Have you ever gone out into the woods and just sat, watched and thought? Deer hunters spend many hours doing exactly that every year, but I am afraid that is changing. Seeing pictures, and even worse, videos, posted while hunters are sitting on a deer stand makes me think they are missing one of the most important parts of hunting.
What do they miss? That little flash of movement that would reveal a huge buck if they were not staring at their phone? How about a beautiful cardinal eating matching red dogwood berries? Do they notice the golden yellow sweetgum leaf gliding through the air, pausing briefly when it hangs on an undergrowth limb, then falling to the forest floor to start the never-ending nutrient cycle over?
There is something magical if you actually observe nature. A squirrel waking up to start its morning commute to work, stretching and scratching on a limb near a hollow tree trunk, then scurrying carefully down the tree to search for breakfast. Did it bury the acorn if finds, stashing it away for today?
Do you miss the gurgle of the water over a tree trunk in the creek and think about where it has been and where it is going? How many times has it fallen on a hillside much like the one you watch and trickled into a creek? It then flows to a bigger creek following it to a river.
That river dumps into the ocean, where the water evaporates into the air. Wind currents move the clouds it forms back to a hillside, where it falls to start its timeless journey again.
The ancient white oak on the top of the hill has seen many changes. It now overlooks you sitting in a red oak a little way down the hill. Your perch grows up through the rocks on an old terrace, so the white oak watched it grow. Was it there while a dirt farmer struggled to flatten a small place for his crop, tediously moving shovels of dirt, then the rocks, to the terrace?
The rocks at the base of your tree had sat on the hill for thousands of years, slowly being exposed by eroding soil, then moved to their current position by the farmer. What has passed over time on their hillside? What will pass before gravity and erosion rolls them down the hill to the creek, where water will wear them away.
If you have hunted this land long enough, you may remember the fall day when you sat near the big white oak and killed a limit of squirrels with your .22. Or the summer day when you tried to catch tiny bream in the creek, on flies you had tied in a not so successful effort. But the bluegill still tried to eat it.
If you are old enough, you remember the days before whitetail deer here, and watched as the herd grew. The first deer you shot, with an old Marlin 30-30, was a small basket eight-point buck. You know now it was no trophy, but it still remains one of the most exciting days in your life.
That patch of privet was the hiding place for your biggest deer, a true trophy. You still don’t know how you made a killing shot, your arms were trembling from holding your gun on the spot where you knew the buck would expose itself as it moved out of the privet as it fed along the trail, eating acorns.
Your whole body was shaking from excitement, and you remember trying to order yourself to calm down. The movement of the buck ruins all those efforts, but you remember making yourself breath out, then in and squeeze, not pull, the trigger when the crosshairs lined up. And you almost jumped the 20 feet to the ground to go get a close-up look at him. He did not disappoint.
You may remember the days before 4 wheelers, too. Even though your property covers over 50 acres, you would never use one until you have a deer on the ground. But you hear their irritating whine and growl on nearby property at daylight as late hunters lazily ride to their stand, spooking the deer they would have seen if in the woods and quiet early enough.
Strangely enough, you hear their noise again an hour later, just when you expect to see deer moving back to bedding areas. At least they are scaring the deer they might have seen with a little patience. And they might spook them toward your stand.
Shots from other properties make you wonder if that trophy buck you have been patterning for weeks just went down. You hope that if he did, he was killed by a hunter that put out as much effort as you, and not by a deer shooter that made no effort other than to put out corn.
If you kill a deer, you take a minute at the kill to think about the deer and thank it for its sacrifice, so you will have meat. You have respect for your quarry and take pleasure in a trophy or just a meat doe, but you respect both for the wildness in it, and in you.
If you don’t make a kill you still rejoice in the total experience of being part of a tradition and way of life that is changing all too much.