Becoming a hunter is a personal experience. It is bittersweet. It is emotional. It is so much more than just the act of killing. It is challenging. It is rewarding. It is a blessing.
This is my recent experience in the woods.
Hunting, for me, has become a release. I look forward to each season and the excuse it brings to escape to the woods, allowing me to simply sit and enjoy the peacefulness of the morning awakening. I'm finding more and more, the end goal of a bloody arrow isn't the sole reason for the passion I have, named hunting. The possibility of arrowing an animal and bringing home fresh steak is only a bonus, a small piece of it all.
The best I can put words to it ...
The crunch of frost laden grass beneath my boots breaks the silence of early morning. My footsteps find a methodical rhythm, slow and steady, with the hope of fooling any deer nearby. Kneeling down in the darkness, I break a small branch, open a container filled with the scent of a doe in heat, and coat the edges of my soles. There is a mature buck in the area, who has alluded my stand, staying just out of effective bow range. He is smart, as evidenced by his large antlers crowning his head, allowed to grow larger year after year, upon successful escapes from each deer season. Maybe today he will slip up, give this hunter a chance to pierce his lungs, and lay his antlers down one last time.
The darkness of night is now lifting, blackness giving way to shades of gray as the first hints of light swallow up a star blanketed sky. As I tie my bow to a rope dangling from the stand above, I stop and listen one more time before climbing 20 feet up to sit amongst the branches. Silence. The squeak of the ladder announces my arrival as I make my way up the base of the tree. I'm hopeful that the sound doesn't alert any deer.
As I sit in silence, the peacefulness of it all washes over me. A gentle breeze drifts across my face, reminding me of a drop in temperature on this early December morning. A face mask is lifted upwards covering the last bit of exposed skin, leaving only eyes unmasked, and I wait on sunrise, alone with my thoughts.
The glow on the horizon illuminates the earth below. Birds one by one begin to sing, then a blue bird glides into view and a voice echoes in my head. A number, still marked in a phone with a favorite star, no longer brings the cheery sound of a familiar voice when dialed; instead it has turned into a sweet memory of a loved one. Venison was one of Mom's favorite meals, or so she said. I think part of it was simply the joy she shared and expressed in telling others that her daughter brought home dinner by way of an arrow! This year would be different.
Often times in life we find ourselves looking for the next best thing - a new house, promotion, new car, more land, always striving for bigger and better. We constantly yearn for more. I'm reminded of the importance of taking a breath, slowing down and appreciating the blessing in today. While there is value in hoping for something better, as it is motivation to press on, a healthy dose of "putting on the brakes" allows for the genuineness of reality in today. It is easy to get caught up in the longing that we miss out in the now. What am I talking about? It's simple really - cherish the blessings of Now, aka Today. After all, life is composed of moments. Moments construct days. Days build upon days, which ultimately tell your life story.
I recently heard someone put it this way .... The secret to having a great life? Have great days, one at a time, then string them together. Live in the now. Cherish every moment you've been given.
A coyote howls in the distance, an eerie song of pursuit, interrupting my thoughts and the calmness of the morning. I've already released several arrows this year, one of them silencing a song dog and the others falling short of their target. Clean misses on a couple Pope & Young bucks, both due to my own error. In the heat of the moment, buck fever got the best of me.
Today is Sunday, December 6th and my hunting days are limited now, as whitetail season is coming to an end. I've held out all season, passing on younger bucks, hoping to get a chance at the big boy. Our freezer is in need of replenishment. Honestly, I'm hoping for a doe so I don't have to make a last minute decision on a buck. As the morning hours give way to the lunch hour, I escape back to the ranch house for a quick bite to eat, walk our new puppy and return back to the stand with plenty of time to sneak in undetected before the deer begin moving again.
Quietly anticipating what the evening will bring, I settle in and find myself dozing off, safely anchored against the tree. The sound of a vehicle driving down the dirt road, bordering the field blanketing my tree-stand view, gets my attention. As it disappears behind the ridge where my jeep is parked, I wait for it to reappear on the other side and continue down the road. The absence of a dirt dust cloud gives indication that they stopped and are checking out my vehicle. Why do people have to meddle!? Eventually the jeep appears and is now heading back from the direction it came. I make a mental note of their vehicle, as it seemed a little strange, but am ultimately thankful they left.
The dust cloud had barely settled when I see the same vehicle making it's way back down the road. This time, the driver parks in the wide open, along the fence line. At this point, I'm frustrated because I've been sitting in my stand all afternoon, and the prime time for deer movement is fast approaching. Two individuals get out, put on orange vests, and one slings a rifle over his shoulder. Over the fence they come, onto the private property I'm hunting on. I'm thinking maybe they don't see me, which would be strange because I also have orange on since it is rifle season. Standing up to give my location away, I waive my orange hat. They continue to walk straight towards me. Since I'm by myself, I immediately call my husband, feeling the need for some back up. No answer. I call another land owner. No answer. Great!
They've now crossed the ditch, and I can clearly see it is a guy and a girl. The girl is in the lead, with her attitude spilling out in her actions, she blurts out in her first breath, "Do you have permission to hunt here?" I respond quickly with, "Yes, and you don't. Please leave."
Here we go ... she didn't like that and challenges me, "Whose property is this?" Again, I tell her it is private property and I've been hunting here for several years. I have permission and it is leased. Since she is talking loudly, I'm getting more and more annoyed, thinking my evening hunt is ruined. She doesn't like that I didn't immediately offer up the name of the land owner, so I finally divulge the name in hopes she would quiet down. She then disagrees and tells me it belongs to someone else. (Um, no it doesn't)
I can't believe this is happening!
As she calls her dad to confirm she is right (which she wasn't), I will admit to letting a cuss word slip out, apparently loud enough for my trespasser to hear. She whips around, boisterously pronouncing, "You don't have to swear! You don't have to swear!" In my head I'm thinking, "yeah and you don't have to be a loud mouth trespasser either!" Instead I bit my tongue, saying nothing, because I didn't want to argue further and was trying to figure out how to simply shut her up, short of me jumping out of the tree. Finally she realized her error and proceeded to leave, talking loudly and continuously all the way across the pasture.
As their vehicle made it's way down the dirt road one last time, I contemplated leaving the stand early. Surely every deer in the area is now gone. I decided to wait and see what happened. There was still two hours left of day light, and I was curious ... what if.
It didn't take long for the peacefulness of the woods to calm my restless heart. I resolved to simply enjoy the last few hours in the stand, waiting for evening to paint a sunset display across the Kansas sky. If a deer walked by tonight that would be a bonus, but I was doubtful that was in the cards. I had reached my daily dose of adrenaline, and with no more room for Buck Fever to rattle my rhythm, taking aim at whatever crossed my path would be as easy as target practice. Or so I thought ...
As the blue light of twilight sunk down, a sound caught my attention. Turning slowly around the base of the tree, I caught movement. It was low to the ground. Coyote closing in, heading straight down the path! I reached for my bow, keeping my eyes on the song dog. If he comes to 30 yards and stops on the path above, I resolved that I would shoot him. I've already silenced one a couple weeks earlier on the same path. If I'm not able to fill my deer tag, I might as well do some predator control to balance things out. As I slowly stand up to get a clear shot, I simultaneously draw my bow, placing my 30 yard pin on a tuft of fur, marking vitals. *THWACK*! My arrow splits in two and looks to have fallen 2 feet behind the coyote. WHAT the ??? I look again through my binos and discover a small branch that my arrow must have caught. Miss!
I am now completely frustrated and with under an hour left of daylight, I desperately want to climb down, throw my bow on the ground and pout. How could I miss that shot? Granted the small tree branch "jumped" in front of my arrow, but I should have seen that!
I'm not sure how I talked myself into staying in that tree. Actually, I don't think it was me. It was more like a whisper from within to "stick it out."
Hunting is often a game of patience. At times, seasons come to a close the first morning of the hunt, as the hunter grabs opening day success. Other times, it is a season full of close encounters, endless hours of pursuit, waiting, hoping, and dreaming. I'll confess that the sound of opening day success intrigues me, but the long hours in the woods fulfill me, a collaboration of moments giving so much more than a mere red arrow. For me, the accumulation of time, building up to the anticipation for the moment marking the end of a season, becomes more important than the end result. It's hard to explain, unless you've experienced it. Somehow all of these moments combined give way to a bigger picture, giving focus. The reality is that my God speaks in the quiet moments, and often the difficult, frustrating moments. But the greatness is there, if you recognize it.
As I sit, head down, with bow in hand, I hear a strange noise behind me. It isn't a snap of a twig, but more like a hoof stumbling over a log. Slowly turning to the left I see a large doe. My heart skips a beat. I've yet to arrow a doe and I would be thrilled to come out of the woods tonight with my tag on her, especially after everything that has happened. As I watch, I see a yearling following close behind. My heart drops. This is the very reason why I've yet to arrow a doe. My heart melts.
Mere seconds pass and I realize a small buck, along with a bigger buck is in the group. I watch as the bigger buck takes the same path as the coyote. He is going to cross above in the open at 30 yards. Wait! I notice more movement and see a third buck shadowing the group. Showing me enough of his antlers to grab my attention, I know it is the big boy! I can tell by the path that he is taking, it is likely that he will stay out of range and not come in. I'm tempted to hold out, but force myself to look closely at the bucks in front of me. As the 2nd buck continues on the coyote path, I now have a more clear look at his antlers and am immediately impressed by the length of his G2s and the size of his body. He is a shooter in my book! I intentionally tear my eyes away from the buck out of my range and look at the one in front of me. He is now perfectly broadside at 30 yards. I draw and admit that for a split second think about the bigger buck. My buck takes one more step forward, stops and gives me a bowhunter's dream of a shot. I can't resist. It is gift and I'm taking it ... Now.
*THWACK* My arrow finds its mark.
Immediately, I see that the shot is a little forward, but feel confident that it is lethal. As I watch my buck travel down the path, taking my arrow with him, I wait for the crash indicating the end. Silence. My heart sinks. Knowing he may need a little time to expire, hoping my arrow didn't catch his shoulder, I back out quietly.
It is a long walk back to the jeep, especially by yourself. After what seemed like hours, Troy finally arrived to begin the tracking job via flashlight. Only finding a few drops of blood, the decision is made to back out and give him a little more time to expire. When we head back in a second time, the blood trail becomes more evident and I hear Troy announce up above, "Oh, Emily, that's a nice buck!!"
The reason I didn't hear him crash ... upon his final breath, he had jumped down into a creek bottom, a silent mud slide.
After a few quick pictures and admiring this gorgeous buck that truly felt like an unexpected blessing, we realized that we now had the task of trying to get him out of this mud hole and up the steep slippery bank. Oh how I wish I had video documentation of the event! Honestly, I'm not sure how we managed to get him out of there. After several attempts of pulling that buck up and sliding back down the muddy slope, I wanted to sit down and cry, scream or punch something. It was a slow process of inching our way up, laying in the mud, and bracing against trees. There was also a mixture of interesting sounds, grunting, and colorful language. Finally getting him over the ledge was such a relief, that it didn't matter we were covered in mud, blood and tears!
That wasn't the last trouble from this buck either ...
Somehow we lost the trail back to the truck and I agreed to stay with the buck while Troy went to look for the flashlight hung on a tree branch marking our entrance to the woods. As I watched Troy disappear over a bank, taking the light with him, the darkness of the night enveloped me. From crazy chaos to indescribable silence, the woods took on new light. I stood there still, taking it all in. The buck next to me, now lifeless, used to live where I'm standing. A deep gratitude washed over me. His death would bring sustaining life. The stars stood out in the night sky a little brighter. I can't fully describe in words the moment impressed upon my heart. It was beautiful. Again, I felt as if God was whispering to me ... each day brings blessings, it's up to you to recognize them.
I wish I could tell you that was the end of the story, but there is a little more worth telling.
After loading my buck up in the truck, and bringing him to a different section of ground to begin the gutting process, we noticed the smell. He was a little more rank than what I've experienced with other bucks. This awful odor, usually associated with a gut-shot animal, about knocked us over upon cutting him open, which was strange because I had made a perfect double lung shot. It was cold and he had only been laying in the creek for 3-4 hours, so that shouldn't have made a difference. I could see the heaves coming. As I stood over my buck, holding the brisket open, Troy launched to the side as a river of yuck gushed from his mouth. I about lost it, holding my breath to keep my stomach contents down. Now the smell was a mixture of puke and buck gut stench. A second round spewed out from Troy - vomit volcano! We laughed and cried as we finished the gutting process. Apparently my arrow had sliced his esophagus and the stomach gases had seeped up, causing the stench.
Even with all the trouble this buck gave us, it was worth the effort. We've already had several burgers and they were delicious!
Troy jokes that we should call this buck "Pig Pen" because of the mud hole incident, followed by the vomit. However, I smile when he suggests that because I know better. To me, he will always be a reminder of the blessing of Now, giving thanks for the gift of today.
In the end, Mom had a blue bird that visited each day outside her window. I think of the joy that it brought her - a simple blue bird that she called "hers." While she kept one eye on her future hope, she knew how to live in the now, enjoying each day. I want to live like that. Mom, this buck is for you ...
His name is NOW.
Each day brings blessings, it's up to you to recognize them.
"I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in Him." - Ps 40:1-3
From the Draw
A website devoted to sharing bowhunting stories. From the draw in the mountains to the draw on paper, the moments live on.