This story first appeared in February 2004.
SO IT’S FINALLY DONE. You either have a deer in your fridge or you don’t. You’re either doing the funky chicken victory dance or you’re deciding if you’re going to throw away your mouth entirely or keep it as a tomato stake.
If you got a deer – and I mean any deer – congratulations. You can sit and tell the story over and over until it takes on a life of its own. With each retelling, that deer will get bigger, the shooting distance will increase, and the temperature outside will drop a little more. Around May, you will have killed a louse-sized animal during a storm by blowing a straw bale at it from 400 yards. And you will half believe the lies that come out of your mouth. This is the oldest hunting tradition. In fact, linguists now speculate that language first arose among hominids to fulfill that most basic of impulses: the need to lie. “Korg, this is no bull. I was so close when that mastodon gave birth that it blew all the hair on my forehead straight back.”
Any fool can handle a punch tag. Deer, a rack to hang in the den – these are child’s play. Nothing tests a hunter’s skills like failure. That’s when a true sportsman looks deep into his soul to see if he can muster a level of creativity that a successful hunter can only aspire to: It’s time to find a good excuse. Let’s explore the options.
1. Device malfunction
Blaming bad hardware is a perennial favorite. Psychologists (most of whom don’t hunt) have a pejorative term for this. They call it shifting the blame. I call it genius. Some samples:
- I pulled back on it and there was a bubble of rain in my view. All I could see was an optical illusion of six identical bucks standing side by side, and damned if I didn’t shoot the mistake.
- My vision blurred. It’s like I’m hunting in a steam room.
- I was shooting with my hands that a friend swore were the best bullets he had ever used. And they can be. But when I pulled the trigger, all I heard was click.
2. The extraordinary size of the animal
Success depends on the hunter looking as suspicious of the event as the listener.
- Do you want to know the truth? This buck was much bigger than I had ever seen here, which I thought was only 200 yards away. It turned out to be 300 yards away – 50 I ended up shooting low. All I did was shave some hair off his chest. I have them here in my wallet. You want to see?
3. Fear of collateral damage
Excuses like this portray you in a favorable light.
- I was just about to pull the trigger on a 10 pointer with a nice drop tip when I spotted a doe right behind him. I just couldn’t bring myself to take the shot.
4. Too wild to resist
You have to say something so outrageous that your listener has to either accept it at face value or call your bluff. This works best with guys who are younger than you. Take on a somewhat combative tone, as if you’re tired of explaining the obvious.
- That bullet hit a gravity well. Oh, yes, they are everywhere. See, gravity acts a lot like a fluid. You didn’t know that? Yes, and there are points where the force of gravity accumulates and concentrates. You can’t map them because they migrate. I could shoot at one and my bullet would drop it like a rock halfway to a deer. The next day, that pit would have moved. You could shoot there and everything would be fine.
5. Verbal jujitsu
Use your listener’s momentum against him in a way he doesn’t expect, sending him flying out the window. Look left and right when he asks how you failed to get your deer, as if to make sure no one else can eavesdrop on the deep secret you’re about to reveal. Take a step closer to the person and make them lean towards you. Take another look around, lean into his ear and whisper so softly that even he won’t be sure you had the nerve to say the following:
- I was absent.
The truth, used sparingly, may be the most surprising excuse of all.
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