Driving north out of Lansing on US 127 the day before opening day of deer hunting season, one gets a lesson on economics and ethics. It is also a time of great anticipation.
Of course there are the $60,000 four wheel drive trucks and SUVs that are not designed to be used in four wheel drive down muddy two-tracks. Inside those are well-heeled sportsmen with $1000 hunter orange suits from Cabela’s. They carry $4000 custom-bedded bolt action rifles, with $1000 Zeiss scopes. They have $1500 Swarovski binoculars. They are probably packing along Laphroaig scotch, not available in liquor stores between Lansing and Petoskey (who could afford it?). Don’t forget the Saeco espresso maker and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.
On the other hand are the 1988 Buick Centurys or 1990 Ford F-150s. Those vehicles will see more two-track in a week than the $60k vehicles will see in a lifetime. Two buddies riding together, at least one with a flannel shirt on, at least one with a hunter orange hat. Their hunting clothes are faux Carhartts, the obligatory square inches of hunter orange supplied by a hat and gloves. They shoot a $400 stock gun with a $100 scope, and carry $80 binoculars. If they haven’t been unemployed the past month, they might splurge for Jim Beam (instead of Old Crow) or Jack Daniels (instead of Ezra Brooks), and Budweiser (instead of Schaefer).
They all watch hunting shows where guys whisper as if at a golf match about whether the deer (plural) coming toward them are “shooters.” “That third one might be a shooter” he whispers in a Southern accent (even if he was born and raised in North Dakota) facing the camera or facing the field and talking out the side of his mouth. By a “shooter” he means at least eight points, at least an 18 inch spread, brow tines five inches long, a massive G3 (whatever that is), and possibly stickers (not the things grandparents give to their grandchildren, or the things that stick to your socks when walking through a sandy field). But for these guys heading north on US 127, a shooter is any deer with at least one antler at least 4” long. When you go north of US 10, every legal buck is a shooter. While they wish and dream for a six or eight point buck to walk past them, they hope they at least see a legal spike.
Some of these guys pack along portable tree stands, some have portable pop-up tent blinds. They might have scouted out a location over the past couple of weekends, in between bow hunting and bird hunting. They plan to get there the day before opening day and set up their portable stand, trying to memorize how they will find it in the dark the next morning. Those who sit in the tree stands hope for dry weather. Rain and temperatures below 40 make for a cold and miserable sit in the stand. The ground blinds with a roof make for a more comfortable sit.
Some of the guys have fixed or significantly less portable blinds, made of wood and scrap materials, the size of an outhouse, maybe even a two-holer. Those are much more work to set up the day before. Those are usually only found on private land, where one can set them up permanently, and hunt out of them season after season. The roof keeps you dry. The sides keep the wind off and conceal your movements. With the right clothing, a comfortable seat, enough food and hot liquids, one can spend twelve hours in such a blind, from 45 minutes before the first crack of dawn until 45 minutes after sundown. Some people pay good money to go on weekend religious retreats to experience silence and solitude. Deer hunters have their monastic temples. They can spend a dozen hours in silence, broken only by surrounding gunshots, blue jays, and their own flatulence. Put them in church and they are clock-watching if the sermon goes longer than 20 minutes.
Every once in a while you see a car with a couple of women heading north. Some of them will be looking for work. The taverns make brisk business the day or two before deer season, and the first few nights of deer season. Like lumberjack towns one hundred fifty years ago, it is almost all guys. A woman can make a big load of cash fast. They aren’t looking for a mate, so no need to be flirtatious. One just has to be blunt. Find a guy who looks to have had a few drinks and still some money left, and just state it: “suck your dick out back for $25.” If the hunter has taken his moral lessons from a recent President, then spending the $25 would not constitute adultery since it is not sex. In the few days before deer season and the first few days of deer season, a person can make several hundred dollars a day, all tax free, all non-adulterous.
Of course there is not as much of that as the wider public sometimes imagines. I have been in a few bars, and have never been asked. In all my life I have not wittingly met or seen a prostitute. I have seen attractive women looking at me. At least I thought they were looking at me. They were probably looking past me to find the “Restrooms” sign. When attractive women look at me, or I see them first, I tend to avert my eyes. Not that I am a moral saint. Beauty would put me like a deer in the headlights. So as not to stare trance-like, I avert my gaze. I have to admit that I do the same thing with the other end of the spectrum of attractiveness. I avert my gaze. I am not one to gawk at a car accident as I drive by. Again I am no saint. It is not that I consider ugly women like a car accident, not wanting to look upon another’s pain. No. I just don’t want to give them any impression that I find them interesting. As if the thought might even cross their minds.
The mind wanders with anticipation and imagination on the drive up north.