Sitting Bull is famously quoted as saying "I will remain what I am until I die, a hunter, and when there are no buffalo or other game I will send my children to hunt and live on prairie mice.”
If you are a hunter, you know exactly what he meant. Peter Hathaway Capstick reasoned that there is biological proof that humans evolved as hunters. He explained herbivores (prey animals) have eyes on opposite sides of their head to better watch against danger. But all hunting mammals have forward facing eyes with which we focus on the prey ahead while stalking and pursuing them when they flee.
Our lives would be incomplete without the hunt. Yet there are times when the hunt must pause. Game laws and closed seasons protect against over hunting. New York’s spring turkey season ended yesterday. It is a long wait until the September goose season and even longer until we can pursue cotton tails and white tails in the fall. I used to find this wait almost unbearable. I would feel frustration seeing deer casually browsing in the summer fields. I filled my evenings with reading about other’s hunts and longing for a chance to get back in the field.
But this is the time of year when the lilies and roses are heavy with sweet fragrant blossoms. They remind me that there is time for all things. The rose bush is an heirloom grown from a root slip of the bush in my grandparents’ yard. They transplanted it there from an older family farm. It is a reminder that it is worth the time to pause in our busy day and literally smell the roses. Just like when you are watching a game trail, you cannot rush the game. Fretting over the empty trail does not help you to enjoy the hunt. But if have placed it in a good location, trust your stand and just enjoy being there until the game shows up.
Sometimes even when doing something that we love like hunting or fishing we can get so caught up in an imagined urgency that it prevents us from enjoying the blessings right in front of us.
Last fall I hunted with a fantastic group of friends in a western state. Early in the week I just plain missed what should have been an easy shot at a magnificent buck. I was heart sick. I kicked myself mentally. I felt sick to my stomach. My knees and feet hurt from walking those hills. The next day I spent hours of thirst and hunger and looked for deer until my eyes ached. I desperately wanted to redeem myself from the heartbreaking missed opportunity. Fixating on my failure to connect with that big buck threatened to ruin what actually was a hunt of a lifetime. I was so caught up in the disappointment and desire to make up for my failure that I stopped enjoying the hunt. I didn’t appreciate the companionship, the wide open spaces, the fantastic weather, the brilliant sky, or the flora and fauna literally all around me. I let my desire to fill a tag fill me. To let that feeling persist would have been a worse mistake than failing to correct my aim. It is easy to forget that it is far more important to enjoy the hunt than to fill a tag
It is even harder for us hunters to realize that we should count our blessings even when we are not hunting. Sometimes life throws things at us that conflict with open seasons. I'd rather be hunting than do almost anything else, but it is just one of the many things that makes my life complete. If you miss a hunt, there will likely be another even if it is not this year. If we care of the important things when it is their time, we will enjoy the hunt all the more when the time is right.
My weekdays are filled with work obligations. And my Sunday mornings for church and in NY you can only hunt turkeys until noon. So that meant that my turkey hunting opportunities were limited to the Saturday mornings in May. This year I had to choose between watching my son’s baseball games or turkey hunting Saturday mornings. So I did not hunt for three long weeks as the turkey season threatened to slip away from me. But had I been hunting, I would have been doing it knowing that I should have been doing something else. When baseball season ended, I went hunting on the last Saturday of the season.
Sometimes God sends fat old guys a break. I got out of bed before dawn and drove to the farm where I hunt turkeys. I walked straight from my car to the spot I had mentally selected to call. Five minutes later I saw turkeys. An hour later I was back in the car with a nice gobbler. It felt really, really good to know that I had bagged my bird while maintaining my priorities in the right order.
Sometimes things don’t work out that nicely, but don’t fret over the long wait between open seasons. Look at it as an opportunity to spend time with family, and catch up on the Honey-Do lists so that when the next season opens your schedule will be clear to go and enjoy the hunt guilt free. If you find a few spare moments between now and then go ahead and clean gear used last season, prep gear for upcoming seasons, catch up on reloading, and concentrate on making sure that none of the game meat in the freezer lasts long enough to get freezer burnt.
Oh – and God gave me a second chance on that deer hunt out west last fall too. I spotted another buck, and even though I was smarting from the miss and desperately wanted him, I gave my hunting partner Matt first chance at him since I had already missed. It was the right thing to do even if it meant coming home empty handed. But as Matt was belly crawling toward his buck - another legal deer came in and bedded down 600 yards away. That one came home with me and he is the biggest buck I have ever taken. Not all hunts end that way, but they will when the time is right. So go ahead and take the time to smell the roses.
Next entry – a How to guide on turkey butchering