Monday, 17 January 2011

Hunting Deer - The Horrible Truth

I hunted deer at the weekend. No, not with a gun - I'm not that weird - but with a camera.

Ten minutes from where I live in the beautiful cathedral city of Lichfield is Cannock Chase, a huge conservation area forest where the wild things are. Me and my three year old (might-as-well-be-four-year-old) son Bruce went for a nice drive and a long walk across the hills and through the forests.

There's a great little place called Milford (there's a Wimpy burger bar there! Hooray!) and that's where we parked, slapped on our hiking boots and started our long trek into the deep, dark forest. It was hard going - after all, I'm trekking with a might-as-well-be-four-year-old so we're stopping every five seconds so that he can investigate bushes, run away from creaking trees and pick up rabbit poo. He finds a magic wand (stick) and then it transforms into a magic sword (he finds a bigger stick) and decides he wants to hunt for monsters (walk behind daddy and assure him he will help if we find one). Basically, I'm the tank and he's melee DPS.

We go a little off the beaten track (ie get somewhat lost), and then all of a sudden there's this thumping sound in the trees. I'm expecting a dog or something similar, but when a full-grown deer comes bounding out the bushes followed by three or four others I'm amazed. Wildly they crash off down the hill, across the path and then up the next hill. After convincing Bruce that they're not monsters and, no, he's not allowed to hug them if we find them we set off in pursuit, camera in hand.

Now, in a lot of fantasy roleplaying games I play a ranger/hunter type character. I've got a skill in tracking and hunting and he's usually quite competent. I mean, I've seen people hunt in the movies, how hard could it be? Pick up a track, make sure you're as quiet as can be and sneak up, and take the shot. In games we've gone into detail about what we would do to hunt game and it all sounded pretty plausible. The better the description the better the bonuses on the dice roll.

After more than twenty years playing RPGs I kind of like the little bits of factual knowledge I've picked up about hunting. Living in England I'd never get the chance to hunt for real - in fact, I wouldn't even consider killing a living creature even if I had the opportunity - so this will be the closest I ever get to tracking and taking a (snap)shot at a deer. It all seemed so simple in my head.

Alas, real life sucks really, really hard. I found the tracks, but they were so mashed up I had no idea where they were headed. Snapped and bent twigs and branches? They were all snapped and bent! By my reckoning there were roughly ten and a half thousand deer passing through this area every few seconds. Caught fur on fences and tree trunks? Erm... no. Even if I did find fur it doesn't tell me what direction they were heading in. The wind was so high that I couldn't hear them. What was I supposed to do?

After an hour we finally found them, deeper into the forest. Could I get close enough to get a decent picture? Could I bollocks. If I even twitched they'd bolt. At one time I'm pretty sure that a sparrow eighteen miles away farted, and that was enough to send them crashing away into the trees. If I couldn't get a picture from any distance with a simple line-of-sight snapshot, how on earth could I even hope to fire a weapon, bow or otherwise?

Another half an hour later we found them again. This time, I thought, I can't go wrong. Then the might-as-well-be-four-years-old jumped to his feet when he saw them and shouted, 'There they are!' All hope was lost. With a crash of tree branches they hoofed it.

It was then I realised I was slightly lost. I say slightly, I mean utterly. The only thing I knew was that Milford was to the north of us so I used the moss-on-trees trick and headed north. That bit of woodland knowledge helped me out, at least.

So there you have it, people. Forget all you know (or think you know!) about tracking and hunting knowledge you may have gleaned from the skills lists in roleplaying games. It won't help you. Using that information and taking a might-as-well-be-four-years-old with you is a bad idea.

This is why I play roleplaying games. Reality is such a let down.