I spent yesterday in the woods with Rob, a landowner not only willing to let me hunt on his land, but happy to show me around.
Despite my resolve to spend more time outdoors and off-trail this past year, I haven’t been out as much as I’d hoped, for all the usual reasons our culture applauds: a robust work load and a dedication to family.
It’s only when I couch my time outdoors as research for a book I’m writing about learning to hunt that I give myself permission to wander through the forest. That’s what I did yesterday. And that may be one of the reasons that draws people to hunting: It gives us permission to be in the woods – away from electronics, off paths – keenly focused and hyper aware.
One of the reasons I’ve challenged myself to hunt is to to learn my way around the landscape without reference to human signs. Yesterday, I was surprised and delighted that I kept my sense of direction as Rob showed me his land, including a series of beaver ponds. One was particularly exquisite, like a magical pool deep in the forest where fairies might live.
Yesterday in the woods, everything I’ve learned about deer behavior came back, and I saw the forest from their point-of-view: a glade of fern looked delicious; a hemlock highland, restful. I followed game trails, looked for rubs. I saw good deer habitat and very little sign of deer. I’m not sure this is good hunting ground.
Nevertheless, I liked that I could have my back to the east, so the sun would rise behind me and I’d be downwind from the prevailing westerly breeze. And one of the beaver ponds, now empty, appeared as a likely place to find deer at dawn. But hunting is nothing if not strategic, and I’m acutely aware of my limited ability to haul a hundred-plus-pound deer out of the woods should I ever succeed in shooting one.
This is one of my two big worries.
The other is making a clean shot.
So, I’m lining up friends who are willing to go out with me, or who are available to come out to help haul if I call. Meanwhile, it’s time now for target practice.
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