Why I Hunt: It’s Not About a Filled Tag
My Facebook and Instagram feeds were starting to fill up with photos of friends chasing elk and mule deer in the West and enjoying early archery seasons for whitetails in the East. Seeing the images of gorgeous landscapes, smiling faces, and even a few successful hunters was starting to tease my senses despite it still feeling very much like summer. While I was finishing my pre-season preparation, including organizing my gear, tuning broadheads, and pouring over aerial photos, it wasn’t until a sudden cold front blew in dropping temperatures into the 40s that I realized almost 10 months of waiting was over. Hunting season was here!
Due to a full day of plans with my family on opening day, I had to wait a couple of extra days before going out for the first time. I had planned a morning hunt, but an all-day rain drenched that idea and it wasn’t until late afternoon that it let up. Despite having only two hours before sunset, I was determined to get into the woods and I hurriedly hiked to my stand as the final few drops of rain fell. As if I wasn’t already excited enough, seeing several deer feeding in the nearby field, including a small buck, heightened my optimism.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many years of hunting experience you have under your belt when it comes to getting through the first hunt of the season. I could make fun of myself for hours recounting stories of opening day blunders. This year I managed to lose my right glove and drop my first arrow to the ground as I was trying to nock it. I shook my head and mumbled, “Great start,” as I reached for my next arrow and began to focus on the task at hand.
As I reached to hang my bow, I saw there were already four deer feeding in the field. With an antlerless tag in my pocket I decided that I would shoot the first suitable deer that provided an opportunity, and I was confident my first hunt was going to be a short one. The deer began funneling in my direction as I had predicted but they were about to inform me that I had a problem on my hands. Just before coming into range the mature does in the group locked up and began displaying the body language deer hunters dread. Despite having a favorable wind, it wasn’t quite enough to carry my scent away, especially on a mild and damp evening.
This scenario repeated itself a couple more times throughout the evening, although one nice doe eventually walked to within 18 yards and provided a broadside shot opportunity. Unfortunately, I didn’t draw my bow when I should have and when she froze in front of me there was no way I could get away with movement. I hoped she would put her head down to feed but it wasn’t to be, and she hurried away the second she smelled danger nearby. “You idiot,” I scolded myself as I rehung my bow after the encounter. Despite my more than three decades of experience, deer still win most of the time, which only makes me appreciate them more.
The sun started to set, and I watched several deer in the distance doing their “deer things.” The does I had the close encounter with were now several hundred yards away happily filling their bellies in a cut corn field. In the opposite direction I could see two young bucks sparring, only taking a brief break to halfheartedly chase a nearby doe. I noticed the remaining light warming and it provided a cinematic effect that seemed ideal for the scene. Minute-by-minute the orange hue of the setting sun intensified, eventually turning almost red and resembling a raging fire along the skyline.
I took a moment to grab a few photos with my phone before simply admiring the view and taking it all in. I didn’t fill a tag, but that was the furthest thing from my mind as I was reminded of why I hunt, and all the amazing memories I’ve made because I do. I still make a lot of rookie mistakes, but one thing my experience has done is allow me to appreciate deer, the privilege to pursue them, and all the incredible things that go along with it. After just a couple hours in the woods, I’ve already had an amazing season.