Deer Hunting: Mindfulness Without Maliciousness

Sam_hunting_gunThis 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.

8 Responses to Deer Hunting: Mindfulness Without Maliciousness

  1. Heidi November 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Your experience was worth saved dates every November. Glad you had fun!

    • Sam November 12, 2013 at 10:45 am #

      Thank you, Heidi. Next year I am thinking of one more weekday added to our three day trip, maybe Monday thru Thursday. Saturday was crowded.

  2. Andy Franklin November 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    I’m relieved you did not pull the trigger on that young buck. While I am not passing judgement on you or your decision to go hunting, I suggest you try fishing instead. Fishing has almost all of the same joys of sitting and waiting in the outdoors, the need for stealth, and the camaraderie that comes of friendships and beer drinking. But, you won’t be killing the magnificent mammals that share the world with us. That buck is capable of sophisticated emotions such as those associated with social relationships, fear, grief, and perhaps others. A fish is not.

    I’ve heard the argument that there is a need to cull the herd for the health of the herd. That may be so for urban deer. The deer in rural Maine are not urban deer – let nature take its course, if necessary.

  3. Sam November 12, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Andy, I understand your point of view. Mine is in a state of evolution. Bambi is safe from me for a year. Next post from Paris. Au revoîr, Sam

  4. Susan November 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    wonderful post. for me, the mindfulness of melting into nature is something that few urbanites have the chops to be able to comprehend what that is all about. this post parallels a similar mindfulness with fly-fishing that Walton writes of in The Compleat Angler.

    in this vein, i would urge you to pick up Konrad Lorenz’s books: MAN MEETS DOG and KING SOLOMON’s RING starting with the delightful, KING SOLOMON’s RING which is also autobiographical and funny. I read them a few years ago after rereading his ON AGRESSION again. Lorenz won a Nobel Prize in 1973 and was an Austrian zoologist.
    You may edit your comment above about fish once you read some of his observations.

  5. Sam November 12, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Thank you Susan.


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