My hunting mentor says, “You can’t get a deer if you’re not in the woods” so often that I now say it to myself as I head out before dawn, even on those mornings when I’d rather walk to my word shop, where there’s a wood stove. “But you can’t get a deer if you’re not in the woods,” echoes in my head as find a seat to await sunrise and deer.
Because “you can’t get a deer if you’re not in the woods,” I’ve extended my hunting season with an archery license that allows me to hunt with a crossbow for nine weeks in addition to the sixteen days of rifle season.
You can be in the woods and still not get a deer.
Bow-hunting season starts on October first and ends on December fifteenth. While I haven’t hunted on each of archery’s sixty-three days, I have spent more time in the woods this year than in my seven previous hunting seasons combined. During this time I’ve learned that while it’s true you can’t get a deer if you’re not in the woods, it’s also true that you can be in the woods and still not get a deer.
On a recent, sub-freezing morning, I started to reconsider my antipathy toward grocery shopping: the driving, the packaging, the lack of connection to my food. But I have to concede, from a time-motion perspective, buying food at the store is more efficient than trying to catch it on the hoof.
Happily, the season isn’t over.
There’s one more week of short days, with late dawn and early dusk. Yesterday, it was snowing when I left the house in the dark. When I parked, a furry, waning moon shone through the clouds, illuminating the world in monochromatic beauty. I entered the snow-dusted woods and sat against a venerable birch rooted in a stone wall. I waited for the deer, which did not come. Daylight renewed the winter woodland palette of greens and grays against the white ground. I sat still, practiced breathing meditation. Practiced patience. Became cold, gave up and came home.
I will go back.
It’s true: you can’t get a deer if you’re not in the woods, but if you’ve been called to hunt, you can’t stay away. The woods call.
I may yet put venison on the table this year.