Ah, the empty bag! Every hunter has come back with it, and no hunter looks forward to it! Empty, but usually with a bitter tinge of disappointment and a bitter feel; it can put you in a bad mood, even make you insufferable to friends and family…
But what would hunting be without it? What pleasure would we get from the battue, the night in the hide, or the walk-up, if the possibility of the empty bag never loomed in our mind?
The fear of leaving empty-handed
Every hunter knows this grim paradox. Waiting for the bird, looking for the hare, casting the hounds after the boar, we all hope the quarry will appear in our sights, presenting us with a shot – fairly and squarely, of course!
Yet the possibility of it not happening, of our efforts and stratagems and trusted techniques being fruitless and for nothing, adds piquancy to our excitement.
Learning patience through hunting
It has often been said that hunting provides a master class in patience, and so it does; but it also teaches us to master the possibility of failure, though without ever truly succeeding, thankfully.
For surely the most wonderful and deepest aspect of the hunt is precisely the fact that the lure of the marsh or the woods does not wane, despite, or perhaps because of, the times we come back empty-handed. In it is a touch of sublimated instinct that brings us truly to life and, in some way, keeps us from apathy.
I have never understood that hunters can be blasé, personally: for me, it’s a complete contradiction in terms, and maybe returning from the hunt empty-handed serves to protect us from a state of mind that by its nature shuts out wonderful excitement. Especially as we always do “see” something out on the hunt: we just have to open our eyes and ears…
An example, to illustrate
Picture the scene – which won’t be difficult as many of our readers have been in similar situations. I’m standing at the foot of an enormous oak tree, bang in the middle of a forest. Most of the leaves have fallen; a tenacious, cloaking mist hangs all around; I know that the easterly wind of the last few days has brought in a fair number of wood pigeons. All bodes well for the “on-the-branch” shooting I’m hoping for, wrapped snugly in my hunting jacket, gloves on hands and balaclava pulled tight…
The first few minutes see birds speeding over the treetops, followed by others, then more still. I’m sure that some among them end up roosting within range of my shotgun.
The minutes go by and turn into an hour, two hours; night is looming and I still haven’t shouldered once; my chances are fading, but I still believe. Around me I can hear whistling and flapping wings; I catch a glimpse of a shadow of these lightly “mocking” birds; some have settled further away, but too far away, and with no way to get nearer… We’ve been there before: who’s the pigeon, now? At the end of the day, Lady Luck didn’t smile on me; time to take down the lofting poles and go home.
A stronger state of mind
Disappointing, yes, because I believed. It all looked so promising… But the conundrum, the great conundrum, is that tomorrow and the day after that, a year and ten years from now, despite everything, I’ll still believe. And the day I do come away with a fine bag, maybe on a day when the conditions are conspiring against me, I’ll remember the times I left without a harvest, the countless empty bags, the fruitless waits and frustrated efforts that make the successes so meaningful.
This modest example of a fruitless pigeon hunt can be applied to every hunting discipline, of course. It merely shows that the heart of the hunt is hope permanently fed by desire. So, hurray for the empty bag!