In a whirlwind of teaching days and basketball nights and hunting trips and Thanksgiving prep November's calendar page was revealed and covered again in what felt like the length of a sideways hiccup (whatever that is). As I sit on the cusp of December's drudgery I finally force myself to stop, to write, to reflect on at least one event that took place since last I posted here.
Hunting reflections, you say? Fine, why not? They certainly won't take long. A strange season of deer chasing, this was. Snow on the ground from start to finish. Daily deer sightings but nary a shot fired. Hot spots from the past turned barren in the present. Dead zones in week one became covered with sign by week two. Twice, a week apart, I crossed bear tracks fresher than the deer tracks I was following. Twice, two weeks apart, we found fawn carcasses left behind from predator kills.
Adding to the strangeness of the season was a commitment to changing my hunting tactics. A life-long woods hunter, I concluded at the end of last season that a change in strategy was overdue - it was time to learn how to hunt our fields and tree plantations. My conclusion at the end of this season: change is a process. I did, indeed, fully commit to hunting our fields. But the snow covered up our food plots and messed up my plans on how to hunt them. Over-scouting a couple of spots prior to season ruined the promise of those spots. And back problems that intensified if I stood or sat for too long forced me to hunt on foot more than intended. So the hunting I envisioned did not end up being the hunting I actually did, but much was learned and plans have already been made for how to improve our set-up for next season's hunt.
My Deer Diary informed me that 2011 was the last time I ended a season without shooting a deer; the final sentence of the final entry for that season proclaimed it the "worst season ever". And while I'm disappointed the most productive five-year streak of my hunting career came to a thudding halt this year, the 2017 season was anything but one of the worst. For instance:
••My dad revisited his glory days by bagging and tagging three deer. It's been one or none for him for quite a few years now, and even though he grumbled a bit about all the gutting he had to do I think he felt pretty good to be the main meat getter again. We'll ignore the fact that he shot his second deer from the front porch of the house.
••I saw a lot of deer! Only once did I hunt a day and not see a deer, and I hunted only a few hours on the deer-less day. Saw seven on the opener, six a different day, and at least two every other day. Nothing is worse than hunting day after day without seeing anything.....just ask hunting buddy George, who hunted for seven years before ever seeing a deer while hunting! This year he hunted for ten days before he finally saw a deer on the last Saturday. Not that we would ever tease him about such luck.
••I saw four different bucks. I used to go years without seeing a single buck during season. Even though I the bucks I see far outnumber the bucks I actually shoot I don't mind hanging my hat on the ability to at least give myself an opportunity to get a buck nearly every year. So there.
••And in the end, a season can never be "the worst" when, on the final morning, two does walk out to where I'm standing and bring two bucks with them. And then stand beside my stand for a while. And then run circles around me just for fun. All within ten minutes of arriving at the stand. I could have easily shot any one of the four.....but the only open tag belonged to my daughter. The one whom I let sleep in with the promise I wouldn't fill her tag so she could have one more hunt to do so herself. So yes, my streak of success ended because of a promise...and I don't regret it a bit. But next year she gets her butt out of bed when Dad heads to the Maples.
That 2011 season probably wasn't deserving of the "worst season ever" award, even though the only thing I shot was a porcupine (it was a tree killer....I was saving the trees.....the Lorax was thankful). I know why I wrote that, though - I still hadn't figured out how much the journey can be enjoyed and remain unchanged by the results. I'm pretty sure, however, that season became my catalyst for figuring things out, and set me up for getting a lot more out of this season than the frustration that seemed to find me at every turn. So with thoughts already turned towards the hopes of 2018 I put to rest the unpredictable, tiring, somewhat disappointing, but completely worthwhile hunting adventures of 2017.
Oh, and one last thought: No season that includes a lunch log session with the hunting party can even come close to being "the worst". Good times with good people in the Great North Woods - there's nothing better.
|Daughter 2 and cousin George|
|George, my dad, and cousin Blue|