What you do? No. That’s not hunting.
Sitting in a tree with your hot cocoa, looking down every once in a while to see if the deer piss you sprayed around your site has attracted any other deer yet, hoping they pick up on their own species scent instead of your own. The registration on your gun is from this year. “Just bought it this year,” you’ll tell everyone who so much as sees the gun’s reflection. At this point, the only things worrying you are the overpowering smell of the polish on your gun and the fairylike dot of reflected sunlight on the snow beneath you.
What you do? That’s trapping.
A deer steps into rifle range sniffing around, looking for the deer that matches the scent. You flip open your scope. The deer hears you. Its eight-point head jerks into alert position the way a dog’s head does when its owner’s keys hit the doorknob after a long day at the office. You exhale slowly. The deer resumes foraging for the smell. You click your safety off. At the same time, the deer steps on a twig. The noises cancel each other.
What you do? That takes no skill.
You put your finger on the polished hairpin trigger, made even more sensitive by the thickness of your gloves. The deer finds the smell’s origin. You steady your aim.
What you do? That’s target practice.
The deer inhales for the last time. Then. Bang.
The part where you eat the deer that you just executed never comes. The part where you get to taxidermy said deer yourself, however, can be unlocked if you beat level eight and enter the code from the bottom of that cap that was on a promotional twenty-ounce Mountain Dew bottle.
The joint advertising significantly increases the product’s market.
* * *
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,” you say, blinding them, turning on the room’s halogens, “to the new frontier in realistic gaming. Join us in celebration as Wii introduces a new edition of the traditional arcade game ‘Big Buck Hunter.’ It will even be coming with a simulation hunting chair posted on a simulation tree stump. The chair will detect any weight shifts, no matter how slight.”
The crowd of big business prospective hunters for retailers all over the nation “Ooh’s” and “Ahh’s.”
“If you tilt even the minimal amount to your right or left, front or back, the chair will most likely give off the annoying creeeaak that you’ve all heard on one chair or another." The canning of laughter. "If you get up to go to the bathroom, all that’s left on the screen when you get back is a trail of hoof prints," you say, shrugging your shoulders. "Better luck next season.”
After your presentation concludes, you head to the back of the conference room to pack up all of your equipment: projector, briefcase, Gucci brand sport coat, Dolce & Gabanna brand sunglasses.
You see a man in your peripheral and it looks as if his head is glowing. His one hand is pressed up against the wall with widespread fingers. That arm is straightened out over the table supporting the all of his leaning body. One leg is crossed over the other, cowboy boots snugly hugging his feet. Complete with spurs. What you thought was a glowing head is actually an enormous, white, snakeskin cowboy hat peppered with black scales. The scales are glossy and the lights are bright. You almost have to squint to look at the man.
“Put ‘er there, partner,” the man demands with his other hand outstretched. He pushes off against the wall and his gut shifts just enough to relieve his nearly popping shirt buttons.
You offer a confident hand in the assumption that he’s just impressed with either the product that you’re pitching or the presentation itself.
Your bang, bang shoot 'em up impulse fires. “What can I do ya for, hombre?” you ask.
If you can identify with the prospective customer, they’re more likely to buy the product that you’re pushing. They have a drawl? Adopt a faint drawl. They have an interest in football? You love football--even played in high school before you blew out your knee. A good salesman has, at least, a vague knowledge of a wide array of subjects.
He says, “I really liked the reality of your new game,” and tips his sparkling hat at you.
That’s when you pick up his overly applied musk. It reminds you of your grandfather. Conservative lessons never learned try to surface. You get that tip-of-the-tongue feeling. Better luck next season, champ.
“I tell you what,” he says. “I’m the purchasing manager at a Cabela’s franchise. I alone have the power to bring your game into our stock of merchandise. And your boss would like that, wouldn’t he?”
This man is good.
“Listen here. I know you have to do whatever it takes to sell something. And I have to make good investments, with good people." His face dares you to negate that. "I’ll keep our shelves stocked with your product and continue doing business with you fella’s if you go on a hunting trip with me.”
You’ve never been hunting. You’re a city boy with a degree in marketing. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been hunting. The first thing they teach you in marketing school is customer loyalty. Impress the customer, and they will never look elsewhere for product.
“Sure,” you tell the man, “I’m game for anything.”
"Shoot. Long as you don't scare off my kill, I'll stick to picking' off only ten points and up," he says.
Your face drains to tail-white.
He slaps your back. "That was a joke, slick! You said game."
Another handshake. Don't forget to hold a firm squeeze--half so he knows you’re manly enough for his time, half so the power in his grip doesn’t require a visit with your doctor.
“Great!” He’s still shaking your hand vigorously. Then he stops. “I’ll have my people contact you and set it up. Oh, and don’ forget to dress warm. It get’s mighty cold up nort’ during these winters.”
The man leaves without even giving you his name. You’re a little awestruck, but not enough to panic. You’ve handled situations with which you weren’t familiar before. This will be easy, you tell yourself. You convince yourself, All I have to do is mimic him and I’ll be fine. This will be easy.
ou finish packing your stuff and head back to your office to have a conference call with some clients in other states.
You have your secretary set up the trip with his secretary.
Fast-forward to next week.
He picks you up in his 1994 four-wheel-drive Bronco. The wheel wells are rusted and the paint is shit brown. The cab smells even stronger of his cheap musk. You can taste the stale cigar smoke. At least he smokes Cohibas. All that’s in the back is a cooler—the contents of which you’re unaware—a few guns, and camouflage hunting clothes. He tells you how the rest is already at the cabin.
The entire car ride up he’s telling you about his past hunting experiences:
“I got an eight-point buck.” Or, “The thing charged me with reckless abandon and I wrestled it to death.” Or, “I had to field dress and eat the bear right there just to wear its skin for warmth.” Or, “That time I almost didn’t make it out alive. Thank God for random fly-by searches.”
There’s no GPS in the car and the snow covered roads are winding. Lucky for you, the UP of Michigan has those vibration strips in the middle of the road so you know when you’ve gone too far. Whereas that used to be a warning sign that you’re about to crash, now it’s become a sign of relief that you’re not crashing. They don’t need them on the sides of the streets up there. No one drives too close to the side. Trees line the side. And if you crash up there, there’s a good chance that no one is going to find you for weeks. Three hours after you’ve left your tire tracks in the snow, it has snowed enough to cover them up again. Chances are that even if someone does pass your crash site, you’ll be buried in fresh powder.
After he’s told you all this, you decide to join him in the car-bar to clam your nerves. Imagine that. You. Nervous. And you make it a point of personal pride to never get nervous.
He tells you how bears aren’t uncommon up there. You know this. You took Hunter’s Safety when you were 15-years-old at the behest of your grandfather. Problem is, you're 43-years-old. Twenty-eight years is a lot of time to forget things that you don't constantly need to know.
The first day up there is spent drunk as can be, shooting into the woods for practice and playing whatever card games you can think of.Your discussions become belligerent after the first bottle of Jack Daniel’s is downed. He shows you his gun. New and shiny. It’s looking the game is more of a prophecy than anything.
So this is why hunting is so enjoyable, ‘ey?
You go to open the refrigerator to get another bottle of Jack. The entire thing is filled with liters. You move a few things around to see if there’s anything behind the bottles—only more Jack Daniel’s.
“Just grab the bottle and get back to the table,” he yells. He’s an experienced drinker. The words aren’t even slurred. “If yer lookin’ for food, it’s in the cooler. That’s what we brought it for. The fridge is for booze.”
You say, “Understandable,” and head back with a new bottle.
You both pass out at the table partway through the second bottle.
He’s up at the crack of dawn and knocking on your head like it’s a solid oak door. No help for your hangover. He slams a plate of eggs and bacon down in front of you along with some ibuprofen.
Help has arrived.
“Eat this,” he booms. “You’ll feel better in an hour. Start getting your gear on when you’re finished. We head out in forty-five minutes.”
“How are you even moving?” you question. “The sun’s barely even up.”
His answer? Practice.
It’s your first day out. He sets you up in your tree stand and makes sure you know how to operate the gun. No bitching aloud--that’s the rule you’ve created for yourself to help the sale go smoothly.
He leaves and your thoughts go wild with complaint. You can’t talk to yourself. If you do, the deer won’t come.
Thank God that this guy told you to dress warm. Thank God that he brought you extra equipment from his outfit of Cabela’s because he knew how you wouldn’t know what cold really was until you were actually in it. Hours on end. Without any hope of getting to the cabin, much less getting in until he comes to grab you at the end of the day.
Deer piss is on the ground. You can only think to yourself, What level is this going to be?
You hear a rustle in the bushes beneath you. This could be it, you think to yourself. There haven’t been any gunshots that you’ve heard in the distance. If you get the kill before Cowboy Dan can, the sale is made. Just the thought of getting the kill and you can hardly contain your excitement. Breath deep—it helps to steady your aim.
The wet, black nose of a deer sticks out from the bush. Steady now, you don’t want to miss. You only get one shot. The bushes rustle in a different spot. It’s probably just a squirrel. You tell yourself to stay focused. You can already smell the iron from the blood as you imagine yourself field dressing it. You imagine the wild yelp of excitement as you drop this defenseless deer with only one shot. After all, it signifies what is probably a promotion.
The snout is there, in front of you, ready for the taking. Aim is steadied and finger is on the trigger, you’re ready for anything. That’s what you tell yourself.
Adrenaline takes hold as the snout pushes out a little farther from the bush. Then the second one. They’re looking for the origin, the deer that left the scent. Those snouts are too dark to be deer snouts.
That’s when it hits you.
The grizzly pokes its enormous head out of the bushes. Just the head is almost as big as your torso. The second one is even bigger. Heart drops. Body freezes. Hunter’s Safety teaches you that bears are expert climbers. Humans are average at best. The bears, they’re fifteen feet from the tree. You, you’re eighteen feet from the ground. That’s thirty-three feet in total. Can you shoot your single shot, bolt-action rifle accurately, reload, and repeat in the five seconds that Hunter’s Safety tells you that it takes a bear to close that distance?
“Taps” says, No. Your wife’s tears and black veil say, No.
That’s level eight.