Saturday morning, the opening of Missouri’s rifle season, was a bit of a revelation. I was feeling pretty discouraged after hunting hard for several days, but seeing very few deer and failing to have a single shot opportunity.
I have invested a lot of time, energy, and focus into this hunting season, but it has failed to produce what I expected. That is the problem, isn’t it? Investment is a risk, not a guarantee. Sometimes you reap far less than you sow; hunting is no exception.
When you invest your time, energy, and emotions into something, it not only increases the chances that you will accomplish what you’ve worked for, it also increases the odds that you will encounter disappointment.
The more you invest, the more you expect. The more you expect, the easier it is to become dissatisfied.
I realized that I had invested too much into my hunting success – not in terms of practicing, or scouting, or time spent hunting – but too much in terms of meaning. I had taken hunting too seriously.
Expectations spoiled hunting. It wasn’t fun, enjoyable, or relaxing; it was tiring and stressful. Hunting had only become this way because I had let it. I don’t have to stress or obsess. I could just hunt for the enjoyment of hunting.
Sunday – A new day, a new mindset.
I was back in the woods on Sunday, which was Veteran’s Day, and my late Grandfather’s birthday. I sat at the base of a tree, clutching my Grandpa’s rifle, remembering him and doing exactly what he would have been doing if he were here with us. His legacy lives.
I set up in a new spot – a saddle on a high ridge – hoping to catch a buck that was seeking a doe or fleeing from the massive force of orange that invades during firearm season.
The first hour of daylight passed with no activity to speak of. I carefully scanned my surroundings and decided that it was safe to stretch my legs, so I rose to my feet. As soon as my feet planted on the steep slope I heard a crash behind me.
Hunting is chaos. Hours, or in my case, days of idleness, disrupted in a second by a sudden eruption of activity.
What happened over the next few seconds was one of those experiences seems to occur in an instant, and at the same time in a way where time seems to stand still. These moments are like an out of body experience, not in some mystic sense, but simply because your mind and body react faster than your conscious can reason. It was as if I didn’t choose my actions, but observed them from a distance.
The crash that I heard was caused from a hard-charging buck. He was quickly making his way from my right and rear, crossing towards me at a rapid pace.
Instinct took over. I quickly dropped to my knee and identified a shooting lane, while at the same time raising my rifle up to my shoulder and attempting to put the buck in the crosshair of my scope. I let out a mouth bleat, which did nothing to slow this buck down. Once more, I let out a bleat – this time even louder than I expected. The buck’s steps slowed momentarily, but I could tell he wasn’t content to stop and question what disturbed nature’s silence.
My crosshair, his shoulder – that is all I recall. I don’t remember the recoil or the bark of the .30-30 erupting. The buck didn’t kick or stumble. He stopped fully, spooked by the commotion, and then quickly retreated.
The moment was over. My conscious caught up with my instincts at the final second, before the buck disappeared into the dense forest. The shot hadn’t been lethal, nor had it been dangerous – it was meaningless. A clean miss.
One shot opportunity in six long days of hunting and I blew it. I waited dozens upon dozens of hours for that moment, but I didn’t capitalize on the opportunity. It was a difficult shot – hurried, unsupported, and kneeling, while trying to slow the escaping buck – but regardless of the shot’s difficulty, missing is not an easy thing to accept.
The day before I had decided to embark upon a more lighthearted approach to hunting, but in this moment my heart was anything but light.
I couldn’t help but feel as if I squandered the hours I spent away from my family. I sent a text to my wife…
“Just missed a nice buck. He was moving through so fast. I am so sick with myself right now! I am sorry. I can’t believe I wasted this shot after all of this time.”
Her response showed me that she gets it, and apparently I still don’t.
“Not a big deal! Just remember to enjoy being outside in the woods. When you make it just about what you kill, instead of enjoyment, then it is not worth it.”
I learned a lesson on Saturday. I needed to learn that lesson again on Sunday.
All of life is a matter of perspective. What matters most isn’t what happens; what truly matters is how we respond to it.