Good decisions are based on experience. Experience is based on bad decisions.
– Clement Seagrave
You have heard that old saying “Experience is a great teacher.” What a lie! Experience is a lousy teacher.
What kind of teacher would give you the final exam first and then present the course syllabus and materials later, after you have failed abysmally? That old saying should be, “Experience is a cruel teacher.” The kind of teacher that believes all learning must be accompanied by pain and suffering. And injury, for the advanced lessons.
Experience, for the bird hunter, is more like outdoor classes in practical physics taught by the college of hard knocks. We learn more than we ever wanted to know about gravity, navigation, time, ballistics, friction, metallurgy, and electronics. We also get a crash course in weather forecasting, with emphasis on the effects of wind, rain and temperature on rocks and water.
As a bonus, the college offers us hands-on instruction in first aid (human and canine), entomology (tick removal for extra credit), herpetology (focus on venomous snakes species), wilderness survival (a poncho can save your life), food poisoning (toilet paper should always be in the pocket of your hunting vest), and allergic reactions (antihistamines work best if taken with bourbon).
Outside of our major area of study, we are required to take elective courses in social skills: classes that teach prudent behavior, appropriate alcohol use, clothing selection, table manners, how to tell time, when and how to use a telephone, and coping with (deserved) verbal and physical abuse from an irate spouse. I’m not sure which part of the curriculum deals with skunks, porcupines and badgers, but it’s in there somewhere. After several tries, I finally got passing grades in all three.
Learning outdoor skills through experience is a long and arduous process, and many a bird hunter has given up before achieving his APP&WD Certification (Acumen, Prescience, Prudence & Wise Discretion), the equivalent of the doctoral degree in the hunter’s world. It is dispiriting to meet one of these fellows who has neglected his education. More than a few times I have encountered the non-degreed hunter deep in the woods, bewildered and on the edge of panic, who has asked “Do you have a compass?” Do I have A compass? As in one, singular compass? No, I have three compasses, any one of which I am willing to sell for $50. I will also have two topographical maps of the area, $100 for the spare one.
I have learned that higher education not only adds to the quality of one’s life but also provides certain financial benefits.
All six of the charter members of my bird hunting group – known as the Over The Hill Gang – have been awarded the APP&WD Certification at least twenty years ago. If the Goddess of Wisdom and her handmaiden Perspicacity were to bestow the honor of immortal fame upon the world’s most experientially sophisticated bird hunter by placing him in the heavens as a constellation, we six shall surely be among the final starry candidates. Well, all except for Dave who gets lost in the woods a couple times each fall.
Knowing this, and aware of our opportunity to share our knowledge and legerdemain with the greater hunting fraternity, I mentioned to the OTH Gang that we should launch a website with weekly tips and bits of lore that could speed an outdoorsman’s practical education and spare him the pain, anguish and embarrassment of stumbling through the string of mishaps and disasters that we suffered over the years. Imagine my chagrin when they told me, to a man, “Hell no! Let them learn things the hard way, just like we did.”
Nevertheless, I plan to open a school of hunter education. Ever the literary entrepreneur, I hope to offer correspondence and online courses leading to the aforesaid APP&WD Certification. The modest tuition will include a tasteful diploma for framing and mounting, and a patch to sew on your hunting vest. Maybe a compass and a whistle, too.
Here is a ten question, multiple choice test that will be typical of the course material.
Appropriate Behavior, Decision-Making, and Etiquette
for the Aspiring Bird Hunter
1. You shoot a 16 gauge shotgun and are selecting ammunition for a hunt 300 miles from home. You should pack:
A. One box of 16 gauge shotshells size 7 ½ and one box size 6
B. One box of 16 gauge shotshells in every size in your cabinet
C. Two boxes of 16 gauge shotshells in every size in your cabinet
D. Every box of 16 gauge shotshells in your cabinet
2. You are choosing footwear for a woodcock hunt in a nearby state and have been assured by the locals that the marshes are all dry this year. You should:
A. Pack a pair of ankle-high rubber boots
B. Pack a pair of knee-high rubber boots
C. Pack a pair of hip boots
D. Pack A, B, and C
3. You are drinking beer with friends and reliving the day’s hunt when, at 10 p.m., you remember you promised to call your wife at 6 p.m. You should:
A. Decide to call her in the morning
B. Call her immediately and apologize
C. Call her and crinkle paper against your cell phone while you shout, “Is this connecting? I’ve been trying to call you for four hours.”
D. Wait until 1 a.m. to call and then say, “Oh my God, I never thought I’d hear your voice again! Let me tell you what happened…”
4. Throughout a day’s hunt, your dog has performed magnificently while the dogs of your hunting companions have performed poorly. You should brag about your dog:
A. During the day’s hunt
B. In the evening following the hunt, after drinks
C. A month after hunting season ends
D. One year after the dog has gone on to its eternal reward
5. You have had a great day of quail shooting, cleanly killing twelve birds with twelve shots from your 28 gauge gun. You should mention this to your hunting companions:
A. Only after one of them commends you on a fine day of shooting
B. Only after all of them commend you on a fine day of shooting
C. Only if one of them specifically asks about your bag and the number of shells
6. Your hunting companion has just shot a rare double on woodcock. As he turns to look at you with a beaming smile, you should quickly:
A. Turn your back to him and whistle for your dog
B. Remove your glasses and pretend to be cleaning them
C. Congratulate him on his fine shooting and ask if this is his first-ever double
D. Break open your gun and ask, “Oh, did you shoot, too?”
7. A hunting companion has arrived at camp with a new, expensive over-under shotgun. You should:
A. Compliment him on his wise choice of a beautiful gun
B. Mention you read an article about this double gun’s unreliability
C. Have him mount the gun several times and then tell him it does not fit him correctly
D. Ask if his wife knows how much he paid for it
8. You and a hunting companion have come to a beaver-dammed creek that you must cross to get into grousey-looking cover. Before wading, you should:
A. Throw a stick across and tell your dog to fetch
B. Throw a stick across and tell his dog to fetch
C. Test the depth of the water by probing with the barrels of your shotgun
D. Test the depth of the water by probing with the barrels of his shotgun
9. In December, the two of you come to the same creek, which is now frozen over and you must cross on the ice. You should:
A. Let him cross first
B. Let him cross first
C. Let him cross first
D. Let him cross first
10. On a pheasant hunt, everyone in camp shoots a limit of birds the first day except for you, who missed three easy shots. You should:
A. Pout silently and drink everyone else’s beer
B. Pout silently and drink everyone else’s scotch
C. Pout silently and drink everyone else’s bourbon
D. Do A, B, and C
Please submit your answers by postal mail with $10 enclosed to cover the cost of grading and return postage. You must answer at least seven of the questions correctly to receive academic credit toward APP&WD Certification. This is an open-book test, and you can find the answers in my novel, Hunting Birds, available in paperback and Kindle editions at amazon.com.