There's an ad for a hunting guide posted in a supermarket on the North Carolina Outer Banks. This gguide specializes, it says, in "waterfowl, upland game and steel hunting."
We sat around for the longest time trying to figure out what steel hunting was. Then the answer came to Joel, who hails from Georgia and knows the whims and pitfalls of back-country diction.
"Steel hunting," he said. "That old boy comes from back in the holler somewhere. He called up the printer and told him what he wanted over the phone.
"The printer heard him right. Steel hunting. Like staying where you're at. Not moving. Sittin' steel..."
Earlier this month I had my introduction to still hunting, as we'd say it up here, and it occurs to me steel is a pretty good description. It takes a will of steel to put up with the agony of sitting like a statue all day, waiting for the course of events to bring the game your way.
It was Pennsylvania deer season, and my stand was on a pile of rocks near a creek. In the snow. In the rain, and in the bitter cold of dawn and dusk.
Still hunting is productive, even if you never see what you want to hunt, because you end up seeing other things that probably would never venture into your view if you were on the move.
It's the only sensible way to hunt deer in Pennsylvania when thousands of men and women of undetermined common sense are afield with you, armed with high-powered rifles and perhaps bleary eyed from long revelry the night before.
So I sat for three days. I sat until the muscles in my backside ached and my shoulders felt as if they were slowly creeping down my sides.
The only thing I was permitted to move, according to my host, was my feet. "Any time you move your head, your arms, or stretch, or stand up, you could be spooking your buck. He can see you for hundreds of yards. He might be off in the woods somewhere, but he sees sees that little movement and he's off. They call them grey ghosts. You'll never even know they were there."
I didn't see a buck that first day. I caught one glimpse of a doe, ambling through the woods 200 yards away. She may have caught my scent, because she never ventured nearer.
But I did see a bluebird, the first I'd seen in the wild. These birds, about the size and shape of a robin but with bright blue markings like a jay, are said to be making a comeback after years of decline. It was a thrill to see one, particularly when it stopped on a branch 50 feet from the stand and gave me a long look.
I saw squirrels gathering mast on the forest floor, and crowd bedeviling an owl in a tree roost. But no buck.
Next morning, no buck again. I was dreaming of Miami in the sun as my toes grew numb when I heard a twig snap in the brush off to my left. I shifted eyes and saw, to my astonishment, a beautiful deer 50 yards away, moving toward me.
It was a doe. No horns. Not legal game. But my heart was pounding anyway, and I couldn't believe I was staying still. I could feel my chest heaving.
The wind was in my face and the doe never sensed me. She stared at me, eye to eye, as if I were invisible. She came closer, perhaps 30 yards away, and stood with her head high, ears perked, looking around for danger. My rifle lay on my lap. She was unperturbed.
The doe stayed for two, three minutes. Who knows? Then she causally eased off. When my partner came to get me an hour later the doe flushed from a nest 100 yards away, where she had bedded down.
On the third day a glaze of ice had formed over the snow, and as I made my way to the rock pile in the dimness before dawn my feet sent up a cacaphony of crunch. Nearing the rocks, I heard still more noise that wasn't mine, and I stopped and listened to pounding and cruching from the other side of the woods. Deer, three of them, that I glimpsed in the spare light as they tore off in fright.
Those were the last deer I saw. Three days, no shots, no deer.
A hunting friend said he always wondered how to reconcile his love for simply watching wild animals with the fact that he would, if they were in season, shoot them. We decided that the answer is we'd never have the fortitude or patience to sit still long enough to see those things if we didn't have the incentive of hunting. So to keep things honest, we shoot.
But not very often. CAPTION: Picture, John Page Williams lives a Chesapeake Bay fisherman's dream with warm mittens, blue skies and feeding rockfish.
By Angus Phillips - The Washington Post