The hike always seems to be longer on the way in. As the trace amounts of snow cover the tracks of last nights hoofed visitors, you pick and place all of your steps into the areas that don’t make you sound like an elephant tap dancing on bubble wrap. “4 days left on that tag, whats your plan?” Anything with horns you whisper. You had made a little promise to yourself at the beginning of this year. Earn a buck. It was a simple statement, but you were going to hold fast to it. You had lucked into a few before, and by no means is shooting a doe a bad thing, hell if we didn’t the deer population would run even further out of control then it already is. But this year you want to earn that buck. So as the weeks passed by in deer season, so did the number of animals you saw, its like they can sense your target and realize that they are not it (much the same way Elk will stand broadside in the middle of the road 3 days after season has closed, knowing full well that you can’t shoot them). How many had you seen this year? A hundred? Maybe 150? I guess the number really doesn’t matter, What matters is today. What matters is that you use every opportunity to try to fill your tag. What matters is that you are keeping tradition alive, and experiencing nature just like your forefathers did.
Maybe for you it isn’t big game hunting. Maybe it’s a duck blind, a quail covey or that secret honey hole up the river that always has the biggest trout in it, Maybe its that hard line that you climb on the atv once a year just to prove to yourself that you STILL can. We all have our proverbial crosses to bear. The real question, is what are we proving? Why do we do it? And most of all who is Judging us? I find it funny that when we hear of someone who walks 50 feet from the truck on opening morning and kills a “good buck” we immediately call it “luck”, Then we hear about a hunter who spends 35 days in the woods searching for that one elusive deer that keeps evading him, we will in the same breath, Call him “lucky” and state that any one who gets to spend that much time afield is sure “lucky”. Well which one is it? Are you lucky if you stumble into one and shoot it at first light? Or are you lucky to be able to spend all that time in the woods? And who the makes the decision? I guess we get back to the argument about destinations, and journeys… If I was in a situation where food was scarce, and I was expected to bring home meat so that my family was able to live, my hunting season would have been very different then it was. This year I personally saw more deer then I have in any other 3 hunting seasons combined. Hell, yesterday I had 2 does close enough that I could have done them both in with and ax handle! But Much like you, my desperation for meat is very low, while my want is still very high. I enjoy hunting, but I am truly not in a situation where I “have” to harvest in order to survive. We have enough money to pay for food (even though its expensive, and I hate to do it), and I’m sure that you do too. Don’t believe me? If you (or I) take what we pay for our cell phones and add to that the cost of the internet that we run in our houses, we are left with a pretty substantial sum of money. Surely enough to pay for any meat that a family would need to survive month to month.”But wild game is so much tastier, and better for you” you say. I could not agree with you more, I love all wild game. But if pressed and your freezer is low on protein, you can go to the store and still buy meat, as I do when things don’t go as planned. I know of a few people, who have not consumed store bought meat in over 15 years! If I was 20 years younger, popped my collar, and listened to drake (the rapper, not my third favorite feathered target) I would say that is “EPIC”, but I’m not, so I won’t. What I will say is that is conviction, and that is living the path. Most cannot. It’s pretty easy to throw a “live to hunt, Hunt to live” bumper sticker on your Prius, its another to actually live it.
SO how do we quantify success? Is it meat in the freezer or horns on the wall? Is it a limit of green heads or that lone bull turkey that you have always dreamed of? Is success even attainable, or is it just an imaginary finish line that we have created as something to strive for? Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to spend the day hunting with Trent. Nope I didn’t shoot one, but Trent did. Just a 3 x 4 “doiker buck” as he would call it, but we basked in its glory, and admired him for quite sometime before we started to drag him out. For once the walk out was longer! 2 and a half hours later, we finally had drug the deer out to the main road and got it loaded into the truck. As we sat dead tired sipping a Powerade,dripping sweat and up to our elbows in war-paint and brush scratches, I though about how successful the day had been, not only as a hunt, but as my birthday no less.To me, personally, it is all of those things that show your true measure and grit .Some of my most memorable hunting trips have been those where I never even pulled the trigger. From sitting in my parents frozen garage on a cold November’s eve processing out my first deer, to throwing decoys on what should be frozen water in January. Being outdoors has become something more to me then any number of trophy’s on my wall ever could. So if you wish to measure me as a man, do it not by the number of horns that I use to adorn my walls, but with the passion, friendships and memories that I use decorate my soul .
-Grant Willoughby 12/3/2016-