Dressed to Kill

Rough Draft
(Richard Thompson)

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By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, August 7, 2005

The thrill of the hunt! It's fabulous being a hunter, stalking game, examining broken twigs, fur snagged on branches and, most importantly, the droppings, which reveal so much through their shape, smell and taste.

A man is never so alive as when he is tracking a wild animal, forced to survive on his wits, his courage, his cunning, and his high-powered rifle with telescopic sights and built-in GPS beacon.

There are various wimps and sissies and liberals who don't like hunting, because they're not anthropologically sophisticated, and don't realize we've been hunting for hundreds of millions of years, since the days of the dinosaurs. If we hadn't been hunters, we'd have been totally wiped out by the notorious woolly tyrannosaurus.

Personally I don't hunt, because I find guns scary and loud, but I've been totally turned on to hunting by a wonderful magazine called Gray's Sporting Journal. The magazine is somehow manly yet beautiful. The cover shows a fat bird taking flight, no doubt in that sublime moment before it gets blasted to smithereens. The articles are fine, but it's the advertisements that are so evocative, like the one for Mossy Oak brand camouflage clothing, which says, "everyone who is privileged enough to spend time outside has two things most other people can only dream about -- blessings beyond measure and a closet full of Mossy Oak."

That's going to be me! I'll be a man with a closet full of Mossy Oak, plus a whole dresser full of Mossy Oak accessories. Gray's Sporting Journal is like a women's magazine for men. It not only makes you want to hunt, but hunt gorgeously, with style. You might come home empty-handed from the woods, but you will know that you looked good out there. And that the other men were insanely jealous of your Zeiss 42FLs binoculars with the ribbed-armor grip!

Here's an ad for Filson camo, showing a guy who, by wearing the right camouflage, looked exactly like a tree armed with an enormous bow and arrow. The ad states: "A frigid dawn turns into day and you're perched motionless overlooking the fresh buck sign. There! At the edge of a slough the gray form slinks along the edge with uncanny silence. Your vitals go into red alert as you try to calm your heart with forced, steady breaths . . ."

And more like that, very pulse-pounding, until we get to the clothing pitch: "Filson uses only 100% long-fibered virgin wool -- no cotton or nylon fillers like the others. This makes for an absolutely silent garment that retains maximum warmth even when wet!"

I'm sold. I want silent, warm, long-fibered virgin wool, so that if I get bored hunting I can at least make conversation about hunting fashions.

I would definitely be a hunter if it didn't involve guns. Also I'd just as soon it didn't involve so much of the outdoors. You could get lost. Worse, the woods are filled with dangerous animals that have not yet been shot by hunters. I did go hunting, many years ago, with my friend Randy, who owned a dinky squirrel gun that was roughly as powerful as a water pistol. We tracked a covey, or pack, or maybe the word is herd, of wild turkeys. Randy did most of the shooting, but the turkeys outsmarted us, and eventually we just decide to slay some soda bottles propped up on a stump.

The whole issue of hunting raises the philosophical question: Is man a killer by nature? To some extent, hunting isn't about killing, but about ecosystem management. A lot of those deer are just begging for trouble, hanging around the woods during hunting season. But obviously there is also a kind of primal male desire to project lethal violence at a distance. This is why many men, even well into middle age, will respond to the sight of a deer, rabbit, sparrow, gerbil or butterfly by extending an index finger with a thumb raised and saying, "Blam! Blam!" There are loads of men who routinely on a Saturday night will rent "Bambi" and fast-forward to the part where Bambi's mother dies, and they'll laugh real hard and give one another high-fives. They call that "the good part."

I'm just not a killer, I'm sorry. Now that I've found Gray's Sporting Journal, I can dress the part of the hunter, but I'm only going to hunt on those rare occasions when I play a video game. And, frankly, I find even Pac-Man a little too violent. All those poor dots.

Read Joel Achenbach weekdays at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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