Without dwelling on it, this was a non-typical year of deer hunting for me. I spent more time in the northeast than I have in recent years and more time hunting with friends than on industry sponsored hunts. I got back to my roots a little and was reminded again about how public land hunting can make you crazy.
I hunted in Vermont, New York, Ohio and Montana. I shot a few deer, but not as many as I had hoped. The old cliché “The good, the bad and the ugly” pretty well sums it up. But it’s all still deer hunting, what I live for; and I enjoyed (almost) every second of it.
Deer season for me ended this year at noon, December 10th, in the Back Meadow of the Mason Farm in Pawlet, Vermont. That’s when I emptied my muzzle loader and climbed into my truck. I had to catch a plane the next morning for the Freedom Group Tactical Seminar at Gunsite in Arizona and by the time I returned deer season would be over. I sat in my truck for a while before starting the engine, thinking about it and mourning the passing of yet another deer season.
I wrote what follows several years ago; it’s been published in a few magazines and it closed my first book, Big Bucks the Benoit Way.
For those of you who are seeing deer season end for another year, I think you might find a little solace in knowing that you are not alone.
Friends and relatives who have left for more temperate locations tell me that what they miss most about the Northeast is the four seasons.
I have a little trouble with that concept as I perceive each year as existing only within two seasons, deer season and whatever else there must be.
There was never a choice in what I have become and I can easily make a case for pre-destiny. I didn’t choose deer hunting, it chose me. I can’t even imagine my life if I were not a deer hunter. The very thought is as foreign to my consciousness as might be life as a woman. It is something that I believe I can understand intellectually, but that I will always fail to fully comprehend simply because it is so completely impossible.
I approach the fall season with an intensity that envelopes me completely. I don’t and can’t recognize the extent of this transition, simply because it is so complete. The flurry of activity from the first of October through December is so intense, so passionate that at times it threatens to consume me. While it may be apparent to those close to me, to me it never is obvious until later.
Each season is approached with an anticipation that builds and eases me into what is coming, but when it ends, it ends abruptly.
Regardless of where or when it happens, in each season there must always be a final day of hunting. When that day passes that’s it, the end, finished. There is no transition, nothing to ease into the change, it just stops.
That’s usually when it hits me how immersed in the hunting I have become. As I face the prospect of the end of another year of deer hunting, I realize just how much I have denied and dreaded this day. When it suddenly stops it creates a void, an emptiness within me that I can’t understand and that I don’t much like.
It doesn’t matter how much hunting I have done in the season or how successful or unsuccessful I might have been, the results are still the same. My soul seems to exist as a vacuum that leaves me restless and unable to focus.
For a while I wander through the days unable to concentrate or to channel my fragmented thoughts. I am irritable, short tempered, grumpy and generally not at all pleasant to be around.
Nothing really helps. I try reading books and magazines about deer hunting or watching videos, but find I can’t concentrate. I spend time hunting coyotes or rabbits, but it’s not the same.
I know that in time it will ease enough so I can function, but that it will not leave me completely. I have learned, if not to control it, to at least accept and live with it.
Much of this stems from the knowledge that each last day marks the passage of another year. It’s a reminder that another hunting season is depleted from my life’s allotment, and that the remaining stock is alarmingly low.
I know that I have consumed another opening day, that I have used the anticipation that precedes that day and I have lost the feelings and the excitement that exist only in the magic first moments of each season. It’s all gone, used up and it can’t ever be replaced. I know that I have used more of the sights, the smells and the feelings that are so subtle as to defy definition, and yet never fail to invoke strong emotions when they are encountered. I have again used some of my allocation of time in the woods that I so dearly love. The year’s rations of friendship and camaraderie, along with the annual supply of campfires and nights with people I choose to spend time with are depleted.
They cannot be stored or hoarded, yet so too are we unable to recover them. They are gone with the passage of time and like time they are gone forever. With each last day I am hitting my mortality head on.
I can’t understand how time can be so different. It was such a short time ago, only a flash, an instant, that I watched dawn open the season for me and yet the next deer season is so far distant as to be almost inconceivable.
I know and understand that there are thousands of you out there who like me are suffering the same pains, but I also know, as do you, that as hunters we are solitary by nature and must endure this alone.
We take solace that, as impossible as it looks now, time will pass and another season will come. Hunting was meant to be used, to be consumed, to be experienced. This is the only way that deer hunting can exist, and by using and experiencing it we deer hunters justify and ensure our own existence, for without it we too will fail to exist..