As is often the case in any sport, deer hunters have their own lexicon, terms unique to their avocation. But terms and phrases instantly recognizable to fellow enthusiasts can be confusing to non-hunters, and occasionally even hunters.

Let’s take still-hunting, for example. The word “still” seems to imply being motionless and quiet. But still-hunting actually refers to a hunter moving slowly, stopping frequently to look and listen. That’s opposed to stand hunting, in which a hunter remains in one location, albeit sitting, not standing. Then again, still hunting can have an alternate meaning. If a hunter is asked that deer season query, “Get your deer yet?” one might reply, “Nope. Still hunting.”

Some hunters refer to young-of-the-year deer as lambs. Let’s clear this up. Young cows are calves, goats are kids, sheep are lambs and deer are fawns. Then again, some hunters refer to mature does as nannies, which is actually a female goat. Maybe that’s because when one of those old long-nosed matriarchs catches your scent and alerts everything within a mile radius with her snorting, it can really get your goat.

Even the tools we use could confuse the uninitiated. Imagine two hunters talking over breakfast at the local greasy spoon when one shares, “I’ve been hunting with my old Savage this week.” Two elderly women a couple tables over who are vaguely familiar with the hunter hear this and one says to the other, “I know his wife is not the kindest woman in town but that’s still not a very polite way to speak of her in public.”

Another hunter, who prefers that icon of deep woods deer trackers, the Remington Woodsmaster says, “I’ve been hunting with the auto this week.” One casual onlooker imagines a slovenly nimrod slowly driving the backwoods roads looking for deer from the comfort of their F250, while another pictures a speedier sportsman hoping to catch a slow deer in their headlights first, then on their front bumper. And finally there’s the dimwit who imagines someone blasting up the woods with a machine gun, when in fact the Woodsmaster is a semi-automatic firearm that’s been popular and safe in the deer woods for over a half-century.

Yet another example includes calling devices used to attract deer. We employ several devices, including rattling antlers, tube calls and small canisters or cans that when tipped over mimic the sound of a deer’s bleat. Imagine the reaction of a non-hunter upon hearing a hunter say, “My grunt tube’s not working. I’ve got to go to the can.”

Then there’s horns. This one can be tricky. A lot of hunters refer to the bony appendages adorning a buck’s head as horns. Deer don’t actually have horns, which are permanently attached, covered in keratin and continue growing throughout the wearer’s life. They have antlers, grow, drop off and grow again every year. Most hunters know this yet still prefer to use the term “horns.” I was stunned to learn recently there are deer hunters who weren’t aware of this. I wonder what else they don’t know.

Rubs and scrapes are terms that sometimes even confuse hunters. Bucks rub trees to remove velvet from their antlers (not their horns), to build neck muscles for combat during the rut and to deposit scent. Though this can involve scraping the bark off trees, the bare, barkless patch on the tree is referred to as a rub, not a scrape.

Bucks also scrape away the leaves and duff from the forest floor and urinate in the bare patch of soil as another way of leaving scent, signaling their readiness to breed. This bare patch is called a scrape. There’s no need to qualify either term with add-ons like ground scrape or tree rub, which would be redundant; like saying air plane.

So the next time you’re out and about, and happen to overhear a couple hunters discuss the day’s good or bad fortune, don’t be too quick to judge if one claims to have shot his deer in the boiler room. He wasn’t hunting in his basement. And hunters should be mindful of who might be within earshot lest you should rub them the wrong way, which could get you into a real scrape.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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