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I was packing for a recent four-day fishing trip, rummaging through the garage and muttering as I pushed aside the extension ladder, a bag of soccer balls and a half-rusty can of Coleman fuel to find my tackle box. I tend to travel pretty light with my gear so I can leave extra room for a favored snack or libation that I know will slide easily down the collected gullets of "the group." Still, when I wrestled the tackle box out of its dark corner, a crumpled paper bag fell to the floor. Inside was a small plastic pouch of razor-sharp #8 red hooks. My tackle box is full, but I gleefully rescued those hooks and made room in one of the divided compartments to squeeze them in next to some floating jig heads. Why did I need those red hooks? I don't know. I just know that I have fun fishing with them and I guess that keeps my interest when the fish have long since lost theirs.
Every bit as much as those fish, people are creatures of habit. I have a friend who insists on wearing the same pair of holey blue socks every time he goes deer hunting. He also hunts in high-topped leather boots so the deer can't possibly see those socks, but who am I to argue? He's a terrific shot and routinely comes home with fresh game. Another friend habitually rubs a drop of anise oil on his hands before he handles fishing bait. Why he thinks bass are attracted to licorice-flavored crawlers eludes me. I guess he thinks he is masking scent. A third friend always packs his bait in a "lucky" can.
We all have traditions that defy logic, but are nonetheless steeped in our routine. Not only do we recognize that the habit is silly, but we look forward to repeating it every year. Maybe your deer hunting group eats the same goulash the night before Opening Day. Maybe you paint a green stripe on all your duck calls. Maybe you carry a good luck charm in your hunting jacket. Maybe you have a special victory dance around the campfire. Or maybe one of the routines in your group is a little more bizarre.
I hope so.
We thought this would be the right time of year to either relive a moment from the hunting season just past or that the holidays might give you a tad of time to write up a short outdoor tradition that is meaningful, but funny to you. This isn't True Confessions, so you don't have to name names of the weird habit you are describing, unless of course you want the world to know what Fred and your hunting group is up to. Better yet, if the superstitious son of a gun is proud of his or her idiosyncrasy, send us a picture (slides preferred) to show us what you are talking about.
Send your short descriptions of up to 200 words with clear slides or photos in good focus by May 31, 2004. We'll print the most entertaining entries in our October issue.
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David L. Sperling edits Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine and will come clean on a weird tradition of his own.