked my elk-hunting buddy Dave as we readied our gear for another trek up a Colorado mountain. It was an ordinary camouflaged cap like you’d find at any truck stop off any highway exit in America, yet it had a bow and a rifle and a fly fishing rod all crossed on its ratty bill. The line from the reel formed a little golden fleur-de-lis that ran around to the back. It had several holes in it from moths, briars and errant casts; it was crusty white and faded brown from sweat and sun. It smelled like roadkill.
“Not even close.”
“What’s so lucky about it?” I ribbed. “You’ve never even killed an elk while wearing it.”
“That may be true, but we’ve never failed to make it back to camp, have we?”
I couldn’t argue. Heck, I was just glad his good luck charm was his hat and not his underwear, since I was sharing a tent with him.
Fact is, hunters are probably second only to baseball players and fishermen in their superstitions. Perhaps it’s because we can’t control the weather nor the animals, and so we look to something to give us a glimmer of hope when the woods seem daunting. In 30 years of hunting, traveling and spending time in rainy hunting camps where there’s not much to do at nights other than noodle inside each other’s heads, I’ve seen some doozies.
I used to turkey hunt with a man named Tom who thought walking through a clover patch was akin to finding a leprechaun sitting on a pot of golden horseshoes. He’d stand there, wiggle his boots, take a deep breath and say, “I’m sure I just stepped on a four leaf clover.” Invariably we’d find the nearest tree to set up and call.
Another friend of mine always has a dip in his lip the size of a peewee baseball as the ducks or turkey or whatever is coming in.
“Dude, you know that stuff causes cancer.”
“Don’t care,” he mumbled through oozing spittle and black flecks while packing it in his lip with his tongue, fighting joyously to get a handle on it. “Never shot without it. Don’t even think it’s possible.”
About a dozen guys I know wouldn’t dare venture farther than their trailer hitch without their lucky sheath knife secured to their waist. Although the blades were all given to them by their fathers back when they were 12—Cases, Bucks, Kershaws and K-Bars and a few extra special custom jobs made by Dad’s godfather—each one is special. To carry anything else in the woods would be akin to giving the good luck gods the bird.
Me? I feel like the first constellation I see in the pre-dawn sky when I get out of the truck for a hunt needs to be Orion, the mighty hunter, if my luck is to be outstanding. If it’s something else, like the Gemini Twins or Scorpio, I try to forget about my silly superstition as I tread carefully over each log and watch out for pitfalls. But if it’s Orion—and I’ve learned where he’ll be when I get to my favorite spots—man do I feel like a walking rabbit’s foot! I also feel that if I ever get cocky and tell myself that I’m going to kill a big whatever—even after I’ve seen Orion—I usually don’t kill squat. So I’ve learned my best luck usually happens when I stay humble.
Plenty of hunters have guns they treat more like demigods than simple metal tools used for firing bullets. My buddy Ron in Arkansas would rather go to the DMV on a holiday than go goose hunting without the banged-up Benelli he calls “Brother Ben.”
And bowhunters! They are, without a doubt, the worst. Lucky arrows, lucky hats, lucky skunk pee, lucky release aids, lucky quarter moons, lucky this and lucky that. It’s fortunate these guys carry big backpacks or else all this lucky crap would become overly burdensome.
Some things for me are decidedly unlucky. The last three times someone has killed a snake crossing our path, I have not only failed to bag a turkey—or in the last case an antelope—but I’ve also made huge mistakes that nearly cost me a vehicle, my pride and nearly all my precious time here on earth.
My fishing buddy Cody Roberts won’t even go out if some dimwitted, happy-go-lucky moron brings a banana in their lunch. He doesn’t care how many miles he’s driven to get to his spot before dawn—it’s not worth the calamity that will certainly ensue.
My buddy “Fish” in Virginia has more good luck trinkets, amulets, madstones and talismans than a wizard can wave a wand over, but he never roams the fall woods without his bear tooth-and turquoise necklace dangling about his red neck. The thing is ridiculous—imagine something from “Jeremiah Johnson” or “Dances with Wolves”—only his back yard woodlot isn’t Hollywood. It rattles and scratches and would drown smaller people by its sheer weight alone—but he says it contains the spirit of the bear. Fish is one of the luckiest hunters alive, so he’s obviously found his juju and I don’t question it.
Oh, hunters are a superstitious lot! I’m just glad the deer don’t adopt voodoo dolls, or we’d all be in for a heap of discomfort.