BLOODED. Not sure when or where I first heard that word applied to an item of hunting or fishing gear, but its meaning was clear. Blooded meant that the piece of gear in question — a rifle, shotgun, bow, knife, rod, hook, lure… — had been successfully used to take game.
You won’t find “blooded” defined that way in The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. But the language of Old Coots has its own peculiar entomology. Hundreds, if not thousands, of words and phrases that are at odds with formal dictionary definitions are woven into the history and traditions of the blood sports. For example: “iron sights” on rifles are not made of iron; “improved” shotgun barrel chokes are tighter, not better; “mending line” does not mean splicing your fly line; “wet flies” are not flies; “still hunting” means walking through the woods.
The Coot dialect, a subset of American English spoken by tribe members who gather in hunting and fishing camps, has its own vocabulary understood only by initiates in the Fraternal Order of the Bullet and Hook and is seldom used in communication with “outsiders.” It’s not “secret” exactly; it’s just comfortingly obscure. We distrust people who do not know that .35 Whelen is bigger than a .35 Remington or that a 16 gauge is smaller than a 12 gauge.
We’re leery of anyone who does not understand the significance of “blooded.” That’s why I’m a bit reticent about mentioning that two pieces of my gear were blooded in the course of this deer season in the North Country: a lever-action rifle and a drop-point skinning knife.
The new rifle I acquired in preparation for this season because the state Department of Natural Resources changed firearm hunting regulations so that rifles chambered for one of several straight-walled cartridges (“straight-walled cartridge” — there’s another of those terms from the Coot vocabulary) can be used to shoot deer. It is a Marlin Model 1894 in .44 Remington Magnum caliber. (See The .44 Magnum caper) I took a yearling doe with it the second day of the firearm season, sitting in a section of our woods that was stunningly beautiful after a first-day blizzard had swept through and coated the landscape with wet snow and ice.
I hand-crafted the drop-point knife in November from a carving knife that was among the never-to-be-used-again kitchen utensils that were destined for the recycle center. I designed it to cure one of my all-too-common deer hunting mistakes: puncturing the deer’s paunch or gut when I field dress it using my 40-years-blooded clip-point knife, especially when I’m working by flashlight in the pitch dark of the woods.
The custom drop-point knife has a 3 ½-inch blade with a rounded tip and thick spine, and it worked well. The sheath is practical although crude. I made it from pieces of scrap leather that had been taking up space in the workshop cabinet since I bought them four or five years ago at a craft store – for some project that I can no longer remember.
The Over the Hill Gang, and others of the Coot cult, will understand my gratification in getting the new gear blooded, the knife more than the rifle since it was the creation of my hand and – to my amazement – performed exactly as I hoped it would. Having come to that time of life when new things are few, and being an old dog who does not much want to learn any new tricks, these little satisfactions still have a way of making me giddy as a schoolgirl.
“Giddy as a schoolgirl,” by the way, is a Coot vocabulary phrase meaning “inordinately overjoyed by a small success in life.”
(Addendum: Kudos to my beautiful blonde wife for driving the pickup out to the back 20 on a slippery snow-covered evening and helping me lift the deer into the truck bed when I was weary after a long uphill drag. She said this is the last time she is doing this. But enjoying the venison may change her mind over the coming year.)
More stories about deer hunting, bird hunting, and life in the North Country are published in collections of essays and novels, all available through Amazon.com at Jerry Johnson Author Page