Aged Hunters

Posted on August 4, 2020

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It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.
― Andy Rooney

 

 

Once upon a time, charging up and down mountains in pursuit of ridge-running bucks seemed almost effortless. Locating a fresh track in early afternoon meant only one thing, go get him with unfettered eagerness for the chase. Miles mattered not, terrain was navigable, and with each new bend in the trail there was a youthful hopefulness that the prize would be staring back at me just long enough for a volley.

Oh, those indeed were the days. Little could our minds at the time, when we wore a younger man’s coat, ever envision that anything could change. But it does, and for many of us it has. The average age of a whitetail hunter in the year 2020 is now between 45 and 50 years old. But don’t let those numbers get in the way of your perspective, enjoyment and success, especially if we continue to stay in good health and condition.

Some of the most memorable highlights for me during my 50’s was not the result of the incredible shots I made on fast moving bucks, but in my ability to drag the huge beasts out of the woods alone. Two of the heaviest bucks I’ve ever taken were dragged out by me, alone, at the age of 52 and 57. Both were taken on bare ground; the first dressed 253 pounds and required 5 hours to haul him ¾ of a mile down to the road. The second dressed 270 pounds and took me 4 hours to go ½ mile.

 

 

Like it or not, the aging process has its demands regardless of what our mind and ego are lying to us about. Where it once seemed simple to climb through knee-high snow in search of a mere vision, today, that same effort is indeed an obstacle, and trust me, once plateaued you don’t come back down until it is time to quit for the day.

But be not dismayed as a result of getting older, it happens to all of us. Yes, aging will indeed have its physical challenges for speed, agility, mobility and even health, just to name a few, but there are many beneficial offsets that come with getting older such as, experience, wisdom, and a much different perspective than we had during our foregone youth.

I can still remember Larry Benoit telling me some years back, “I no longer look for a fresh track to take, I need to find one that has fire coming out of it.” How correct he was as I have come to realize myself. So, what else have I come to understand, or at the very least, better understand about both myself and the animal I pursue?

      Competition

 

Lee Nisbet once wrote, “Pursuit must always take precedence over killing, or we destroy the important meanings and values essential to the activity.” Without the pursuit, at least for me there would be no hunt. And the only one I am competing with while on that hunt is the animal I am chasing, period. My pervasive attitude as a young man that the buck I was after was going to fall victim to my prowess come hell or high water has more than diminished with age. Having to slow my pace and realizing that I will not get every buck I begin hunting has not sullied my hunts but brought me deeper meaning and greater satisfaction. The hunt takes on a completely different significance without compromising hunting hard, using skill and experience. Now the enjoyment is as important as the bag, if not more.

 

 

The hope that your hunting partners shoot a better deer than you erase any hint of envy, replaced now by excitement, and sincere happiness for them. I think Charlie Alsheimer captured this best when he wrote, “The longer I live, the more I realize the brevity of life’s journey…The most important thing for hunting is not whether record whitetails fall. It’s ensuring future generations can experience the world’s greatest outdoor experience, hunting whitetails on crisp autumn mornings. That’s a journey that requires an investment of time, but it’s worth the trip. I know, I’ve been there. And I try every day to appreciate the journey because none of us knows how long it will last.”

 

   Camp

 

The pilgrimage to deer camp is no longer a means to an end, rather, cherished time spent with family and friends. It is not so much about where to pillow our head and dine on great food, but more so in who’s company you are in. Best reflective of this sentiment is John Madson’s famous poem, Palace in the Popple where here he writes,

 

 

 

No where on earth is fire so warm

Nor coffee so infernal,

Nor whiskers so stiff, jokes so rich,

Nor hope blooming so eternal.

I tell you boys, there’s no place else

Where I’d rather be, come fall,

Where I eat like a bear and sing like a wolf

And feel like I’m bull-pine tall.

In that raunchy cabin out in the bush

In the land of the raven and loon,

With a tracking snow lying new to the ground

At the end of the Rutting Moon.

 

     Reflection

 

Looking back on experiences, good, bad and funny, along with those with whom these were shared is now part of the hunt. I can still picture one of my hunting partners walking up to the pick-up, in which I was sitting with heat blowing upon me. The outside temperature was no more than 15-degrees without the wind.

As the driver’s side door creaks open I look, and look again while I involuntarily begin to laugh. There was the figure of a man completely encased in ice. His rifle, oh did it sparkle and shine in its now frozen state.

 

 

Once my hysteria calmed to a dull roar, my buddy explained to me how he had fallen headlong into the stream and due to the slippery rocks beneath the watery flow, had great fits regaining his footing. From head-to-toe he was indeed a frozen mess. Writing this even now, years later still puts a grin on my face.

Barry Wensel stated it best while seated around the campfire with hunting comrades, “I no longer just see the roses, I now take the time to smell and enjoy them.” With so many memories over the years, and more that are being made, this is one aspect of the hunt that I would not want to forego.

 

         Health

 

No longer can a couple of Pop-Tarts and a swig of Coke take one through a hunting day. In fact, much pre-hunt conditioning in the form of exercise and good food choices go into making a hunt both enjoyable and free of pain. When you reach the age where it becomes necessary to meet the challenge of climbing up the mountain or navigating through an old cedar swamp, one thinks long and hard as to the merit of such activity. It is one thing if you are following a buck track, (Suddenly we revert back to our youth with abundant energy and enthusiasm once set upon a fresh buck track.) but understand, you are only going up that hill once today.

 

 

The aging process is seldom kind what with all of the maladies that can and will afflict even the most ardent health nut out there. Backs will be sore, knees weak, shoulders sagging, lung capacity deflated, etc., not a one of us is immune. Then you throw in legitimate illness be it coronary, cancer or any number of other health plagues and hunting now becomes much tougher than it once was. At times, only sheer love for the sport and a driving determination gets you through another day in the field.

 

   Wisdom

 

Of all things, get wisdom. Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Wisdom is better than strength.” Physically it is impossible to go the distances, climb the same heights, or move with the same agility and speed. Where these lack, wisdom does indeed come into play. By plying knowledge of whitetail behavior, experience and sound thinking we can and will place ourselves in many more favorable positions to succeed. I believe the Benoits coined the phrase, ‘Hunt Smarter, not Harder.’

 

         Summation

 

Yes, much will change with you and your hunting as the years creep up upon you. Getting started in the morning will take much longer, accoutrements will become many as hearing aids, glasses, scopes, creature comforts, soft pillows, shower, and warm room are now a necessity. But don’t worry, if you’re not there yet, you will be.

 

 

Aging is inevitable, embrace it rather than regretting it. Realize there are more hunting days afield behind us than we have left. Cherish each hunt as if it were, your last…one day it will be.

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer