The Heart of A Deer Hunter

Posted on October 3, 2017



“It is this total silence that stirs your very soul with a deep sense of eerie loneliness. The absolute stillness brings you back vivid memories of past hunts, and you fully realize that it is this very solitude that keys your anticipation and lures you back year after year.”
Mer Speltz




As huntsmen of the white-tailed deer, there is buried within each and every one of our archival recalls, events that shall never diminish nor grow dim with the passing of time. Although forty eight seasons have come and gone in my deer hunting career, I can still remember, down to the last detail, everything that transpired on my first day as a deer hunter.



Nestled down betwixt the soft, pungent leave litter a sixty-pound little boy sat with his back firmly braced against a towering old beech, the limbs of which stretched forth in such a manner that it seemed as if the ancient fruit bearer was actually embracing this infant as a mother would draw a child to her bosom. Many pre-conceived notions, boyish imaginations grown from listening to Pop’s deer stories, is all I had to carry with me into the woods that morning along with my rifle, a weapon that was nearly as tall as I. My wide-eyed inquisitiveness and eager desire to experience all that the forest wilds had to offer was not unlike that of a newborn spotted fawn, freshly licked and cleaned, seeing its surroundings for the very first time. With the cacophony of sounds that could be heard, the creatures responsible for creating each noise had to be identified and sorted out. With each rustling of the leaves, my heart would race in anticipation, hoping that a deer had finally arrived. With all of these distractions occurring around me, coupled with an impetuous curiosity, and what more than likely seemed to Pop an endless barrage of inquiries requiring his immediate answer, all served to enhance my eagerness.



Just when I thought the endless waiting could go on no longer, the telltale cadence of a large hoofed animal was audibly detected. Pop whispered to me as to where the secretive creature would eventually appear, just as so many of this deer’s predecessors had done over the years while on his watch. The closer the sound got, the harder my heart pounded. It seemed as if my eardrums had actually become part of a symphony orchestra. “Surely the approaching whitetail will hear this,” I thought in kid fashion. Finally, like the sudden emergence of the morning sun rising above the horizon, the buck materialized before my eyes. In less time than it took to write the last sentence, I officially became a hunter with my first buck lying before me.



Although I still have those six-inch spikes today that serve as a memento of my first deer, they, in and of themselves are not really the sentiment that draws such warm retrospection. It’s the experience. Without all of the anticipation, the sights, the sounds, and the preparation those antlers wouldn’t represent anything more than a dead deer.

As ritualistic as holiday parades, each autumn an army of dedicated huntsman marches into their favorite hunting grounds in search of the elusive whitetail. The goal for each and every one of these individuals is to put meat in the freezer and/or triumphantly wrap their fingers around a set of multi-pointed antlers. Despite that fact, let me query you with this: is the final, anticlimactic act of killing the main ingredient that keeps us coming back year after year? I for one do not think so. Yes, I’m certainly in agreement with what Archibald Rutledge once penned, “there was no hunting achievement quite equal to out-guessing an old whitetail,” but I am also quite aware that without all of the trappings associated with the hunt, the feat would quickly become a hollow victory.



As we prepare in earnest for our autumn pilgrimage back to the hinterland, a renewed sense of exhilaration is ushered in with the landscape, now awash in multi-colored royalty. Embracing our treasured and trustworthy weapon, shouldering it fosters the familiar feel of warmth when pressed to the cheek and is reminiscent to greeting a loved one after a long hiatus. The unmistaken aroma of Hoppes #9 being directed down the barrel on a white cotton patch stimulates our senses. Donning well-worn woolens, the deer hunter’s uniform, triggers an arousal of anticipation not easily doused and brings with it a feeling of contentment that all is as it should be.

Upon reaching our bailiwick back in the bush, old friends, tried and true hunting partners, are fondly greeted. Conversations now become much more meaningful. In fact, talk around camp is downright intoxicating. As stories are told and retold each year, they still hold an enchanting grip on each listener. Then, when dawn breaks on opening day, we once again embark into delicious solitude amongst the statuesque trees that dutifully stand guard in our absence. The magic of the deer woods with all of its sights and sounds comes alive, invigorating our appreciation for this moment in time.



You see, the heart of a deer hunter is not blood and guts showcased with triumphant hero shots behind a fallen beast. Gene Hill more accurately composes the true stereotype of the huntsman as he writes,

The thing that cements the love of a man for his carpet of leaves and his ceiling of stars is the knowledge that just being involved is enough. There is no score worth keeping, all we should ever count is hours, never birds, nor length of antler or hits or misses. 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. If there is anything of value to be entered in the log, let’s leave it at a series of impressions. A day without deer is a day spent in delicious solitary thought, a day that might bring you closer to understanding the infinite mystery of it all.

These are the sensations truly felt and experienced by a deer hunter and can never be totally comprehended by a non-participant. Yes, we indeed as huntsman as a collective group are merely following our primeval instinct to go and capture our food, but in the process a lot of sentiment is generated. Thousands of dollars are spent yearly by deer hunting enthusiasts on such items as vehicles, weapons, ammunition, clothing, accessories and seed. Based on documented fact, deer hunters have more than exemplified through their actions and their wallets to be trustworthy and caring stewards of both the land on which they hunt and the animals they pursue.

To the unlearned, the previous sentence may not make a lot of sense. These ill-informed dissidents will muse within themselves searching for the rational as to how individuals claiming to love and care for an animal can then take its life. The answer is not at all complex, in fact, simply put, our actions are the results of a relationship.



As I’ve matured, both as a man and deer hunter, since that first eventful day nearly 50 years ago, many things have changed. My rescue of an errant fawn that I’d disturbed while photographing one spring day certainly brought this to light. In his exuberance to flee, the little fellow got his head stuck in a wire fence bordering an ancient cemetery. Clutching the one-day-old fawn in my arms and feeling his exhilarated heart beat against my chest provided me with an inner glow far surpassing any feeling of fulfillment previously derived from my association with the animal both as a hunter and naturalist.



I guess that is why Rutledge, who spent his entire life amongst the white-tailed deer, was able to write the following with regards to his deer hunting experience: “Deer hunting gives a man a sense of balance, a sanity, a comprehension of the true values of life”.


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer