It’s that time of year again, when the crisp bite of fall air turns many a mind to apple picking, harvest festivals and Jack O’ Lanterns. For the legions of sportsmen and women, however, the rustle of fallen leaves and the chill of a late September morning evokes thoughts of a much baser and more primal calling – The Rut.
Before I continue, I beg you. If you’re the crunchy vegan type who hates all things carnivorous, please move along to one of my less lethal posts. And, so help me, if you send me hate mail about the brutality of hunting, I will respond with an accounting of all the delicious ways I can prepare your furry friends for consumption. Let’s not go down that road.
Now, if you aren’t a hunter or aren’t accustomed to the sport, you may not understand the appeal. I’ll do my best to enlighten you – briefly, then I’ll move on the more entertaining aspects of this post. In addition to providing the ultimate in organic meat to our families, hunting responsibly plays a vital role in conservation. By not allowing the deer population to exceed the carrying capacity of the land, fewer deer die of starvation when food supplies dwindle during the cold winter, farms suffer far less crop destruction and there are fewer vehicle vs. deer confrontations – a contest the deer almost always loses.
Alright, enough with the science lessons. I am relatively new to hunting. I did not take up arms until a few years ago when my son expressed an interest in learning. At the time, neither my father nor his were active in the sport. Being the kick ass mom I am, I decided it was up to me to drag his curious little butt out into the frigid, pre-dawn woods in search of our tasty friends. All we need to do is go outside, wait for a deer and shoot it. Sounds easy, right?
Hahaha! Fools! If only that were true…
Unless you are either extremely lucky or you unscrupulously hunt over a bait pile, most days are spent sitting in a tree, freezing your buns off, hoping to see something – anything – legal. There were several seasons I was positive someone had given the power of invisibility to the local deer population. Deer in the woods do not act like the deer standing on your front lawn, blandly watching you pick up your newspaper in your underwear as they make a buffet out of your garden. Oh, no. These elusive creatures pick their way through the forest on high alert, scanning for any hint of danger – a sudden movement, the faintest whiff of human scent. They spook easily and will run far and fast if scared.
And, then there are days when nothing goes according to plan.
One year, on opening day of bow season, I excitedly climbed out of bed, ready to conquer all things venison, only to have my day go to shit before I even gained access to my tree stand. Let me give you some background information. I use a homemade, wooden tree stand, built directly into the tree, sort of like an open-air treehouse. Not the safest apparatus. They need regular inspection and maintenance to ensure stability. I assumed (major miscalculation on my part) that my brother had assessed my stand and made any necessary repairs. As I would soon learn, this was not the case. I noticed right away one of my hoist ropes was missing. Being too lazy to climb up twice, I attached my bow to the lone rope available and opted to wear my backpack, with my seat cushion inside (this will be important later in the story) as I ascended the wooden steps nailed to the tree. Imagine my surprise when I reached the last rung and it came loose in my hand. With nothing else to grab onto, I quickly began to fall backwards off the tree. Panicked, I scrambled cartoon character style down the tree, clutching desperately to anything within my reach before landing in a heap at the bottom. Thankfully, the positioning of the tree, my cushion filled backpack and my ninja like reflexes saved me from damaging anything more than my pride. Pissed and too stubborn to give up, I spent the next several hours huddled in a makeshift ground blind, not seeing a damn thing bigger than a squirrel. Needless to say, I did not emerge victorious that day.
Ask any hunter and I promise he or she will have more stories about the one that got away and the perils of going into the woods unprepared than you can shake a half-rotted tree stand at. So, to all my non-hunting friends, before you scoff at a hunter for ‘slaughtering a defenseless animal’, remember my words. We spend more hours learning from our mistakes and being outsmarted by our prey than you will ever know.