The past couple of years have been disastrous in terms of my hunting success. Last year’s efforts were many. However, they resulted in an empty freezer. Worse yet, this year’s bow problems and lack of a suitable hunting location have all but eliminated my zeal for venison.
Even so, I’m not one to allow a few mishaps or misadventures to keep me at home on a cold November morning. I opted to forego the first three days of rifle season. I have no other option than to hunt a small Wildlife Management Area and I was certain that there would be many more hunters – some with less than ideal safety practices – than deer in the forest.
After crossing ten state lines, driving fourteen hours, and sleeping less than four hours the day before, my alarm clock (aka my wife) woke me at 5am. Yes. Five in the morning, a time when those with any semblance of intelligence are sound asleep with their loved ones. I awoke with enthusiasm which lead to further marital troubles. “Any other day it takes you hours to wake up.” “I know, baby. But this is deer season!” I managed to stumble out of the house within 15 minutes. On the way, I saw the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen. I’m fairly certain that even he was wondering why I was up so early.
I arrived at the WMA and quickly gathered my gear. Just then, two headlamps attached to hunters greeted me. The three of us walked quickly along the footpath exchanging pleasantries. Fortunately, they weren’t hunting anywhere near my planned location. They broke from the trail after a few hundred yards and I continued the long and arduous hike further into the forest. I’m not certain how far I walk but it’s roughly an hour of intense walking. By the time I reached my log, I was drenched with sweat. I scraped the leaves away from my area so that I could move silently and took a large chew of Redman Golden Blend chewing tobacco. I admit that chew is a disgusting habit. I much prefer the more refined pipe smoking for my nicotine requirements, but there is little more satisfying than a jaw full of sweet chew during hunting season.
After I was settled but before becoming intent on hunting, I took a moment to enjoy the celestial bodies above. The sky was a deep blue accented by those twinkling suns millions of miles away. The moon was waning and only a portion of it was illuminated, but my goodness, how I love staring at the dark side of the moon.
Daylight broke slowly and the grand orange army commenced to combat. Rounds were fired in front of me, behind me, and beside me. By this point, I wasn’t as concerned with deer as I was with avoiding stray bullets. Two hunters from two separate directions walked to within fifty yards of my location. One of them was speaking so loudly I could easily make out “I think there’s more hunters out here than deer.” How true. One of the two turned uphill and walked within twenty yards of my log. If he’s by chance reading this, I didn’t get a chance to say thank you so, “thank you.”
After he passed, I moved to a better location further away from any trails. I liked my location although it wasn’t ideal. I had good visibility of two spurs and their draw to my twelve. To my three and nine were nearly one hundred yards of level hardwoods. And the trail and several fallen trees were to my six. Shortly after getting settled, two does, apparently in an attempt to avoid being innocent bystanders, walked directly through my kill zone. After busying themselves for a few minutes, they peacefully trotted up the mountainside.
I sat on an old log that had fallen years prior. And the longer I sat, the more my exhausted condition and my frozen toes began affecting my thoughts. I sat wondering for hours. Why am I out here? It’s freezing cold. I’m beyond exhausted. There’s so many hunters out here, I’ll never see a buck. I’m not where I had hoped to be in accordance with the mountainside. I’m hungry. My posterior is numb. My toes are crystallized and will likely shatter if I move. Why in the hell am I out here?
Is it the venison? Not really. A quick measurement of my waistline will assure even the most skeptical that I’m not starving. Is it the prospect of killing deer? No. In fact, I’ve never taken a deer that I didn’t have a strong sense of remorse. And I’m not even going to mention the joys of blood and guts up to my elbows when field dressing a deer, or the privilege of dragging a hundred plus pound carcass thousands of yards over mountainous terrain. Is it the view? Not at all. The view from my back deck is infinitely better than my view from this old fallen log. So what’s the point?
Well, it starts with those twinkling stars and waning moon. Had I not awoke for this day of hunting, I would have slept well into daylight and missed the serene beauty of those celestial bodies. Even if I had stayed up the night before to look to the skies, it still wouldn’t have had the same serenity. Mornings in the woods are the most enjoyable moments I’ve found. And that moment, when you’re settled into your spot, rifle in hand and full of anticipation, that moment is as close as a man can get to those magical childhood Christmas mornings. Where I once woke early in anticipation for what a mythical character left under my tree, I now look forward to the unlimited possibilities of a day in the woods. And if I managed to get on this “nice” list, the feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment of taking a mature buck is infinitely better than any toy a mythical character ever brought to my house.
To quote the late Finn Aagard, “I hunt because I am a hunter.”