It takes big bucks to bag a doe these days

September 21, 1995|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- We country people learn to tell the seasons without a calendar. For example, we know it's $l mid-September already because the trees are full of nuts -- and also, in many cases, full of men in camouflage suits.

The next full moon is known locally as the Moon of the Bowhunter, because at this season, in an ancient autumnal rite, arboreal archers take to the trees. Each has prepared himself intensively, and expensively, in the hope that a deer will wander by beneath him. If it does, and he notices, he will shoot an arrow at it.

Once arrows were made of wood, especially wood from one of the several species of viburnum known as arrowwood. In the fullness of time, great hunters adapted to changing technology and began to employ shafts made of fiberglass. Now aluminum and graphite are popular materials.

Arrows made of these can be quite costly, as is indicated by lines from a poem about archery: I shot a 30-inch graphite arrow with broadhead tip into the air. Approximately $5.50 went, I know not where.

In their resolute efforts to maintain the folkways, the field skills, and the hunting equipment of their forefathers, modern bowhunters must make certain sacrifices. Let us examine such a hunter as he waits in his tree, arrow nocked, in the cold light of a September morn.

Dressed to kill

He is dressed in a camouflage outfit ($200) made of space-age materials intended not to rustle as he slips through the woods. (Silent-Hide and Hushweave are popular brands.) He has washed it with Hunter's Clothes Wash ($12 a quart) to keep it odor-free, and sprayed himself with Scent-A-Way for the same reason.

The law does not require him to wear day-glo orange clothing during bow season. This is because bowhunters don't mistake one another for white-tailed deer as frequently as do those who go afield during the firearms season. And that's a good thing too, as anyone who has read ''Deliverance'' knows.

Camouflaged and presumably odorless, our bowhunter sits in his two-piece aluminum tree stand ($230, with an instructional video explaining how to set it up). He is at one with his surroundings. His Bionic Ear headset ($75) is turned on, and his bow is at the ready.

The bow isn't of yew, like the ones Kevin Costner's merry men used in Sherwood Forest. It's constructed of fiberglass and magnesium, and it costs $375. Of course it is equipped with a Splitfire Power Grip strap release ($35), a torque tamer ($21) to reduce vibration and quiet bowstring noise, and a peep sight ($75) with color-coded fluorescent aiming strips that glow for better visibility.

Our well-equipped archer has brought a dozen arrows ($70) in case a lot of deer happen by. To increase the odds of that happening he has dribbled some Doe-in-Rut Buck Lure (urine from does in heat, $10 an ounce, how obtained we can only speculate) on the forest floor, and he carries an EZ-Grunter for making imitation deer sounds.

Finally, he has a portable digitized Global Positioning System unit ($300) to read signals from communications satellites overhead. Unless the batteries give out, this will guide him safely out of the woods and back to his tepee, or at least to his pickup truck.

Happy hunting

He will be happy, chances are, even if he returns without having loosed an arrow or seen a deer. This is because for many hunters, the appeal of the sport isn't in the shooting as much as it is in the totality of the experience and the tactility of the equipment. Handling all that specialized hardware, as well as going through the catalogs and watching the instructional videos, provides an almost spiritual link with generations that have gone before.

This seems to be true of waterfowl hunters as well as those who hunt deer with gun or bow. Today there is much more interest, at least around here, in the making, buying, selling and trading of duck decoys than there is in actually hunting ducks. Havre de Grace has declared itself the Duck Decoy Capital of the World, and it well may be. There's no doubt its ratio of wooden ducks to residents is unusually high.

Only a few old-timers here still remember when the town was one of the major duck-hunting centers of the eastern United States, and decoys were simply tools made by local guides to improve the hunting. They had no idea back then that what the carvers were doing would turn out to be folk art, and that in a few years their old decoys would be selling to non-hunting tourists for more money than they used to make in an entire season of guiding duck hunters.

You just can't tell about nostalgia. I sometimes get to wondering if one day there might be a Bowhunter's Museum here on our farm, perhaps displaying antique graphite arrows and EZ-Grunters from the good old 1990s.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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