Good Hunting?


I met a father, son and labradoodle named “Bo” on the logging road where I deer hunt. They were grouse hunting and I was laying groundwork for deer season. They lived in the Twin Cities, and as hunters will do, we immediately started yakking about the prospects for harvest this year. The dad asked me if deer hunting in the area was any good. My first response was “no” and it wasn’t to keep them from showing up at my deer stand two weeks later.
Initially, my answer was based on what I estimated to be their definition of good deer hunting. So I talked of deer numbers and habitat comparisons across the state. We don’t have that many deer up here as permit quotas will show. There’s not a lot of farmland in a boreal forest.
But it set me to thinking about what’s meant by “good deer hunting.” As verbs go, dictionary definitions of “hunt” include: to search carefully; try to find; or pursue game for food.
Oddly enough, pursuit sometimes means standing still in silent observation hoping deer come my way. In those circumstances, pursuit is trying to find places where deer might likely pass by. However, once I become familiar with an area, I feel like a welcome guest. Sometimes we even share a laugh.
Nothing is more basic for reaching those places than boots. They’re the first line of comfort between earth and human feet. Unfortunately, my hunting boots have become a little dodgy over the years. So I spontaneously tested a crack in one of them by submerging it into a swamp puddle. After a few seconds without leakage—and no hand from beyond the grave reaching up to grab my ankle—I turned to leave. But suddenly, my other foot dropped through a tangle of tree roots and sank in well up my calf. When I pulled my foot out, the boot didn’t come with it. The roots had it in their gnarly grip. To this I say, silent observation be damned. I laughed out loud. Warm, dry feet plus a story to tell. That’s good deer hunting.
Traveling to my stand the other day, a red fox jogged across my line of vision then stopped inside some brush. I didn’t have my camera, but we spent time sizing each other up. He stared and I gazed. His face and pointed nose were framed by twigs in the foreground. I needed no camera; that picture will be mine forever. If I wasn’t searching for deer, I’d never have seen him. Our extended eye contact in that moment was good deer hunting.
Sometimes the hunt works in reverse and I’m the one caught by surprise. Every so often, the moon sneaks up on me.
Walking from my deer stand after dark, I approached a former logging site surrounded by the rest of the forest. As I passed the tree cutline and into the clearing, moonlight blindsided me like a flashbulb. It’s done this before. When the moon is in one of her moods, she knows the view of her from inside the forest isn’t as mischievous as an unobstructed shot at me. A cloudless sky, tree shadows stretched across the gravel road and I could have read a book in her light. Of all the symbolism the moon casts, this repeated treasure was a reality of place and season—good deer hunting.


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