March 20, 2023

Taking the High Road on Hunting Vernacular

I was recently reading an article in a Maine publication about how, when somebody used the wrong terminology in discussing hunting, in particular deer hunting, it made that one somebody appear incredible. An example given was of one person referring to a hunter being successful in bagging a deer, that he had gone out and “caught” a deer. As the author so aptly expressed it, a hunter doesn’t go looking for deer in order to “catch” one and throw it back after taking a photograph.

In my years of life in Maine, I have often heard a person lacking any knowledge in deer hunting, refer to it as “catching.” One catches fish, I suppose, because the design of the equipment allows for a fisherman to decide whether by want or by law, he or she should keep the fish. Because deer hunting requires the hunter to precisely know his target, there is nothing to do with catching and everything to do with killing.

But the article didn’t stop here. It went on to take sort of a high ground on deer hunting terminology and at times bordering on poking fun of someone that might use a term he didn’t consider the proper, modern-day and, I would presume, acceptable-to-him deer hunting vernacular.

As the word vernacular is defined, the terms used by deer hunters are very much determined by a hunter’s age and the geographical region in which the person grew up and learned his or her hunting craft, while also having consideration from whom they learned to hunt.

I have been around long enough to have read and read and re-read so many hunting articles, it appears to me that as an outdoor writer, especially of deer hunting, the writers have their own vernacular in which they probably have learned is necessary to be as politically correct, i.e. unoffensive as they can. After all, hunting and killing animals is not something the brainwashed masses of today are always willing to accept as something of normalcy and tradition, as those who grew up with the sport. Aside from using the term “catching” to describe deer hunting, who really cares if you use someone else’s acceptable terminology?

For instance, if you read a Field and Stream article, perhaps the author would speak of hunting deer in terms such as tree stand, still hunting, stalking, being scented, masking, viewing a scrape or a rub and once successful, the hunter might field-dress a deer, while wondering whether the antlers will score high on the Boone and Crockett list.

While all these terms are acceptable and recognizable – mostly, sort of – by the avid hunter, the vernacular used by crusty old Mainers from the Western Mountains region might offer terminology to describe “getting their lard ass up in a tree,” or “sneaking up on the bastard,” “driving the son-of-a-bitch outta that swamp,” and when the big one got away, I might tell my buddies that old buck “got wind o’ me.”

The author I have been referring to, sort of, kinda, mostly, made fun of old fart hunters using the term “hooking” to describe what the author would say was a rub. There may actually be at least two terms here meaning two different, but related terms. For me, a rub is where a buck has used his head/horns to rub, usually the base, of a small tree or shrub – usually anywhere from 6-inches to a foot or more, off the ground. Sometimes, if you examine a rub, you’ll also find “hookings.” As part of the bucks ritual – I’m not a buck so I don’t understand completely why a buck seemingly attacks a perfectly good tree, shrub or clump of bushes – they will rub and hook their “horns” (the author in question prefers to imply that “antlers” is the correct terminology and anything else means you’re a moron.) in the branches, often breaking the branches off. I have actually seen where a buck attacked, if that be the proper description, a clump of hemlock bushes about the size of a small camper/trailer, tearing up the ground, uprooting some of the shrubs and “hooking” the bejezuz (not necessarily a proper term) out of the entire bush. My daddy told me a half century or more ago that the bigger the tree/shrub/bush attacked, the bigger the buck. I’ve also seen where a buck’s horns have gouged marks on a tree with the ends of their horns – i.e. the picked ends. In addition, bucks will, on occasion, hook the “scrape” with the ends of their horns.

If we move on to another politically correct term, we discover that when a buck uses his hooves, most often his front “paws,” but not always, he makes a “scrape” on the ground, pushing away leaves, moss, and/or whatever happens to be on top of the dirt at that spot. I grew up calling that a “pawing” as, in my moronic mind, it better describes what is going on. I know, as a child, if I ran down the sidewalk and did a face plant, I most often “scraped” my knees. (Note: I’m not such a moron that I think deer have paws.)

Back to “hookings.” If you’ve ever examined a “buck pawing” more times than not there is an overhanging limb from a nearby tree. The buck often “hooks” his “horns” into the overhang once again “hooking” the bejezuz out of it. My daddy also told me the bigger the “buck pawing” the bigger the buck.

The Hollywood terminology for when a buck finishes his “buck pawing” is that he “scents” it with bodily fluids from his scent glands. Them moronic old codgers, like me, will tell you that a buck will often, from the overhanging limb, pull off a leaf or snap off a twig, drop it in the “buck pawing” and, instead of scenting on it, the buck will piss all over it, and then leave.

When the doe, in heat, comes by, sometimes she will pick up that “pissed-on” leaf or twig and take it with her making it easier for her lover to find her.

When an old Maine hunter tells his story, he will, undoubtedly, talk about not only how big them “horns” were but how much the son-of-a-bitch weighed…before he “gutted it out!” I never knew what it meant to “field dress” a deer. Deer wear the coat of fur God gave em and I don’t see much sense in dressing them in something different.

I guess the point of all this is that unless your a member of the outdoor writers clubs, how a hunter describes what takes place in the woods is according to where he lives, how old he is, who taught him to speak deer hunting, and the local vernacular shared and understood by everyone. It doesn’t require a lot of brains to recognize a city-slicker green horn looking to “catch” a deer.

Did ya git ya deeyah?

If you have local terminology not mentioned here and would like to share it, please feel free in the comments section below.