HUNTING IS ULTIMATELY a game of chance. What are the odds you’ll cross paths with a buck? What’s the probability ducks will be on the marsh? As with any speculative venture, we try to influence the outcome with preparation, routine, and a dose of magic. For some of us, maybe that’s a rabbit’s foot; for others, a special knife. Archaeologists have found bright beads and smooth stones with the excavated remains of ancient hunters. As long as we’ve hunted, it seems, we’ve relied on charms to bring us luck—and meat. Here are some of our favorite odds-tippers and the stories behind them.
I know Remington Bullet knives are supposed to be collectibles, but to me a collectible knife makes as much sense as a collectible crescent wrench or chain saw. When my friend gave me this blade in 2000, I saw it as a tool just like my beat-up shotguns and rifles or my F-150 with 307,000 miles on it. Plus, the lock-blade knife was so perfect.
Naturally, I took the knife hunting and it brought me great fortune. It was in my pocket when I shot two 360-class bulls three weeks apart. I used it to slice the breast meat off the Osceolas that filled grand slams for both of my kids when they were 14.
I was as well known for the knife as I was for having one of the best Labs in Kansas. I was always the guy who was asked to clean the ducks and the deer, plus elk, moose, doves, geese, squirrels, pheasants, and prairie chickens. A buddy even asked to use the knife to cut up a tough $40 ribeye in some fancy restaurant.
And then it was gone. A piece-of-trash distant relative stole the best knife ever made from the seat of our farm truck. Of course he denied it, but I knew where my knife was all the time as surely as if it had a tracking chip. But I had no proof.
Figuring all was lost, I went online and bought another, an identical Remington Bullet knife from 2000, and paid about $80 for it. It was okay, but it was kind of like marrying a trophy wife and letting the spouse that had made me who I am wander off. It was an imposter. Even though it looked and felt the same, I felt differently about the new knife.
So I went and stole my original knife back. It was like pulling Excalibur from the stone as I seized and pocketed it, and I know that if God has ever had a really good knife, He will understand.
Last fall, during my first season back with the old knife, I got a heck of a mule deer with my bow, had great hunts for ducks and geese, and filled all four fall turkey permits on toms. I used it to clean a limit of four roosters I shot the last day of the season, too.
And then I got to worrying that I might lose the knife again. So I put it away, and planned on its being as much a part of my will as the Hatfield side-by-side 20-gauge, a few custom fly rods, and whatever cash I’m worth when I die.
Earlier this summer I was on a wild hog hunt in Oklahoma and was using the new Bullet knife when it slipped while I was skinning an old boar. After a long afternoon in the ER and two weeks of healing, I put away the new knife and began carrying the old one around again. No way in hell would it have taken off like that and stabbed me so deep. Knives have a built-in loyalty, you know. The good ones do, anyway. —Michael Pearce
My other lucky charm is a small, cheapo emblem, a tiny pot-metal-and-green-glass Buddha, and in the right light, you can barely read “Touch Me for Luck” stamped around the little guy. My wife gave it to me back when I first headed out West on a solo fishing trip in 1987, and later that summer I wore it on the day when I crashed in an Otter floatplane up in Ontario. I credit it with saving my life since there is no logical reason why anyone was able to live through that wreck. The “lucky genie” is strung on a piece of black braided Dacron line off a reel that belonged to my grandfather, with whom I grew up fishing. —Dave Hagengruber
For quite a few seasons, the innermost pocket of my hunting pack has held a scrap of paper designed by my then-6-year-old daughter. It features a crude rendering of a grinning bull elk and the inscription, “Good Luck, Daddy!” Unfortunately, she’d later slashed a big X through this happy vignette. On the flipside it reads, “DAD IS MEAN!” That seems to capture the oft-shifting moods of Lady Luck. From time to time, I’ll pull the thing out without looking at it, flip it onto my wrist coin-toss-style, and then look at it to see which side comes up. I cannot say that “Good Luck, Daddy” has ever sent me on a beeline to a Booner bull. But it never fails to make me smile, step a little softer, and look a little harder. —Dan Crockett
The Hippie Bracelet
I had sat on stand in northern Saskatchewan for five long, windy days and had seen a few bucks, but none that were close to the size of the heads on the wall back at the lodge.
Everyone in our group had tagged out by midweek and was enjoying late breakfasts, the fire at the lodge, and venison tenderloin lunches. All except me and my friend Dean.
Dean had hunted more than I had, and maybe he was a little more used to the pressure that you feel on the final day. Maybe that’s why he called me over as I was gathering my gear. He held something up, twirling it between his fingers. “This is my magic hunting charm. It has always brought me luck. I only take it out when the chips are down. Take it with you today. But do not lose it!”
I chuckled as he handed over what looked to me like a hippie trinket, a short piece of rawhide and lace with a couple of wooden beads knotted in place just above a small fluffy feather. But something in his demeanor made me realize this charm really meant something to him.
As the day wore on, I saw a few dinks and thought hard about lowering my standards, if only to get out of the cold and back into that warm lodge. With about a half hour of legal light left, I was sitting in my icebox when I remembered that I had stuffed Dean’s little trinket in my pocket. I dug it out. It was a little out of shape, and I immediately felt bad at the careless way I had carried it. So I straightened the kinked lace and feather and twirled it between my fingers as Dean had done when he told me of its power.
I’m not sure if it was just a thought or if I actually muttered the words, “If this thing is worth anything, now’s the time.” I put it back in my pack rather than squash it in my pocket again, and it wasn’t long before I saw movement through the thick underbrush. It was a big buck, picking his way through the timber.
Back at camp, after getting my back slapped and my photo taken with this monster buck, I removed the charm from my pack, twirled it between my fingers as I handed it back to Dean, and said thanks. He gave a nod of approval, and seemed proud and relieved at the same time to have this charm back in his possession. I should note that Dean has never let me use it again. —Rob Lancellotti
I think it’s planning and persistence, not lucky charms, that get the job done. But I do have a little memento that I take hunting with me. It’s a smiley-face sticker my daughter put on my bow several years ago. It’s on the inside of the riser, so I see it when I shoot or just hold the bow while hunting. Prior to that, I carried a buckeye seed for a few years, as they are considered a good luck charm in the South. It didn’t seem to help, though, so I set it free. —Brian Murphy
Long in the Tooth
In 1971, at the ripe old age of 17, I ventured into the roadless area of Utah’s Uinta Mountains on my first elk hunt. I knew nothing about this vast wilderness other than it contained more elk than just about anywhere else in the state. That’s all I needed to know to set my young, well-conditioned legs in motion on an all-day venture that would cover nearly 20 miles and produce my first big-game animal, a nice 5-point bull. That solo hunt meant so much to me that I took one of the ivories from the bull and threaded it on a crude necklace (ed note: see photo at top). I think more than good luck itself, this little charm has given me confidence through the years. When the hunt seems tougher than I can handle, I think of the charm around my neck and find the strength to carry on, as I did in 1971. —Scott Grange
I always deer hunt with a stag-handled knife I had made from one of the last deer my father ever shot. I don’t think it does a darn thing to improve my luck, but I like to sit on stand and think about hunts from long ago. That’s far better than surfing the internet on my iPhone. —Mike Stock
My Father’s Scarf
I have an old wool scarf that my father was issued when he began his service in the United States Marine Corps in 1942. He served in the South Pacific, so that scarf is in remarkably good shape, as he never had need of it during the war. He often carried the scarf while hunting throughout the 1950s and ‘60s. By the time I arrived on the scene, my father had largely put aside his hunting interests. He died when I was 11, and the scarf was passed on to me.
Whenever I am loading my pack, whether for an afternoon whitetail sit or a multi-day elk hunt, that old wool scarf has its place. It is, by far, the most sentimental item that I carry hunting, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually deployed it, just as my father never did. But I believe it kept him alive in the sultry South Pacific, and it has brought me plenty of game to feed his grandchildren. —Rob Kompel
As a young boy, I often hunted squirrels with my grandfather. One day he made an amazing head shot on a bushytail that was carrying a hickory nut on a limb way out over a deep mountain basin. He gave me the spent .22 cartridge to keep as a good luck charm.
My grandfather was one of the toughest and kindest individuals I’ve ever known. As a teenager, he was forced to drop out of school to take my great-grandfather’s place in the coal mines after an accident. Later, he volunteered for the army and became a paratrooper over the South Pacific during WWII.
To this day, I take that old spent .22 shell with me every time I go into the woods. I don’t know if it brings me luck, but I do feel like a part of my grandfather is still with me when I carry it. —Travis Faulkner
Breakfast of Champions
My luck is dependent on dunking chocolate doughnuts in hot chocolate. I’ve never had a bad day of hunting after that combo. —Frank Devlin
The Very Good Book
Ever since I started carrying an old pocket-size orange New Testament Bible, I have taken three mature bull elk scoring 335, 323, and 367, along with three 180-plus muleys, a 168-inch whitetail, four mature nilgai, a scimitar-horned oryx, two moose, and two black bears. I haven’t taken it out of my bag since. Would you? —Jeff Sipe
I have a Five Brother heavyweight, made-in-America flannel shirt from 1993 that I wear when I grouse hunt—no matter the temperature. It could be the hottest grouse hunting day in Minnesota, topping out at 80 degrees, but I just roll up the sleeves. I would rather suffer the heat than consider leaving that shirt behind. —Jason Nash
Before departing for my first guided hunt, in British Columbia, I had a small-brim cowboy hat made at Texas Hatters in Buda, Texas. They have made hats for Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and former President George W. Bush, among other famous Texans. At the time, I had no idea what my hunting adventures would turn into. I had been a whitetail hunter and decided I would like to branch out. I wore the hat on that goat hunt, and after taking a nice billy and a B&C Canadian moose, I was hooked, so much so that I set a goal of taking all 28 species of North American big game. I wore that hat on every one of those hunts. After killing my final species last summer just north of the Brooks Range in Alaska, I retired the hat to a place of prominence in my trophy room. It is pretty worn out, but every time I look at it, I remember every one of those hunts and every step I took in the most beautiful, isolated country in North America. —Ben Carter
When I was a kid of 15, I was stalking desert sheep in southern Arizona when I came across some hard red beans (similar in shape to a coffee bean, but red) on a bush. I picked a handful, dropped them in my pocket, and killed a ram. Later, I was told these beans are quite rare. For the last 35 years, I have carried a few lucky red beans in my pack, and every time I return to Arizona, I keep my eyes open for a few more. Coues deer are easier to find than these special beans. —Mike Jensen
I tend to accumulate lucky boxes of shells. Cartridges from the box of .257 Roberts I am currently using have killed 15 consecutive deer. When I get down to only a few live rounds left, I fill the lucky box with fresh rounds to keep the streak alive. Missing a deer breaks the streak and calls for starting a new box. —Craig Dougherty
The Buck Spell
A few years ago, I just wasn’t seeing any decent bucks. So my wife put a “spell” on me before I left to hunt. She basically just sort of waved her arms and fingers and said it was a “big-buck spell.” I saw a big buck that night. So a couple of days later, I had her do it again because I hadn’t seen any since. Once again, it worked. She did it four straight times, and every time I saw a good buck.
Now, it’s part of my pre-hunt ritual, and if I’m away from home, I have her text it to me. —Tony Hansen
Stuck in the band of my favorite turkey-hunting hat is a small piece of my great-granddad’s split-rail fence from the Ozarks. The fence is from the family farm in Iron County, Missouri, below Johnson Mountain. I crossed that fence many times as a small boy, and I still remember crossing it one morning in the early 1960s to take my first gobbler.
That little piece of oak wood has been all across the Ozarks, to Hawaii, Mexico’s Yucatán, Canada, Alaska, and even to Africa. —Ray Eye
For years I wore the classic L.L. Bean red-and-black-checked Buffalo wool shirt (modeled after the Woolrich classic). Most of the original buttons have fallen off, replaced by a haphazard set of mismatched buttons sourced from various and sundry rag stores. I wore it while deer hunting in the Adirondacks, pheasant hunting in Kansas, and steelheading in Michigan, among other places. I can’t say for sure whether it brought me luck, but when I wore it, I knew I was hunting and fishing. The shirt, musty with years of wood smoke, perspiration, and fried bacon, has been retired for a while, but I can’t bear to throw it out. —Slaton L. White
Saint Hubert is the patron saint of hunters, and I took Hubert as my confirmation name. My wife bought me a St. Hubert medallion necklace a few years ago, and it has to go to the field with me every time out. If I don’t have it, I’m worried I’ll fall out of a tree, get mauled by a bear, or miss the shot of a lifetime.
Does it bring me luck? I don’t know, but I know what happens when I don’t have it. Last season in Ohio, I watched a few does work their way along a trail behind me and realized that if a buck were to take the same trail, the shot would be tricky because I’d have to shoot behind me through a V in the tree. I took a few practice draws and realized that if I moved all the way to the front of my stand platform, I would have just enough room to move and execute a 30-yard shot.
Almost on cue, a 160-class whitetail came meandering down the same trail to scent-check the does, and I was in business. As I attempted to attach my release to the string, it got caught in my glove, causing me to panic a bit. I freed the release and managed to clip it to the string, but in my frenzy I failed to step to the front of my stand. Despite getting drawn, I didn’t have enough room to maneuver. When I recognized the issue, I made a clumsy attempt to back up, and in doing so I bumped my release, sending my arrow into never-never land.
We were both shocked! The deer disappeared into the woods, and I nearly burst into tears. I hadn’t seen that buck before that morning and I never saw him again, despite having a half-dozen cameras in the area. Standing in the tree cursing myself, I recalled my decision to not retrieve my medallion necklace that morning after forgetting it in my bathroom the night before.
Despite a long search, I couldn’t find my arrow, and in some ways it’s like the incident never happened. I think someone was sending me a message, and I heard it loud and clear. The medallion has now become standard equipment in my hunting kit. —Nick Pinizzotto
Up in Smoke
While I do not believe in lucky charms, I have found that when hunting waterfowl on a slow day, lighting a good cigar will almost always bring in some ducks. In my experience, the more expensive the cigar, the larger the flock.
The downside is that it’s never possible to park the lit cigar in a safe place and still get off a shot, so the stogie always ends up in the mud on the floor of the duck blind. Still, pulling on a fine cigar is much more enjoyable, and effective, than blowing a fancy $200 acrylic duck call all day. —Harry Campbell
The knife that I’ve carried for 30 falls helps me remember every hunt. My father gave me a Buck Pathfinder on my 19th birthday. At that point, I was on a hard and wild road. My father, who had some experience with such roads, assured me that a fork lay in the pale distance not far up ahead. He spoke with a heavy heart and blunt words: “If you keep on like this, you’ll wind up dead or in prison.” There was no threat or hyperbole in it. Putting a straight knife with a 5-inch blade into your son’s hand at such a time might not seem the wisest course. But what he was really trying to give me was the woods again.
Four years later, he lay dying of cancer in the old bed he and my mother had shared for 34 years. So I carry the memories. And the Buck.
That knife—now a half inch shorter and a third thinner from so many honings—has ridden with me on far more days when it never left its sheath than on those glorious times when it freed ivories and quartered elk. But I still consider it the best possible companion. —Dan Crockett
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