At the camp where I hunt in northern Maine with 10 or so other geezers, we have a small ritual. As I’m heading out the door at zero dark thirty to spend a day freezing, they say “Good luck.” To which I reply, “Luck has nothing to do with it. It’s all skill.” I smile, and they smile, because everyone knows that this is a complete crock of s**t. Luck plays a colossal part in big-game hunting; far more than any of us cares to admit. The best hunter in the world will not do half so well as the luckiest hunter in the world.

Some years ago, while after antelope in Wyoming, I ran across a husband and wife I knew who had just finished a goat hunt. The wife, who had never been after big game before, had killed a Boone and Crockett antelope. I, who have hunted antelope since 1972, have never even seen a goat that might get within a mile of B&C.

I started hunting elk in 1971. I shot my first one the next year, and in 1977 I shot a monster. Then I did not get one for 17 years. After that I killed one just about every year for the next 11 years. Figure that out.

Some rifles are lucky and some are not. I have two or three that I would not dream of selling because they have proven they have good juju. My unluckiest rifle is probably the closest thing to a perfect firearm I own, a .280 on a Nesika action built by the late John Noveske, a Washington gunmaker who did immaculate work. It came out exactly as I hoped, and is dead accurate, but when I take it hunting my luck goes south. But I will never sell it, if only out of respect to John.

I have a lucky charm. It’s a Russell Canadian Belt Knife that belonged to a departed friend of mine. Once, I admired it and asked how much he wanted for it. “Take it,” he said, and I did. That was typical of the man. I have other knives that may be better, but that’s the one I bring along.

Because I think it brings me luck.