It surprises me that others are astonished when I tell them that I love to deer hunt during modern gun season. Most people look at me quizzically and then with a blank expression as if to say, “I have no idea what deer hunting is”.
Truth be told, deer hunting is many things. As much as I love the woods, you would never find me sitting quietly in the woods at sunup if it were not for deer season. It is mostly just an excuse to be out there. As soon as I hit the woods, my senses come on full alert. It is as if I can see better, hear better, I am totally aware of my surroundings. As I make my way to my spot, I am cautious, I try and make as little noise as possible. I control my breathing.
On this day, it is with an absence of rain that I enter the woods. The brown leaves litter the forest’s floor and as I walk they crunch, they rustle, they announce my coming. It is on overcast damp days or a day after rain, that the leaves are more subdued. On those days, I walk cautiously upon them and they in turn try not to betray my presence. As I make my way, I often stop to observe the sounds of the woods or perhaps to spy the white tail flag of my prey raised in alarm. Often I hear nothing, but I see everything.
As I settle in my spot, I take a few moments to make all the necessary noise that is required before I begin my vigil. I survey my surroundings and orient myself to my position. My gun is made ready, my bottled water stands nearby. Now, all there is to be done is to be aware and to wait.
It is this phase of the hunt that I long for the most. But as much as I long for it, I almost equally dread it. You see, I am one of those individuals who simply cannot turn off my mind. It goes full throttle at all times. For the first thirty minutes or so, I fight it. I try to consciously turn it off. This first chore is something I cannot always do. But when it occurs it is something almost magical. I find a way, if only for awhile, to simply exist in my surroundings. At that moment, I have nothing more important to do other than to sit quietly in the woods and to be aware. For those passing moments I have no greater purpose, no other thoughts other than my task at hand; to be quiet, to be aware. But on this day I cannot lose myself.
I overhear the goings on of turkeys on the far ridge. I hear the Red Tailed Hawk’s warning cry well before I witnessed it sailing just above the tree tops as it made its way over the near ridge. For a moment it was silhouetted against the grey sky above the death like fingers of the lifeless trees. I heard its threatening screech a second time before it turned and soared away.
I first hear my prey well before I see it. In this phase of the hunt my competitive juices take over. My heart races and my palms get sweaty. It turns out to be only a few doe milling about.
But as I observe them in their solitude, I get to see them as they truly are. I see them relaxed but always with a cocked ear as they pick their way through the brambles, the saw briars, nibbling on mast. Their heads are drooped, their walk is casual.
Once the deer is selected, I wait patiently with my racing heart as I select my best shot. I do this out of respect for the animal. With that one well placed shot the deer falls and all at once I am both happy and saddened. I take my time making my way to the fallen animal. I quietly say an affirmation to myself in the form of a prayer that this was not a life taken lightly, but respectfully. I pray too for the strength to overcome the unpleasantness of field dressing the animal, to make sure there is no waste and that this life I have taken was for a greater good. I thank god for the harvest
Many times before I have taken that shot and fell a deer but today I walk slowly out of the woods alone, without my prey, but I take with me a heart that is a little less heavy and I carry a renewed appreciation of nature.