If you want to evaluate how experienced an outdoorsperson is, just lead him or her to a pile of animal scat. I can think of no better test.
Scat, after all, is the one animal sign that no outdoorsman can resist speculating on. Whole books have been written about it.
In fact, most outdoorsy types pride themselves in being experts on the subject. Still, the level of expertise is based on experience.
An inexperienced outdoorsperson will look at a pile of animal scat and know enough to say “Careful not to step in it.” Or, if they are really inexperienced, when you point it out and ask, “What do you make of this?” they will look at you and reply, “You should probably see a doctor – and soon.”
An experienced outdoorsperson, on the other hand, will smile like a Cheshire cat upon the discovery because they look upon a pile of animal scat as an opportunity to showcase their vast storehouse of knowledge.
This will begin with them dramatically getting down on one knee and studying the scat in question as if it were an important clue at the scene of a murder. Sometimes, they will poke at it with a stick so they can provide a more professional assessment.
Then, after a long, thoughtful pause, they will open with something like, “Well, it appears as if this pile of scat was dropped 34 hours and 21 minutes ago by a buck deer that will be four years old on May 12. Judging from the pile’s trajectory, weight and impact profile, he is about 168 pounds and has spindly antlers with 7 points on the left side and six on the right. He walks with an almost imperceptible limp due to an injury received jumping over a blown-down tree – most likely a yellow birch – last summer after a heavy rainfall…”
Before you can respond, he or she will also access the scat’s degree of freshness, what the buck had been eating, how many siblings it has, who its half-brothers are, the overall health of its digestive system, which direction it was headed, its state of mind before and after the defecation, where it will bed this winter, what direction the wind was blowing at the time, the relative humidity and moon phase during the event and whether or not the barometric pressure was rising or dropping at the time.
By the time the evaluation is over, you will have received a fairly detailed life history of the animal, along with a psychological profile that will help you better understand the species as a whole.
But lest you think the outdoorsman in question is full of himself or something else, he or she will end with a humble statement like, “Of course, I might be a little off on its blood pressure and heart rate. After all, I didn’t go to medical school…”
At that point, it’s best not to reveal that you saw a young fawn actually create the pile in question. Because if you do, he will label you a Know-it-all.
The lesson here is, unless you’ve got all day, you should never point out any sort of animal sign to an experienced outdoorsman. And, if he sees some first, the only prudent course of action is to tell him you saw the animal that did it and know all about it.
After that, don’t bother speculating. The last thing you want is for another outdoorsman to figure out you don’t know crap.