This is for you pointy-headed urbanites. I could become a hunter. That said, I have yet to shoot anything. I saw precious few deer during daylight (aka legal hunting hours) on my recent hunting trip in the woods of Maine. But I did enjoy the experience and I look forward to more.
A friend of mine planned a three-day weekend with a hunting guide. He pushed me to join him. The guide was half-Native American and learned hunting and tracking from his father, a Passamaquoddy Indian. Under his tutelage, we sat in makeshift blinds in the morning and evening when deer are on the move. We tracked the deer on foot during the middle of the day when they bed down.
The tracking was very strenuous. It meant slow hiking through thick woods or boggy wetlands hoping to spot or “jump up” bedded down deer. The physical challenge came from highstepping along game trails, lifting your feet high to reduce dragging brush and then placing your feet between twigs to minimize snapping noise. The mental stimulation came from finding scat trails or hoof prints and following them, all the while keeping down wind of a given area where deer are known to bed.
And the anticipation is enormous. Will we flush them up close or at a distance because of scent or noise? Will I be quick enough with my rifle? Can I get a good shot?
During midday we did some “heater-hunting.” This means riding in a truck up and down dirt roads while moving from one hunting area to another. Eyes peeled for deer, unloaded gun at the ready, we could warm up, dry off and eat a sandwich for lunch.
Melting into the earth
But the magic of hunting for me was sitting in the makeshift blind. Here we sat for two to four hours, as still as possible. Minimal whispered conversation. Sphinx-like. Eyes on a firing lane.
It sounds boring to the uninitiated but it is the ultimate mindfulness exercise. To watch the sun rise or set as the wind moves the grasses through the light is very calming. Especially when you are ignoring an itch or stifling a cough.
There is the temptation for the urbanite to go for the cheap alliterative definition of hunting as “mindfulness paired with maliciousness.” This ignores the true beauty of sitting and melting into the earth.
I did get a young buck in my scope while heater hunting on the third day. The animal was 180 yards away. I had practiced for a 100-yard shot with a support for my rifle barrel. This was a freestanding shot. I could not keep the cross hairs on the shoulder at that distance.
I did not squeeze the trigger. I had learned to go only for a clean kill.
We, the buck and I, would both be back another day.