Seeking – The Ultimate Adventure

Posted on July 16, 2013

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                                           “It is here, that we seek and still find our meat from God.”

                                                                                                                                    Aldo Leopold

“I’m getting close,” I thought. The buck had led me up and over a ridge, through a swamp and a lot of difficult terrain in between. But without that the hunt would have seemed stale and flat. You see,

most deer hunters spend their entire lives without knowing it is not deer they are after. Yes, you read that opening line correctly, essentially it is not whitetails we are after, even though we are hunting them. It is the adventure of the chase during each hunt that keeps us coming back, year after year.

After all, can you think of another experience that has the ability to test your resolve in every way imaginable? Deer hunting does this because it places a hunter in circumstances that he would not otherwise be. And when you add the element of tracking/still-hunting wilderness whitetails, the experience becomes epic and invigorating. Those of us that ascribe to this style of hunting tramp endless miles, expend much energy, time and money doing so, under every conceivable condition: snow, rain, wind and temperature fluctuations on both ends of the spectrum. We combat biting insects and endure bone chilling cold, and do so wholeheartedly. I don’t know of a hunter who ever questions his sanity when embarking into morning’s dimly lit forest in order to take up a lonely deer trail from dawn-to-dusk, just for the simple chance of what it may yield.

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 Why is the hunt itself far more important than the actual killing? Is it really only just about the deer? The great Dixie deer slayer Rutledge thought otherwise and once inquired,

“Who haunts the lonely woods at daybreak, and sometimes lingers far in the forest until the first stars appear? Usually only the hunter does this; and by constantly pitting his intelligence against that of wild things in the wilderness, he comes to a just appreciation of their character and their ability…In addition to those pioneer virtues that all real hunters possess – their hardihood, their good sportsmanship, their patience, their capacity to take disappointment – they acquire by firsthand experience a type of knowledge of wild creatures such as no other man can attain.”

So it seems that although our primary motivation in hunting for whitetails is to vanquish our foe sporting a fine, polished set of antlers, a dead deer is not what ultimately holds the charm. If we’re to be honest, we should get as much satisfaction from the hunt itself as we do from bagging our quarry. And in so doing, our spirit soars to meet the next mysterious bend in the trail. We delight in the sweat, toil and struggles that ultimately come as a result of the chase.

It is that adventurous temperament, a longing in the heart, which cannot be tamed or leashed, that sets a hunter apart. We embrace the chase much the same way a mountain climber thirsts to conger Everest despite the difficulties involved. Otherwise, why do it? Buying a steak at the supermarket is a whole lot simpler and cost effective. No, there is really something intoxicating about seeking our deer that keeps us thirsting for the next dose of this elixir.

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The explanation for this lies in one of the three primal emotions found in both animals and humans alike: curiosity, interest and anticipation. In her book, Animals in Translation, TempleGrandin states, “We know animals like being in the SEEKING state because of self-stimulation studies where the researcher gives his animals control over the electrodes, so the animal can choose to turn the electrodes on or off himself. When the electrodes are implanted into the curiosity/interest/anticipation system, animals turn them on and keep them on until they’re totally exhausted from all their frenzied racing around.” This would certainly explain why a buck is far more animated and excited during the seeking/chasing phase of the rut than he seems to be once he has found fulfillment with an estrous doe.

Grandin continues, “The fact that animals who are having this part of the brain stimulated act intensely curious. The second is the fact that human beings who are having this part of the brain stimulated say they feel excited and interested.” And that is why seeking a deer afoot will always trump stand hunting when it comes to total fulfillment, but may not necessarily provide the same odds.

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 Jim Collyer weighs in heavily when he writes,

“Tracking is to hunting what ballet is to walking. It is completely different from any other method of hunting. We step into the forest and leave everything else behind-our work, our problems, and our dreams. We are alone. All that exists is the track, the rifle, and the waiting buck. There is nothing more important than the moment. We cannot track with macho aggression; it has to be done with grace.

Stand hunting’s popularity is not due to its excitement. It is simply the most efficient way to harvest a trophy buck. When stand hunting we avoid the deer’s line of sight and sense of smell. While we can still feel the cold wind and smell the ripe odors of the autumn forest, we are passive observers, waiting. The real hunting occurred when we searched out a location for our stand. In the stand we sit above the scene, bored, waiting for action to unfold below us. It’s not much different than watching television.

A hunter sees things much differently while tracking. We are in the deer’s line of sight, making noise, and spreading our scent everywhere. We are in the scene, not just watching it, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

Tracking is an art…Tracking is a dance. The buck leads, we follow. In tracking, plans are deliberately indefinite. We don’t know where the buck will lead us. Our focus is on the journey, not the destination. When done properly, the buck’s rhythms become our own. We will be in harmony, in step with each other.”

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And here is the clincher as to why seeking after something has such a profound effect on those that take up the chase. According to Temple’s research, “This part of the brain, SEEKING system starts firing when the animal sees a sign that food might be nearby but stops firing when the animal sees the actual food itself. The SEEKING circuit fires during the search for food, (or a hot doe) not during the final locating or eating of the food. It’s the search that feels so good. That’s not as surprising as it sounds when you think about it. At the most basic level, animals and humans are wired to enjoy hunting for food. That’s why hunters like to hunt even if they’re not going to eat what they kill; they like the hunting part in and of itself. Depending on their personalities and interests, humans enjoy any kind of hunt; they like hunting through flea markets for hidden finds; they like hunting for answers to medical problems on the Internet; they like hunting for the ultimate meaning of life in church or in a philosophy seminar. All of those activities come out of the same system in the brain.”

And now, after my long and arduous pursuit, I momentarily freeze as traces of brown are silhouetted against a white backdrop. Slowly, ever so slowly, I bring my weapon to its well-rehearsed position on my shoulder. Cautiously the safety is snapped off as I finger the trigger. Time seems to tick by excruciatingly slow as I wait for clear identification of the animal.

The buck moves just enough to reveal his heavy antlers and part of his broad chest.

Peering through the sight I find enough of a hole in the brush to attempt a shot. My mouth is dry, my heart pounds, and sweat trickles a path down my neck as every muscle tenses. I exhale and the gun is fired…

Collyer gets the final, and hopefully, convincing word on SEEKING,

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“Tracking is like slow dancing. One partner leads and the other follows. Modern man, with his urgency to control everything on the planet, has a hard time with this concept. He wants to control the deer and the outcome. We can’t bully a buck. He sets the direction and pace, we only follow.

The dance steps are as follows: If the buck is traveling in a straight line with even paces, he is going somewhere. We must pick up our pace if we hope to catch up with him. If the tracks start to meander, we need to slow down and look harder. If the tracks start to circle around, the buck is looking to bed or he has busted you. If a shot is made, the music stops and the dance is over. If no shot is presented, the dance begins anew.

It sure is a heck of a lot easier to kill a deer out of a tree stand!” – But is it as fun?

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer