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Step off the pavement for a healthy retreat

November 23, 2013
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Game on! From all reports, it appears that the peak of the rut has arrived.

The rut is a term used to describe the annual whitetail deer breeding season. It is typically an eight- to 12-day span of time that deer hunters dream about all year round.

Indicators of the rut, such as rubs and scrapes, have been prevalent for at least two weeks. But now, hunters should be seeing the best indicators as does begin pairing up with bucks or small groups of does are found congregated.

Currently, the best bet for hunters is to locate the does. Find them and sit tight since the bucks are actively looking for them as well.


Reality check in the woods

"One of the chief attractions of the life of the wilderness is its rugged and stalwart democracy; there every man stands for what he actually is and can show himself to be."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Hunters learn first-hand from concrete experience about the reality of life in the woods. With this familiarity, they come to understand that life lives on life.

I recently witnessed the true face of this fact. It occurred as I was stepping from one hummock of swell grass to another while navigating my way through a wet swamp.

After taking one particularly long and daring leap, I landed safely on a large dry hummock and rocked gently back and forth to gain my balance.

Staring directly at me from under the crushed tall grass were two beady little eyes. The moment I made eye contact, a varying hare bounded away from nearly under my foot. I'm not sure which one of us was the most startled.

It was a cruel twist of nature, something that has become more common in the age of climate change. The poor hare, also known as a snowshoe rabbit, was already wearing a white winter coat even though the woods were still fully brown and there was not a single snowflake in sight.

In its own mind, I'm sure the poor hare believed it was fully camouflaged. It had hidden comfortably in the hummock where certainly no predator would see it.

Although I consider myself to be a predator when I hunt, I'll admit I never saw the hare until it was nearly under my foot.

This type of natural hide and seek is actually one of the true joys of the hunt. Despite the fact that human beings believe they are the earth's apex predators, it only took a scared and discolored hare hidden underfoot to debunk the self congratulatory concept of mankind's manly skills in the woods.

Outdoor enthusiasts know they are traveling on unfamiliar territory when they tread off the pavement, and yet they keep coming back. It is understandable after all since, for tens of thousands of years, homo sapiens lived a primarily outdoor life. They slept on the ground, foraged for their meals and hid from their predators.

Yet, most of mankind is now resigned to the fact that we must live in small little cubes with windows to hold back the fresh winds and any of the other scents of the wild.

It is easy to take homo sapiens out of the wilderness, but it is impossible to remove the wilderness out of humans. Wild lands constitute a large portion of our genetic stew.

Researchers and scientists have long realized that humans exhibit a consistent positive response while spending time around nature.

Research proves that time in nature boosts both our mental health and physical well being. There is a reason we are drawn to fire and mesmerized by the coals and sparks that drift off into the dark night air.

We go to see the stars, watch the waterfalls, feel the cool breeze and lay on the hard ground for a reason. We do these things because we want to be comfortable in our own skin again. We want to learn what it must have been like to touch the earth and read the sky while coexisting with other wild creatures.

Hunting and fishing, and even foraging for berries and nuts or fruit are similar ancient activities that put us in contact with the natural world in the most natural way. Rather than remaining as complacent observers, hunting, fishing and foraging allows humans to again become authentic participants in the wild cycle of the natural world.

Human behaviorists are quick to point out that hunting is "distinct from other human behaviors in that it provides a direct link to the land, wild animals living on that land, and our North American history of human-nature interaction, where other experiences may not."

There are other theories that claim hunting is as important to our existence as sleep or food.

As James A. Swan explained, "Whenever we deny our instincts, we create problems for ourselves, those around us and the world. In our inner nature we are all animals with similar instincts and ...the hunting, (and fishing and gathering) instinct is bred into the bone and blood of all, or at least most of us, is one of the fundamental elements of human nature."

So too with the many other natural gatherers including the 'shroomers, leakers, maple tappers and berry pickers.

It's incredible to consider that a hunter/angler/gatherer with an investment of under $200 can fill a freezer with wild turkey, ducks, grouse, geese, venison, rabbits, trout, salmon, frog legs, crayfish, fruit, nuts, berries, tubers and a host of other wild, pesticide-free edibles.

Where else can a person stock up on such healthy, all-natural, all-organic food supplies while also enjoying a healthy outdoor experience?

It's really a remarkable deal considering the fact that the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses also provides funding for conservation projects such as fish stocking, land conservation and wildlife management.

And it all leads to healthy lifestyle. Hunting, fishing and foraging provides participants with a great source of exercise. Not only do you burn calories to keep you fit, but it is also great for your mental health as well.

Depending on the method and the amount of time spent afield, a person can burn off thousands of calories in the course of a day's outing - whether hiking the hills, wading the streams, paddling the lakes or simply shivering in the cold mountain air on a morning watch.

Now put down the paper, get up and go outside just for the health of it.



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