Santa's Helper by Bob Ford

December 18, 2015 6 min read

I don't mean to digress into the particulars of calendars, but there are two that have some importance at this time of year. One is the liturgical calendar, and for the Western church this means that advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, or December 25. Many orthodox Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on January 7. Both traditions exist where I live, and as a rabbit hunter I have permission to hunt several Christmas tree farms, but I am not allowed in there between Thanksgiving and orthodox Christmas. There is some degree of anxiety by the tree farm owner that a suburbanite might be strolling through the acres of pine, spruce, and fir and be subjected to the sight of a rabbit running for its life in front of my beagles. Worse yet, would be the sound of me shooting at the rabbit in the distance. The gunfire might offend, but you never know what I might scream in disgust at myself as the right and left barrels cleanly miss their mark as the bunny runs out of sight. Thanksgiving marks the end of the tree farms until after both Christmases.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, that is the other calendar that comes into play here. Well, it isn't thanksgiving as much as the rifle season for Deer, which is always the Monday after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is on the Fourth Thursday of November, which may or may not be the last Thursday of that month. Therefore, the deer season can extend into December by a lot or a little, since it is always two weeks long.

Where am I going with all this? Pennsylvania has only had antler restrictions, requiring that at least one side of a buck's antlers have a minimum of 3 points, for about a dozen years. I spent most of my life in a state that called a spike with antlers 3 inches high a legal buck. A spike buck could start a shooting spree back then as hunters got excited. A genuine trophy buck made the woods sound like the grand finale at a 4th of July fireworks display. The keystone state also has a wild elk herd, and in my childhood there were always incidents of some dolt from the burbs killing one because he thought it was the biggest whitetail deer ever. In other words, there is some trouble with people being unable to distinguish between various species of cervidae. I am now ready to give you the significance to all the calendar stuff.

Santa gets a little nervous about flying over Pennsylvania. He gets even more nervous about stopping by the mall or local fire hall to visit with kids in early December because parking reindeer during the deer season proves problematic. For years now he has consulted me about this, and sought my advice from time to time. Usually he arrives in coveralls as a disguise. This year he was driving an old pickup truck with wooden sideboards.

"Hey there!" he yelled as I was emerging from the grocery store, "ow are yinz doing?"

-I told you last year," I hissed between my teeth, "inz is two or more people in this part of the world. Just say "ou? for one person."

"Oh yeah," he scratched his beard, "et in!" I did, after putting two bags of groceries in the bed of my truck, and we drove down the road.

"Hey, Santa, can you put a few more rabbits in that spot?" I pointed out the window towards a farm, "here were a lot more there before they added all those condominiums and parking lots where the neighboring farm used to be."

"That's a whole different problem," Santa looked at me over his spectacles and shifted gears, -I got to find a way to get these kids out of the living room. I don't even know what the elves are making these days. Video games and gadgets and all electronics. I give a football or a doll and they go crazy and get mad."

"Good luck," I sighed and fogged up the passenger window.

-What about puppies?"

"Puppies are a great idea," I said, -If one of the parents is interested in hunting. Otherwise the kid gets tired of the responsibility and the parents get rid of the dog."

-I see," he turned onto a dirt road.

"Did you get me that log cabin with 200 acres I keep asking for?" I asked. -Is that where we are going?"

"Noooo," he said as if to imply that I should know better, "ou barely make the nice list!"

-It isn't pass or fail?" I asked. "here are degrees of nice and naughty?" Santa looked over his round glasses at me again.

"So, if we help adults hunt with more success, then the kids will be more likely to get involved in the outdoors!" Santa blurted out the sentence like a long version of "ureka!"

"Yeah," I said, "aybe."

-I need a list of things that might be good for getting kids interested in hunting."

"No Problem," I said as we drove past some state game lands.

"Go way back this road," Santa momentarily stopped and pointed, "hey did a control burn back there and there is lots of brush for bunnies. I flew over it last year." We drove back towards the grocery store and I gave him my idea.

"Small game hunting is more fun for a kid. Shivering for eight hours on a deer stand takes some patience. So let's go with gifts that help the small game hunter who has a hunting dog. That will get the kid more shooting and more moving." I spent the remainder of the drive giving him my thoughts on the matter until I jumped out of the truck.

"Am I in line for that cabin and the 200 acres now?" I asked

"No, No, No!" he drove out of sight. What did I tell him was best for getting the most out of sporting dogs?

These items vary in cost. If you are reading this, you could always print the blog and put it where your spouse will see it.

  1. Get a bell for your dog. There are guys that chase the stocking truck waiting for the pheasants to be released. Many have no dog. Bells do as much to keep our dogs safe as they do for allowing us to know where they are.
  2. GPS has changed the game as far as knowing the location of Fido. Look at various tracking collars and choose the one that suits your needs. I prefer the SportDOG Brand Tek 2.0, but the Garmin mini collar is popular with others-It gets small enough for a puppy or a small breed.
  3. Not all ammunition is the same. Polywad Spreader loads will make you a better shot, especially on fast game at close range. They open their pattern faster than standard shells.
  4. Rubber boots are essential in the morning. However, have you ever been in the afternoon sun while wearing rubber boots? It feels like your feet are on fire. Le Chameau makes a product that is made by covering a leather boot with real rubber. This keeps your feet comfy and also mitigates against athlete's foot from having sweat socked feet in a rubber boot?the leather keeps your feet drier.
  5. Bore snakes are great for cleaning your shotgun. Clearly one of the best inventions in recent years.
  6. If you go to field trials, then get tie-out stakes for your dogs. Club kennels can be a real gamble?you do not know how much healthcare was given to the dog that was last in the kennel where your beloved pooch is awaiting his turn in the field. Field trials are great for keeping dogs in shape for hunting season, don't bring a virus back to your kennel.
  7. I used to buy a hunting vest every year?they get shredded in the briars. Filson makes several styles. You won't need another.
  8. Snow is tough on a dog's feet. Mushers Secret has been used by the sled dog community for years. It covers your pooches? foot pads with a protective layer of wax to prevent cuts when hunting on ice and crusty snow.
  9. A good canine first aid kit is worth the investment. When you need it, you really need it.
  10. Get tick spray for your clothes. And use a product such as Frontline or another comparable product for Rover. Lyme disease is no picnic, if you have ever had it or known someone who has. It complicates and can shorten your dog's life span too.

Well, I have to get going. I will see how good this new rabbit hunting spot is that Santa showed me. Merry Christmas.


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