If Your Deer Hunting Isn’t Enjoyable, It’s Time to Recharge

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It’s not the first time Facebook friends shared an article with a common theme, inviting hunters to fire shots at the declining number of deer. I initially scrolled past, but the teaser asking if the “good days” are gone forever forced my mouse back to the scene where hunter upon hunter predict- ably bemoaned scattered versions as to why we are seeing fewer deer.

Buck making scrape1I scanned the comments hoping for someone to change the tone, but the group-think vehemently snowballed until I doubted any competing voice would dare put forth a larger question. It would only cause trouble, I thought, to ask if hunters subconsciously equate “good days” with numbers of dead deer — or worse, do we do it intentionally.

It’s hardly a news flash that deer subjected to hunting pressure are declining in number. Hunters can persist to blame game-governing agencies, insurance companies, dwindling habitat, coyotes, bears and other competing animals. We can blame vehicles, winters, poaching and on and on until we’ve covered the bases. But none of it changes declining numbers. Are you sure you are looking in a viable direction?

365 DAYS A YEAR
I live in rural upstate New York, good deer country. To hunt my favorite area, I park my truck at a gate, shoulder a bulging duffle bag and set out on what I will always consider an enjoyable hike. It takes me longer each year, yet I ache to keep crossing the three spacious fields that lead to a sprawling and steep expanse of woods laden wall to wall with hemlock and laurel, which I can’t get enough of.

Early on, it is common to see a handful of other trucks parked near the gate, but as the season wanes they stop showing up. That’s to be expected. When deer are not in season, though, mine will be the only truck regularly parked there. Aside from a busy schedule operating my landscaping business, I spend whatever time I can in the woods, hiking with a hound, trying to keep my 60-year-old legs in shape and, of course, keeping my eyes peeled for deer sign. The point is I’ve been going to the woods for a lifetime and without any deliberate attempt have developed a kinship that makes arguments about declining deer numbers seem inconsequential.

What goes on in the woods goes on 365 days a year, not just during hunting seasons. Deer out there are living as best they know how, while on occasion we, as best we know how, go try to kill them. I don’t phrase it that way to infer shame on us or homage toward them. I’m trying to word how simple it is for them and us to follow the rules of our species … until someone plasters another complaint in some magazine, newspaper or social media post that they, as a hunter, aren’t seeing or killing enough deer. That’s nuts.

If you’re a hunter dissatisfied with numbers of deer, take a backpack, load it with some food and water, maybe some bug spray, I don’t know, and head out into the woods when nothing is in season. Leave your ATV parked in your driveway and go on foot to feel a day in the woods without your weapon or a desire to kill an animal. Sit for a while, maybe in a treestand or ground blind, and pause to consider that any of the deer you might be tagging next season are out there joining you today. Some are napping, some are up chewing browse, and others are probably off lollygagging on contented strolls; whatever they are up to, and regard- less of how many there are, they are out there existing as more than targets.

WATCH: Great tips for your best treestand locations



TREASURE WHAT EVERY DAY OFFERS

Many hunters know exactly what I am talking about. The woods offer a calming bastion where you can breathe more slowly, so inhale more deeply. What a place to leisurely soak up a weekend sunrise while sipping coffee from a thermos. My hound Audrey and I rarely miss a summer Sunday out there. For hunters who have never tried it, I hope you are curious to go, and will end up making it routine. Time spent in the woods, in and out of seasons, should quickly dispel a person’s concerns about numbers of deer. If a matured perspective disallows convoluted worries to intrude, you will treasure what that day does offer rather than fret about what it doesn’t — hunting days included. It’s worked for me.

One of my most gratifying moments came well into the final week of a three-week season. Maybe that late in the game this 8-pointer and I were the only two left out there, who knows. What I do know is my chances to kill a fine buck that day were, of course, slim. But purely from the perspective of heading out to savor a good day, which was not in question, there I sat camped in a ground blind when he angled down the snowy slope toward me.

Back to the Facebook query suggesting good days gone forever, I thought long and hard before contrib- uting. Afraid I might appear sancti- monious on one hand or trite on the other, I opted, anyway, to go ahead. Whether my words opened any eyes or prompted any “likes,” I never went back to check. From an admittedly selfish posture, I’m just happy they flowed so easily.
I’m glad my perspective and priori- ties regarding deer hunting and time spent in the woods have a solid foundation. Substantiating good days according to numbers of deer is a certain failing. If success is to be measured that way, then, yes, your good days might be numbered; but if success is simply to say, “I went hunt- ing today and continue to love every minute of it,” you’ll be fine.

— Roger Page is an avid hunter from New York.

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