Best I can figure I’ve been deer hunting now for about 41 or 42 seasons. Been a long time. Seen lots of cool stuff in the woods. And yes, some of it has even included big deer. Yet, many non-hunters and hunters alike will not completely understand when I say this…but I no longer deer hunt with the sole purpose of killing a deer. Let me explain.
When you start out as a hunter you go through various predictable stages in the sport. Actually, I’m not even sure who coined the “5 stages of a hunter” concept anymore, but it goes something like this:
- Shooter Stage — as a beginner you want to shoot your new gun. You’re proud of that gun or bow…you want to see how it performs. So much, in fact, that you sort of measure success simply by the fact you got to discharge your firearm or twang your bow. Oh, sure…getting a deer is always the ultimate goal…but when you’re in this beginning stage all you really need to make you happy is to have a chance. You’re more accepting if you shoot and miss…besides, in this hunter’s mind the goal is to just be given an opportunity to use your new “hunting equipment.”
- Limiting-Out Stage — this stage is sort of the glutton stage. Success comes with shooting a limit of ducks, filling all tags you have with deer…you get the picture. When a hunter is at this stage of life the main point is simply bragging rights that he/she used up all available tags. The hunter got their money’s worth. In other words, they got to leave the woods early because…well, they were ALL DONE hunting because they could not legally hunt any longer. Nothing wrong with this stage or any of them…it’s just a stepping stone toward maturity that many hunters must take.
- Trophy Stage — typically when a person has hunted for a number of years and achieved some success they aspire toward something greater. They want a bigger buck. They want a duck or a goose with that leg band. In their mind they ascribe to a conceived notion of what they believe to be a trophy and set out to accomplish that sometimes lofty goal. Truthfully, I know many hunters who never mature beyond this stage. And that’s okay. If a large deer with a record book rack is what stokes the hunting desire inside, there’s nothing wrong with that. What is important about this stage is the fact this is the stage where most non-hunters place all hunters…and it is just not so. After all, this is only the middle stage in what I call hunting maturation and appreciation.
- Method Stage — now let’s be honest, this stage is often intertwined with the previous Trophy Stage for many hunters. Depending on the day or even the hunting season, hunters will take great pride in their strategy to waylay a big buck almost as much as actually accomplishing the task. The Method Stage can be interesting because this is where the hunter really develops a greater understanding of the outdoors. When a hunter lays in bed at night trying to “out think” the big buck the next morning by employing some fool-proof strategy, well, that’s when the hunter knows he has a fever for the hunt.
- Appreciation Stage — this is the big one. Most hunters when they enter the sport don’t purposefully set out to get to this level. Nope, instead it just happens along the way. When a hunter gets to this stage he/she realizes that just being in the deer woods is all that really matters. This hunter might not see a deer all day, but by golly that was one heck of a sunrise worth getting out of bed for 2-hours earlier. The hunter at this point in their life doesn’t really care if they even shoot their gun. In fact, a hunter truly at this stage wouldn’t even mind if they left the gun back at camp still inside the case. Indeed, not every hunter makes it to this stage in their hunting maturity…but when they do it’s a thing of beauty. Imagine going into the woods knowing that it will be a successful day simply by spending the time outdoors. No pressure. No expectations.
And so I prepare today for the 2018 Minnesota Firearms Deer Hunting Opener where once again I will be hunting with my 10-year old daughter, Elsie, hunting by my side tomorrow morning. I’ll be carrying a muzzleloader giving me a one-shot opportunity for success. Elsie, well…she will be keeping me company in the blind by watching and learning. She’s developed into a great hunting partner. She has patience, she has a desire to learn about the outdoors, but most of all she simply enjoys the close-knit time spent with her Dad. Yup, it becomes a Daddy/Daughter bonding experience like no other.
We eat snacks. Drink hot-cocoa from our respective thermos containers. We each have assigned duties to keep a watchful eye and ear out for approaching deer from certain areas. We ask each other if either of us are getting cold yet. We sometimes laugh. Occasionally we text mom back home to see if she’s out of bed yet watching TV. BOOM! <sound effect> Where did that shot just come from. Elsie thinks it’s from her left. I’m kind of thinking it sounded like it came from my right. It seems like in the deer woods there is something happening to keep your mind engaged at all times. It’s great!
Oh, sure…there are times I sit there and think how nice it would be to be home back in bed all warm and comfortable. Nobody said deer hunting is easy. Nobody ever said deer hunting is exciting at all times. Yet, the time spent in the deer woods does something special to my soul. The best way I can relate it to a non-hunter is to describe how a person plugs their smart phone into a charger to bring it “back to life.” No doubt about it hunting deer is my method to recharge the batteries. Being outdoors…being close to nature…it truly does something special to the human spirit that is hard to describe. Moreover, when you share that experience with someone you love it takes on an even deeper meaning.
So, yes…tomorrow I deer hunt. I really don’t care if I end up shooting my gun. I absolutely have no interest in filling all the tags we have. If a trophy comes by it will be a “game time decision” on whether I shoot…because if it’s heading in the general direction of a younger hunter on stand…I will gladly give them the opportunity to make their day. In terms of methods, heck…Elsie and I are in the woods to have a good time and stay comfortable in the blind. We might even crank up the stinky old propane heater just to make things more pleasant by keeping our toes and fingers toasty.
Along with the fun comes the appreciation for the outdoors I’m trying to develop in my daughter. The moments we share together doing so will never be taken away from either of us. Deer hunting is the excuse we use to be outdoors in the woods together. How a person hunts goes a long way to determine what sort of memories are created and whether they are positive or negative. A proper attitude and a plan will ensure the deer woods experience always stays special in a deer hunter’s heart.