November 24, 2020 at 2:46 pm
Over the past year, Covid 19 has changed almost every aspect of my life; from where and how I work, getting groceries, working out and most of all how often I get outside. I am an outdoor person, and I have always used the outdoors to help me manage stress and anxiety.
On opening day of deer season, I made plans to head out hunting with friends. Opening day this year was cold. 19 degrees when I left my house. I am chronically anemic, so I struggle to stay warm even in the summer. I was prepared, with lots of layers and hand and toe warmers and a backpack full of extra layers if needed.
I met friends at a designated spot, we chatted briefly, and headed out in the dark as quietly as we could, whispering when needed. Soon our group split, as we headed to different spots. Once there, I cleared the area around me of leaves and readied myself.
As the sun came up, I got more and more excited. This morning, the woods were noisy. The cold had caused the oak leaves to start falling, and it was raining oak leaves. For me the best part of deer hunting is the stillness, the quiet I force onto myself. No phones, no moving, just quiet. It is incredibly restorative. It is so peaceful yet there is an element of anticipation and excitement because at any minute a deer could come in.
I sat for several hours, watching dozens of birds all around me, and watched the natural world wake up. By 10:00, I had put on every last layer but a chill still set in, and I have to admit I was relieved when my friend came by and we headed out. Although I was disappointed to not have seen any deer, I’d had such a great morning I was eager for our afternoon outing.
We took a few hours off and we all met again at 2:30, this time hunting a different area. I sat at an overgrown tote road on the edge of a clearing. It’s a nice spot with a nice wide shooting lane for me. I settled into my spot at the base of an old oak tree. The sun was shining, warming me and the leaves had stopped falling so it was much quieter.
I sat for about an hour and a half, then I saw something moving through the woods, near the cleared lane I was sitting in. It was a doe…I couldn’t believe it! She moved without a sound and I was sure she could hear my heart beating. Squirrels and moles make more noise than she did. She was in thick woods and I knew I wouldn’t have a shot unless she came close to the clearing.
I was amazed when she walked out of the thick brush right out toward me. I got myself ready, took the safety off, took a steadying breath, aimed the gun and pulled the trigger.
Every ounce of me was excited. I could not believe I was going to harvest a deer on opening day. It was a great shot. Dead on, perfect. Or so I thought it was.
I expected her to drop right there. But she didn’t. She didn’t even flinch. She picked her head up and I swear she looked at me in absolute shock and disbelief as if to say “how in the world did you miss that?” She twitched her ears, raised the white flag of a tail and trotted off the way she came. She didn’t even run, just trotted, like she was mocking me.
I was in shock. Trembling all over but still not sure what happened. I couldn’t believe I missed, entirely. I played it all over in my head. Then I went over to where she was and there was no sign of my shot hitting. No blood, no hair, nothing. I knew I missed her, but it was important to make sure.
I went and sat back down at my spot. Replaying the scene over and over. How could I have missed her, totally missed? I am relatively new to hunting, but I shoot a lot and I’m accurate with my gun. Was I so nervous that I just whiffed? Was I shaking when I took the shot? Had my adrenaline gotten the best of me?
And then I saw it, the tree… the hemlock from behind which she came. A big glaring bullet, in the tree. I got up to take a closer look and sure enough right in the center of the tree was my slug. I don’t know why but this made me enormously happy; I wasn’t actually that far off. About an inch off, not that bad.
I texted my friend with some language I won’t repeat but expressed my excitement and frustration. I was feeling a lot of things in the moment, annoyance with myself, disappointment that I’d missed, but I was also excited and pleased. I’ve never shot at a deer before and I had wondered when the time came to it, would I actually pull the trigger? Today answered that question for sure! I didn’t hesitate at all.
I believe whole heartedly in hunting; it is how we manage the deer population, and I eat meat and I am committed to eating wild game or meat from a known source. As I sat there, in my spot, replaying this scene over and over I was overcome with excitement. My friend came back and sat with me for the last few mins before we hiked out. I couldn’t stop talking, albeit in a whisper. He laughed and told me “shhhh…you going to scare everything”.
I reminded him I just fired my shotgun, that I’d been back and forth to that tree ten times and I already scared everything. I excitedly talked on and on, and made plans for next week, and what I would do differently, where I would go, where else I would hunt.
I realized on the walk out, that miss hooked me for life. I was already counting the days until I could get back out and try again. To sit there, quietly, listening to everything around me, disconnected from my phone and laptop, connected to the natural world and peace that overcomes me.