I recall one time, early in my days as a hunter, when I donned Dad's old U.S. Navy pea coat and perched in a tree stand. I seem to recall wearing a black wide-brimmed Stetson cowboy hat, which I was wont to do in my hunting youth. Could be that I was wearing a camo baseball cap - I'm not sure. The bottom line is, I sat up there and got drenched.
I can clearly recall the icy trail the water cut as it slithered into my collar at the back of my neck and trickled tortuously down my spine. I don't recall enjoying it, but other options were sitting in the truck with Dad watching it rain, or heading back to camp. I preferred to hunt. My intrepid hunting ethic should have been rewarded with the buck of a lifetime, but I didn't see any deer at all. Such is life.
Rain Can't Quench the Hunting Fire
As I grew older, the burning urge to hunt was often too much for me. More than once I was caught out in storms, especially during Florida's early archery season, which happens to coincide with hurricane season. The chill of rain water did little to quench my desire to hunt, though it did, to use a bad pun, dampen my spirits somewhat.
Whether huddled under an old G.I. poncho or tromping through sopping-wet brush, my experiences hunting in the rain shared one common bond: they were miserable. Never has time moved more pathetically slowly than when I sat hunkered in a forest of pine trees, as far removed from those natural lightning rods as I could get, during a thunderstorm.
On one weekend hunt in Florida's Citrus WMA several years ago, the rain came to call. And like an uninvited hungry house guest, it never went! This was a special hunt, a two-day quota muzzleloader hunt. We started out sitting in the truck waiting for the rain to quit, which it had no intention of doing. Finally we got tired of sitting there - we were jammed three wide in Dad's pickup - so we grabbed our tree stands and struck out for the woods. This was no thunderstorm, so being in a pine tree would not invite instant electrified death via lightning.
This one instance of hunting in the rain stands out as some of the more notable wet-hunting that I have done, in that I actually saw deer - and lots of them. I believe I saw more deer during that rainy hunt than on most of my dry ones, albeit none that I could shoot at. My buddy Richard did see a big buck, but it was a here-now-and-gone-in-a-heartbeat experience. That was a mixed blessing, as it turned out. His gun had gotten wet and refused to fire.
He'd cocked his old Thompson-Center Hawken when he saw the buck. (We carried our sidelock rifles capped, with the hammer at the half-cock safety position.) Well, after the buck left, Richard couldn't get his hammer to move down below the fully-cocked position! If the buck had posed for him rather than dematerializing, he probably wouldn't have been able to shoot it anyhow. Back at the truck, we tore into the gun... pulled the lock off and found ages of crud, which had been aggravated by the rain water. A careful cleaning eliminated the problem.
After that, I tended to stay in out of the rain for the most part. Maybe it was the laziness of age creeping into my bones, I don't know. But the times I did spend getting voluntarily drenched didn't turn up any deer. I got myself into a ladder stand early one rainy opening day of general gun season, and stayed in that prime position just about all day - and all I got was wet. I was starting to think, "Why bother?"
Then I went on a hunt in the panhandle of north Florida. It was a rainy weekend, but we had to take what came to us, and so we hunted in the rain. Our saving grace came in the form of shooting boxes, or permanent ground blinds. At least we could stay dry once we got to the blinds.
Without the rain dripping down my back... without the chill February wind pounding at me unfettered... with a small propane heater to help dry my wet clothes, I felt almost human. And man, did I ever see deer. It rained for two days straight, and the deer were moving in it all the time. I even managed to bag a young buck in the rain.
I've started to re-think this hunting in the rain business - but mostly just when I can find a roof to crawl under. Oh, I will probably cave on some future wet day, and you will probably find me in the woods someplace without shelter, drowning as raindrops crowd together to make the air so water-rich that it can't be inhaled. Being miserable as I attempt to enjoy the time-honored tradition of playing in the rain. And who knows - in another couple of decades, I might even connect with another legal whitetail while I'm out there treading water.
- Russ Chastain