SOME PEOPLE HUNT partridges, some hunt turkeys and ducks, some hunt bear and deer. Me, come this time of year, I hunt Christmas trees. 

You might say it’s way too early to be thinking about Christmas tree hunting, but don’t tell the folks at Walmart, Kohl’s, Menards, Ace Hardware and several other places I have been in or seen advertising for. They are all up and running full blast with Christmas lights and decorations displays.

Now, getting back to those folks who hunt different stuff. They might say they are going to take a long hike looking for their prey or they might call it a trek, an expedition or what have you. When I’m hunting Christmas trees, I just call it roamin’ around.

That’s what my dogs call it, too. They actually hunt Christmas trees about as well as they or I hunt partridges; which is to say not very well. They tend to just run around the woods a lot. As for me, I consider myself a Christmas tree connoisseur who is arguably, at least in my humble opinion, a legend among Christmas tree hunters.

The neat thing about hunting wild Christmas trees, not the farm-raised, custom-sheared trees which are what I call cookie-cutter trees, is that you are out in the wilds, roaming far and wide to evaluate hundreds, if not thousands of trees, before finally cutting the perfect one.

Among us Christmas tree hunting legends, it is customary that the tree you finally select is at least 3 miles the way the crow flies back to your truck. It also is customary that you wait until there is at least 3 feet of snow on the ground before you even go out to cut one.

Along the way, as you stop scores of times to evaluate trees around you, it is quite likely you will see something out of the ordinary among the trees that inhabit the backcountry.

Take last weekend. My intrepid Christmas tree co-hunters, both of whom generally ranged anywhere from a handshake away to a quarter-mile out in front, chased the kinds of scents that only golden retrievers and yellow labs think are interesting. Twice they put up partridges within easy gun range, but not having the foresight to carry a gun with me, both birds sailed off into the hinterlands with only a shouted “bang bang” to hurry them on their way.

At one place Gordie, the yellow lab who is the junior partner of my doggie duo, found something really interesting to sniff. It at least seemed that way for a long minute or so until, my curiosity piqued, I walked a few yards farther into the woods to have a look at the popple sapling where he seemed to have something treed.

He did indeed have something treed, kind of anyway. At the base of the sapling, wrapped around it a full four or five times, was a garter snake, looking like it was “deader’n” a mackerel. It was.

It was something I’ve never seen in the woods before. I thought maybe it got caught above ground the night before when the temperature was sinking into the freezing range and decided a popple sapling would give off some warmth. I thought maybe it might even still be alive in a hibernation type of state. I thought of a lot of possible reasons for it being wrapped around a cold popple sapling, but nothing I thought of made much sense. I guess, as Michael Caine told his young nephew in the movie “Secondhand Lions” “It was just her time.”

I didn’t find a really good potential Christmas tree on our Sunday afternoon hunting trip, but I did get a good bit of fresh air to fill my lungs. I also found a few other interesting things along the way as we meandered from ridge to ridge and around a swamp or two.

There was the place along one ridge near a lake where a whole gaggle of robins were foraging like crazy among leaves and brush rapidly becoming weighted down with soft, wet white stuff. In a stretch of a couple hundred yards I’d guess there had to be at least a hundred robins flitting here and there as we wandered through their dining room.

Among them was a single blackbird which flew up to a perch on a birch limb from which it watched the dogs and I pass by. Adding to the menagerie were a number of other songbirds which go by the common name I long ago gave them, LBBs or little brown birds.

On the trunk of a huge tree, close to its dying stage, was an equally huge fungus. I’m pretty sure it was what my foraging son and his cousin call a chicken in the woods, though I believe this particular specimen was long gone past the edible stage. On some birch stubs along the way I saw what I’m pretty sure were black-colored chaga fungi, another species my son picks for the purpose of brewing it for tea.

As we neared the end of our two-hour jaunt, I remarked to my dogs, having no one else to talk to, that we had just completed our first preliminary Christmas tree hunt of the year. It would be the first of many, I told them. 

I further reminded them that honing your skills as a wild Christmas tree hunter is a valuable and time-honored skill. Hunting Christmas trees has been a tradition of mine that dates back to my preteen days when my mother sent me into the woods each year to find a small, 4-foot high tree of my very own to put up in my bedroom.

Those trees were anchored in a sand-filled coffee can and decorated with homemade paper chains, three or four of my mother’s oldest ornaments, some of them at nearly a hundred years old still being hung on my trees to this day and a short string of lights which could only be plugged in for one hour on Christmas Eve, though I tended to cheat a little bit on that part.

The tree my dogs and I are now hunting for will be lit for many hours from the time it is anchored in its stand in early December until it comes down a few days past New Year’s Eve. My dogs and I, and my wife when we let her, will lie on my couch and drink in the beauty of yet another in a long succession of wild Christmas trees harvested by a true tree hunter.