Why I Hunt
I have been bow hunting whitetails for over 20 years. My experiences in the woods have led to increased hunting success. But what is your definition of success? Is it a Pope & Young buck? Boone and Crocket? Getting away from all the noise in your life and enjoying the outdoors? Mine has changed over the years. Yes, I still want my Dad or myself to arrow the biggest buck on the property. And yes, I am in the Pope & Young record book a few times. But a successful season for me involves learning, reflection and getting to know myself on a deeper level as well. Have you ever stepped back and looked at a past hunting season and wrote down some of your thoughts? What you learned? What has being on stand helped you understand about your life?
To me hunting has grown too much more than patterning and shooting a big buck. It has always been a big part of my life, but now I realize how far it extends into what makes me, me. And how it helps me sort out this crazy world we live in.
Below is an “End of Bow Hunting Season” summary I wrote years ago. I write these most years. It has personal thoughts and memories, things that are sometimes difficult to “put out there”. But I am doing this in hopes that it will help readers get more in touch with what hunting and the outdoors mean to them.
Last Day of Early Season Bow Hunting
The day started with 8 degree weather, trees frosted, loud cracks as the trees succumb to the temperatures that dropped all night. There is a slight breeze making it below zero with the wind chill, my feet hurt. I sat near a marsh and only saw a fork horn chase a doe this morning. I could hear both of the deer coming on the frozen snow. When they appeared their breath seemed to hang in the air and the sun light bounced off the little buck’s horns. They disappeared over the ridge top, back to feeling cold. Now my face, fingers and ears hurt too. Refusing to give up on our shooters I got down from my stand and started walking back to the truck. Four hours has taken its toll on me, I needed to warm up.
Walking back I thought about the season. We did a ton of work during the off season to prepare for our second season on the property. I had a near miss on “Lucky”, a big 8 point that took a route I had not seen a deer take yet on the property. He narrowly missed meeting his maker due to a lack of shooting lanes where he traveled. That was a dumb mistake by me, but a learning experience none the less. We are seeing our doe population sky rocket and now have three shooters on the land instead of one. This is closer to what we envisioned the land to be and we got here in only one year. All that reading, studying, work and patience has helped us to start building a dream hunting land. There is still a lot of work to do but the changes are more than encouraging. We just need to catch a break with one of the shooters that frequent the property.
After warming up I snuck in to a stand on the ridge top, knowing snow is coming and the deer like the bean field up there. Winds are SW, stand number 5 it is. Hours go by and shivers settle in again, hands are cold, snow starts. I am not seeing a thing. I sit wondering how the deer can take this after weeks of chasing, they have to be starving. I focus on finishing the early season strong and think of a warm fireplace at home instead of the pain starting in my toes.
I am having second thoughts about sitting in this weather. It’s the type of weather that the weather channel says stuff like, “You can get frostbite in under 10 minutes, do not leave skin exposed”. Just then a 2.5 year old 8 pointer gets up just over the lip to the east, walks up top, shakes the snow off like a dog would, and angles past with his nose on the ground. I win, you let the cold get you first buddy, could have shot you. The snow has picked up, I look in the field and 6 deer came out from the west. The buck goes and kicks them around, checking for a hot doe. Then it happens, a sort of “dream” night.
Deer are pouring through my area from all over, none close enough to shoot but anything can happen with a hot doe around. At one point I am watching 8 deer in the field eating while down below me I can hear what sounds like about 20 turkeys talking and scratching, looking for their roost for the night. I hear the 8 pointer grunt at the same time.
With the snow falling and all this happening I think of my parents and how hard they worked to get a piece of property like this and wish I could share this moment with them. I think of my sister, she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and how brave she has been for her family. She is still putting everyone else first. I am frustrated with work, another now ex-girlfriend, but what do I really have to be upset about? My sister is a great example for all of us. I am blessed to have such a great family. Who am I without them?
As it grows too dark to shoot I wonder how I can get down without spooking deer. Another pair of does comes from below and angles towards the field. I wait until they are up higher in the field and I slide out from stand, hoping to stay low enough that their viewing angle, along with the brush, conceals my exit. It does. I walk down the ridge and change a camera chip, sneak across the side hill in a snow storm. I can’t see 20 yards but I can see tracks all over the ground. Where did all these deer come from? Did the beans bring them tonight? I was averaging 4 or 5 deer a sit, the cold weather really got them moving.
I get to the valley and walk across the marsh trail and angle back into woods. 6 deer take off from Dad’s morel mushroom “secret spot”. I hear a deep grunt. Was that a shooter? It’s the unmistakable sound of a big buck. Did I pick the wrong stand? No, I learned a lot tonight on stand 5 and seeing all the wildlife was worth it. I keep walking quietly down the driveway, a deer crosses in front of me, I can’t see what it is in the dark. I change another camera chip and look up at the snow. Bow season is still open tomorrow, but feel like this is how I want the early season to end, if not the bow season this year.
I get to the road and notice dark spots in the cut corn across the street, more deer. Then I turn and look back at the woods and wish the bucks luck getting through the gun season. But as seen tonight, deer populate fast and soon this area would not be able to hold all of them and disease could start to spread. So I backtrack in my mind and wish the shooters luck during the gun season. I get to the truck, sadly put the bow in my case and shift focus to what I can work on after the gun seasons close.
Thanks Mom and Dad, I love this property. And thank you bow season. Years ago I wrote that hunting was my medication for tough things in life. Back then it was about a break up. This year was about learning of my sister’s breast cancer, a difficult work place, and another frustrating relationship making me question myself. Then seeing how life moves on and usually to a better place if you keep your head up and focus on the positive.
Debates will continue on what weapon to hunt with, QDM vs. Traditional hunting, do any of these people have nights like I just had? Or are they unable to look past the weapon in their hand? Or the trophy on the wall, or how full their freezer is? Do nights like these slide by and they just simply think, “I saw deer, but didn’t get one”? Regardless of a hunter’s goals and outlook, we need to be on the same team and I hope the majority see nights like these as I do.
I am grateful that I am able to take more from the season than a trip to a taxidermist or a freezer full of venison. The bucks may lead me back a time or two in the late season, but to me those are closer to scouting trips. How fast the season goes by, but there are always many lessons to take, both for life and for big buck strategy.
This was written nearly 3 years ago. I still read it a few times a year. It keeps me grounded as I can get a bit too obsessed with working the property, strategies and the big buck I am chasing. I never want to lose focus on what matters most. What is your definition of hunting success? Changing mine over the years has made my seasons more fulfilling. I hope this article is as thought provoking for you as it has been for me.
Be safe, hunt hard and enjoy life!