73 Days…And Counting

Posted on January 5, 2016

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“You can make plans, but man plans and God laughs.” – Jim Shockey

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A curious title for sure, one that is far more personal than public. Yet, when you are somewhat of a public figure your personal life can’t help but spill over into the public arena. After all, people – especially hunters – are notoriously curious.
Curiosity stems from a variety of core motivations for deer hunters: our own comparisons, superiority complexes, fuel for our insecurities, to soothe loses and thoughts of sincere goodwill. Regardless of the reason, inquiring minds want, need and expect to know.
I’ve stated on more than one occasion that hunting whitetails is personal; a recreation that was never intended to be used as entertainment for the consumption of the masses. I fear that far too many have lost sight of why they are hunting and hence fail to enjoy the experience as a result of what is or isn’t on the ground by day’s end (unless of course you are just out there for the killing). I continue to ascribe to Gene Hill’s prophetic stanza penned many years past,

 

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The thing that cements the love of a man for this carpet of leaves and his ceiling of stars is the knowledge that just being involved is enough…If we want to do something where we can’t lose, then we must accept the proposition that we cannot win. We are not involved in a contest, but a very simple and pure journey that promises each day will be different, unrepeatable, and unrecapturable. Each time is unique.
I have amassed 73 hunting days in pursuit of a mature whitetail buck since felling my last. For some that could be a single season, however for me it has included three successive deer-less seasons. It could be argued that given my methodology of hunting, the locations where I hunt and the type deer I pursue, this dry spell should be expected every now and again. The problem is, none of us ever expects not to succeed, regardless of the odds.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Excuses                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

There are indeed many ways to pacify a bruised ego and explain the agony of defeat, at least temporarily. Excuses are as exhaustive as there are reasons for making one. And when it comes to deer hunting and wounded pride, we as a whole have come up with some rather unique tales to defer the sting of being skunked. I’ll explain some of my own.

In the past decade I have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing two major deer herd catastrophes. Both of these unprecedented events in different parts of North America have essentially become a one-two punch that has severely hamstrung my deer hunting. Ultra-severe winters coupled with wolf or coyote activity have resulted in marginal deer numbers with mature bucks being impacted the most.

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As a result of this, a year ago I traveled to Northern Idaho to try my hand at high elevation whitetails and to get away from areas of winter-kill. With a burgeoning deer herd and ample wilderness to roam I diligently plied my craft in one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever hunted. Deer numbers certainly were not the problem in this locale, in fact, I saw more deer during my nearly month long stay than I’d ever seen in a season. The problem was deer size, and when it comes to the whitetails in my rifle-sights, size indeed does matter! Out of 140 deer, not a single one met the standard I was looking for.

You see, passing up legal bucks is no big deal for me. Long ago I established a criterion as to what a buck must be in order for me to take its life. In the eloquent words of Philip Tome,

I never wantonly killed a deer, when I could gain nothing by its destruction. With the true hunter it is not the destruction of life which affords the pleasure of the chase; it is the excitement attendant upon the very uncertainty of it which induces me even to leave luxurious homes and expose themselves to the hardships and perils of the wilderness. Even when, after a weary chase, the game, the game is brought down, he cannot, after the first thrill of triumph, look without a pang of remorse, upon the form which was so beautifully adapted to its situation, and which his hand has reduced to a mere lump of flesh.

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Happenstance

Some may think that their success predicates on superstitious luck, while others believe it is due to hunting prowess. Then there are those more practical among us certain that location, location, location is the key. As for me, I believe wholeheartedly that circumstance and opportunity is engineered long before I ever hit the woods. In his book, In Pursuit, Zeke Pipher states, “It can all seem so random, so left to chance. One deer turns left, walks fifty paces, and presents a shot. Another goes right, stops, and hides behind a tree.”
As difficult and frustrating deer hunting is at times, despite years of plying one’s craft and gaining first- hand experience, it is simple and seemingly effortless on other occasions. Why? Well, I believe for any number of unexplainable reasons. Zeke continues,
The wonder of the woods isn’t random. It’s brimming with purpose. We rarely understand the specific reasons why God does what he does, but that’s okay. Our hope and happiness isn’t tied to knowing why. It’s tied to knowing who. If we know who is in control, then we know that life isn’t meaningless. We also know that we can trust God with every event in creation.

Reality

Shockey, in my opinion, is absolutely correct in his assertion that God will orchestrate the outcome regardless of even our best laid plans. No hunter sets out to go without game. I don’t know the person that begins a deer season with the expectation of not scoring; if that were the case then why bring bullets or arrows? No, I believe we all start each new season with enthusiasm and high hope in our heart that this year the buck of our dreams will fall victim to us, and when it doesn’t we need to find some type of reason to explain it. It seems, although it is a simple line, the six toughest words for a deer hunter to express at seasons end are: I DID NOT GET A DEER.
It has been suggested by some well-meaning folks that I have shot enough big deer, and they may well be right. However, I’m not quite ready to rest on my resume; not just yet anyway. “What you (I) will almost certainly do,” as Dwight Van Brunt writes, “is keep going back until age, ill health, or nature’s cruel blending of the two make it impossible to return. Comes that time, you will just swing a big rifle onto your shoulder and take up the track in your dreams.”

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Continuation

73 days and counting…only God knows when next I’ll be bent over a large, lifeless stag adorned with a polished ivory tipped crown. Until then… the chase continues.

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer