Good Medicine

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By Jeff “Tank” Hoover

Suspended in mid air, I think, “Damn, this isn’t good.” Then again, maybe it is. I was well into a 45 minute hike to my hunting spot in West Virginia, a two mile, blown down, tree strewn, creek crossing, boulder dodging, zigzag through some of the toughest country resembling the worlds craziest obstacle course. One more creek to cross and I’m almost there. Then I’ll wait 40 minutes for first shooting light as I cool off, catch my breath, and rest.

Being submerged in cold rushing water was shocking. Halfway across, I remember stepping on the smooth, slimy, moss-ridden stone, wondering, “Is it slippery?” It was.

I suddenly go horizontal, pause and flop underwater. Recent rains made the usually calm creek deep and fast. My head submerged and I think what a dumbass I am. An almost freezing temperature will make for a long, cold, wet, miserable day. As I got myself up, pouring water out my rifle barrel, I notice my glasses missing. Luckily, I find them, with my flashlight, which is still shining its beam underwater. Those rubber O-rings really work. Rather than being pissed, I’m now full of confidence for the day’s hunt.

The Unexpected

A favored uncle, Jerry, always told me accidents, turmoil, or unexpected happenings before a hunt usually bring good luck. He told me this for years. Looking back, I’m not sure if he told me this in my youth to pacify me, when things didn’t go as planned, to keep me quiet, or if he was really sincere. Either way, I believed it — and still do. It is good medicine. This would include such errors as forgetting your lunch, water, skinning knife, or spare ammo, all of which has occurred to me, sometimes many times.

I get up, put my glasses on and shake off, like an old hound dog. I slog my way to my spot, starting my soggy vigil. As the sun starts making it day, my vision isn’t quite right. “Did I hit my head during my dunk in the creek?” Closing my right eye, things look clear, closing my left eye, things blur-up. Great. My shooting eye. I stick my finger up to touch the lens and my finger passes through, like magic.

My glasses lens for my right eye has popped out. So here I sit, shivering, right eye closed, looking thru my new monocle glasses. Eating a wet pack of soggy peanut butter cracker mush, I think, “Any more good luck, and it’ll be a sure thing to shoot a Boone & Crocket buck!” A smile crosses my chattering teeth as I think of Jerry’s belief. It doesn’t take long though, and a few hours later, a nice eight point buck, hot on a doe, crosses in one of my shooting lanes, walking, pausing, as if playing a perpetual game of hide and seek.

My gun goes off almost of its own accord. While bringing the boned meat and horns back to camp, I notice a glint in the creek. A closer look reveals the lens from my glasses twinkling at me. I snatch it from the icy water and press it into my frames. It goes “snick” as it finds home. Talk about good medicine.

Hunters are an optimistic, superstitious lot. Each season brings dreams of taking a big, gnarly, heavy-horned monster.

“Where’m I going to mount this trophy once it gets back from the taxidermist?” As happens more times than not though, most hunters go home empty handed, or shoot the first legal buck they see. Impatience, adrenalin, excitement, or an itchy trigger finger are the cause.

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Stable Mates

Superstition and tradition go hand in hand and hunters are full of it. Some eat the same breakfast, wear a special shirt, or carry a particular knife to bring them luck. The Dena Indians in Alaska called this magic. The Shaman priest would make up special bags, each one different and private for the individual hunter. One man’s medicine would not work for another. It was very specific. Those Shamans were visionaries, spiritually connected to the past and present through a maze of spirits, superstitions and traditions many discredit or just don’t believe or understand. For the ones who do believe, the medicine is very strong, indeed.

So are the traditions and superstitions of most hunters. Some hunters are so stuck in their ways the slightest deviation can make them forget about going hunting that day. “What’s the use? I’m out of my routine. It would be useless to go. I’m jinxed.”

This magic will not take the place of hard work. Scouting, spending time afield, pouring over topo maps and knowing what food sources are in the area are key to a successful hunt. And maybe good “medicine” can give you the edge, to keep your attitude positive and to keep you out longer. Face it, the longer you stay outside, the more the odds will be in your favor. Sometimes, good old fashioned 24 carat luck blesses you, and you stumble into a nice trophy.

Uncle Jerry

The year after my creek mishap, my cousins and I had a big mishap of our own. We were hunting in the same mountains and it was the third and final day of the hunt. We were putting on drives for each other, working our way from ridge to ridge, leap frogging each other, so we all had equal turns driving and posting. On one of the last drives, my cousin, who was below and staggered behind Jerry said, “Here they come.”

My uncle acknowledged him, and shot at a large nine point buck, missing it clean. My cousin shot too, striking the buck too far back, and took off in pursuit. He went past me, as I was lower than him, working my way around the point of the ridge we were driving, affectionately known as “shit house ridge” since an outhouse sits on it. We eventually caught up with the mortally wounded buck, gutted it and dragged it down to a creek, to clean it.

But where was Jerry? We waited 20 minutes. We fired a few shots into the air but got no response. We then backtracked. And we found him, laying face down right where he had taken his last shot. He went down at the shot, dead of an apparent heart attack. It couldn’t be. Not Jerry! My favorite uncle, the man who took me groundhog hunting as a kid, taught me to shoot, and was my mentor and older buddy when I went up to spend time on my grandparents farm.

Sometimes the harsh realities of life kick one right in the teeth. This was one of those times.

My cousins and I were in shock. It was Wednesday before Thanksgiving — and Jerry was dead. His funeral was Saturday, and opening day in PA was Monday. It was surreal. The usual anticipation of opening day was clouded by grief. I don’t think any of us really had our hearts in the hunt. But we went. Jerry would have wanted us to, and I think everyone tagged out that day.

Later that evening, after the deer were skinned and quartered in my cousin’s butcher shop, the room cozy from the bitter cold outside, it started to snow. Nothing was said, as we all sipped our chosen libations; yet volumes were communicated by our expressions and grief. It was a special moment which will live with me forever. Family sticking together through hard times, honoring Jerry, knowing we would get through this and eventually — everything would be all right.

The following year in West Virginia I have a brand new 1998 Chevy Tahoe, after years of driving a 1985 Chevy Chevette. Sunday night, my wife informs me on the phone “we” are pregnant with my daughter. Opening day came, and I took the biggest buck I ever have. I really think Uncle Jerry had something to do with it, too. Like a Shaman priest of the Dena Indian tribe, he brought me good medicine.

Over that previous year, I had thought nothing worse could have happened when he died up on that mountain. In some weird way though, now I think his bad fortune brought me good medicine on that hunt, telling me all will be fine and to just go ahead and have a good life, no matter what happens. You just never know when you might be making good medicine for someone else.
What makes good medicine for you?

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