The Best Advice Ever

I thought I knew all there was to know about what it takes to be a good hunter. I was wrong.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

The moose was more than a mile away as I watched it through my spotting scope. Les Parsons asked if I was interested, but I think he already knew the answer. It was the last day of the hunt, and the 36-inch-wide moose looked mighty good to me. I was after any bull. In fact, I had driven my pickup truck to British Columbia so I could bring the moose home-all of it.

We started a long stalk. Les had been outfitting for years in the area and thought he knew where the moose was headed. Our plan was to intercept the animal. We were more than halfway there when a thick fog bank wafted over a ridge and settled in. Visibility dropped to less than 50 yards, so we sat down to wait.

We made small talk, and Les told me about a conversation he'd had with an old American Indian.

"That old man taught me a powerful lesson," Les said. "He asked me if I knew the most important attribute a hunter could have. Just one. Having spent my life in the woods in Canada, I thought I knew the answer, but I didn't get it right."

Les then asked me to name the most important attribute, and I too thought I might know it. I mentioned everything from understanding animal habits and behavior patterns to being a good shot to knowing hunting strategies and more, but I was wrong every time.

"Patience," Les said. "That's the most important thing for a hunter to have."

I thought about it and realized he was right, though I'd never really considered it before.

Haste Makes Waste
How many times had I flushed an incoming gobbler because it was coming in silently and I hadn't waited long enough? How many times had I bumped a whitetail buck because I came down from my tree stand too early? And so on.

It's easy to understand the value of patience, but tough to know how long is long enough when you're waiting for something to happen. When is the right time to quit hunting a spot, other than when legal shooting hours end? How many times have you heard someone say, "If you can sit there long enough, maybe even several days, that big buck will come by"?

[pagebreak] I'll never forget an incident in Mississippi when I was turkey hunting with a bunch of writer and editor pals. The late Charlie Elliott, longtime Southern Field Editor for Outdoor Life and one of my personal heroes, was there. Charlie was a consummate woodsman, and his down-home Southern personality was a pleasure to behold.

On this particular hunt, Charlie was calling for Vin Sparano, former Editor-in-Chief of Outdoor Life. They sat on a hillside, calling to no bird in particular. In fact, they hadn't heard a gobble since sunrise, but Charlie continued to sit, and call, and sit some more. As Vin described it, Charlie would reach into his jacket pocket, pull out an old box call, slip off the two rubber bands that were wound around it and issue forth exactly six hen yelps. That done, Charlie would put the bands back on, put the call in his pocket and wait. Twenty minutes later, Charlie repeated the exact process, step for step, and again waited 20 minutes. Vin was thinking that perhaps the 80-year-old man was losing it, but out of respect, he sat with him and waited. This went on for three hours, and Vin was sure it was a colossal waste of time. He was more than ready to head back to camp or at least to another spot. Suddenly a turkey gobbled so close it startled both of them. The bird walked into range and Vin handily dispatched it. That was a classic example of having patience and the confidence that something will happen.

Hunting With Confidence
It's impossible to be patient unless you're confident. I mean really patient. You can sit in a tree stand all day simply because it's comfortable and you have nothing better to do. But to sit in that same stand for several days in a row requires confidence. Possibly you shoot deer from that stand every year and know tthat sooner or later the deer will show. Or maybe you're familiar enough with the animal's habits that you truly believe you'll get your shot. But typically nothing happens, regardless of your confidence or knowledge level, unless you're willing to wait it out. You might get lucky and shoot a big buck as soon as you get settled, but don't count on it.

I remember another hunt where patience paid off. I was hunting Osceola turkeys in south Florida with Lovett Williams, arguably the world's leading expert on this subspecies. We heard a turkey gobble right at daybreak and set up a blind in some palmettos at a clearing's edge. Lovett used a wingbone call exclusively, and we literally sat there for two hours, even though we never heard another gobble. I bit my tongue. I wanted to leave, but I didn't say a word.

At one point, Lovett turned to me and grinned. "My mouth hurts," he said, "but I'll keep trying."

You don't blow into a wingbone call, you suck from it, and I was secretly pleased that maybe we would finally move. Suddenly a pair of longbeards silently strode into view. I was dumbfounded. Luckily my gun was aimed in the right direction, so I merely lifted it slowly and killed one of the gobblers.

Patience. The next time you grow weary of your location or technique, give it a few more minutes-or hours. Much of the time the best things happen to those who wait.

By the way, when the fog finally lifted, the moose offered me an easy shot. The old Indian gentleman was right.