Many times I have sat in a deer stand and watched the sun fade below the trees on my last hunt of the season. The shadows begin to creep across the landscape. The cold evening breeze breathes one last gasp before a dark stillness takes over. The forest becomes quiet as stars begin to blanket the sky. I take one last look at my hunting grounds. There’s nothing there. An empty feeling comes over me as I pack up my gear and walk out of the woods for the last time. The cruel winter has left me empty handed, unable to take that buck that has filled my thoughts since October.
That scenario has played out over a dozen times in my life. I’ve had years where I put in a ton of work only to come up short, and I’ve had years where I didn’t put in much work and came up short. When you don’t put the time in, and the last day comes and goes, it’s hard to feel upset about the outcome. It’s the years where you hunt and hunt and hunt still coming up short that hurt the most. I’ve often said that I care as much about the experience as I do the killing, and I do, but I’d be lying if I told you I’d never left the last hunt of the season not feeling down in the dumps.
Fortunately, last season I didn’t have to endure that feeling. I climbed into a stand on the last evening of the last day with no pressure. I’d already killed a nice buck earlier in the year and planned to just sit and enjoy the evening. Much to my surprise, another opportunity at a shooter buck was presented and I was able to end the season on an incredibly high note. It was the best season of my life in terms of killing mature bucks. It was a season spent with friends at the camp making memories that will last forever. My daughter was able to kill her second buck last season, as well, adding to the fun.
Going into this season, I knew things would be different. Not having the house probably meant I’d have fewer companions, which turned out to be accurate. There were so many uncertainties. How would I manage without the creature comforts that I’d become accustomed to? How would my equipment hold up in bad weather? How much could I endure before throwing in the towel? All of these questions, and more, were answered at one time or another this season. I felt like I learned a new lesson each time I went to the land to hunt. I also learned a lot about myself and how much I love the outdoors. I’ve never felt as close to nature as I have this season, and for good reason.
My biggest regret of the season is not getting in a hunt with my oldest daughter. It’s become a tradition of sorts for us over the last three or four years and it hurt not having her there at some point. Unlike me, she has a greater appreciation for the finer things in life, namely indoor plumbing. A hot shower and the privacy of a bathroom were creature comforts that she wasn’t willing to do without in order to kill a deer. I don’t blame her. There were many times this year that I longed desperately for a hot shower and a sink to wash my hands. As for the other, I’m a guy so I don’t really mind having to do my business outside. One more way to feel that much more connected to nature!
As for my equipment holding up, it performed as well as I could hope for. Early in the season I would take my tent down each time I’d leave. It was a lot of work to pack up everything each time so in late November I decided to leave the tent standing. It was in an area that wouldn’t be in anyone’s way, so I wasn’t too worried about it being a burden. I was also able to stash some things in there for future use instead of hauling it back and forth each trip. Over the course of almost two months the tent endured at least three pretty good storms. Thankfully, upon my return it was seemingly unfazed with all of my equipment that was inside left intact.
How much could I endure before throwing in the towel? When I think about this question, I’m not really sure it was answered. I spent some awfully cold nights (for a South Mississippi boy) alone in that tent, at times shivering so hard it shook the lantern hanging above me. I remained committed, albeit not without questioning my sanity at times, to finishing what I started. Never once did I feel like saying “forget it” and packing up and going home. Some will read this and think, “whoopity-do, you camped in a tent.” I agree, it’s not earth-shattering, but having spent all of my prior hunting trips in the warmth and safety of a house, it was a big deal for me. And if you haven’t been camping in the woods, alone in sub-freezing temperatures, I don’t expect you to understand the hardship. I do, however, encourage you to try it. You’ll learn more about yourself than you realize.
The dreaded “final hunt” was approaching. I packed up my gear in the truck and hugged my family goodbye for a couple of days. Recently, we’d experienced the warmest December that I can ever remember, but now it’s January 2nd. The temperature is still close to 70 when I pull out of the driveway wearing shorts and a pair of Crocs (I’m fashionable). The forecast is calling for a major temperature drop so I packed an extra blanket for my trip. I also made sure I had enough propane canisters to run my heater and my stove. When I left the house for the “final hunt”, I never could have imagined just how challenging and exciting it would be. To be continued….