In spite of my hatred for the cold weather, two of my favorite days of the year are this month. Thanksgiving, and opening day of rifle season for big game, which is tomorrow. As my children get excited Christmas Eve and hang stockings and leave cookies for Santa, tonight I will pour over a small mountain of gear, packing, and repacking until it is all just so. I’ll go to bed early and wake up early, trudging through an hour of morning which should be completely illegal.
I will freely admit to not being a very good hunter. I don’t scout out things ahead of time, I don’t bother with drags, scent blockers, or trail cams. For some reason I feel like that is all cheating, a lot like draining a lake to catch fish. The gadgets, gizmos, sprays, and even fancy rifle equipment, to me- takes the sport out of it. My father taught me that hunting is 1% skill, and 99% luck. Being in the right place at the right time, then taking your shot and making it count- that is what is all about.
If I go out and the weather is nice, I’m content to sit under a tree and relax. My mornings in the woods are my ‘me time’ – practically the only time during the year when I have time to myself and have absolutely nothing to do but wait. This is my decompression time. The few days a year I can get out and hunt are exactly what I need to slough off the stress and anxieties that mount the rest of the time. Even if I don’t see another living creature the whole time I’m out there…I always return a little lighter.
The point, to me- is not to go out and kill a deer. If I harvest one, it is a bonus. If I don’t….well….lets just say that I never feel like I’ve wasted the money for a license.
Not only that, and this will sound insane to people who do not hunt, or cannot understand the point of it- one is never so in tune with the world around him than when he is on a good stalk. Every sound, scent, and sensation is magnified a thousand times when you go out into an animal’s own territory and try to best him. I’ve had deer walk within FEET of me while I sat and watched them. Last year, I had a doe close enough to me that I could hear the grass being torn out of the ground as she grazed. Two years ago I was watching a small rodent pick its way through the undergrowth where I sat in the woods. He wasn’t more than twenty feet away. As I watched him, an owl ghosted out of the trees and grabbed him, then vanished back into the limbs above me somewhere, and I never heard a single sound. Not a wing, not a squeak….nothing. If my head had been turned even the slightest, I would have missed it. These are things that even hikers miss, as they move without the need for silence. I sit and observe and take in everything around me, and have witnessed some amazing things in the woods.
So tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up before the sun, and dress in layers. I’ll climb into the car and drive to my spot. I’ll check my gear, and start hiking the mile or so to where I usually hunt just before morning decides to come out and play. I’ll find a place to set and watch a path or a field. I’ll spend an hour or so listening to the early winds rustle branches and throw leaves about the forest floor. Soon the sun will come up and the pale shades of the woods will begin to glow into actual colors. I’ll wait some more. Here and there the silence will be broken by some small animal, or my own body as I shift a bit to get a better view. Then, if I get lucky…..
….actually, by that point, I’ll already have gotten lucky.