Spirit of the Hunt

"What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." -- Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

Stirring memories of the past seem to come to me with the seasons, especially with the close of each deer hunting season. Each year afield adds to the tapestry of the hunts remembered and shared with good friends and dear family.

Michiganís deer season has left its mark on my spiritual and emotional growth, leaving me the man that I now am, no less than all the other milestones of my life. In the woods of the fall I have grown from child to adulthood, from naivetť to maturity, from seeing the world with youthful clarity to a view clouded by my hectic adult life.

The deer hunting experience becomes a paradox in many ways, consistent yet ever changing. The stories of past hunts are retold, and more often than not, colored differently each time they are shared.

I had the good fortune of hunting the same woods for many years, and those woods have marked my life forever. Firewood was cut from the aspen stands to dry for the camp wood stove. Cut and fallen treetops and small branches became brush piles for the snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbits. The rest became the stack of firewood outside the cabin, piles of future warmth, waiting for the autumn, as I did.

Rabbit, grouse and woodcock hunts were excursions to the deer hunting land, and a preview into the place of the future deer season. I always meandered over for a brief stop at the stump on which so many hours had been spent. I visualized past hunts where the deer had stood, from which direction it had traveled, where my shot had been taken, and where the tracking had led to its end. It was my Mecca, my holy place in the woods, where I alone bore witness to the past events so brief, yet forever engrained within me.

This spot of woods where my deer stand was situated, was liquid and ever changing around me: a tree blown down across a once clear shooting lane, a creek running deep or shallow depending on this seasonís rain, jack pines ever taller as each year passed, and young aspens quaking louder as they grew taller and fuller. Some years the woods around me seemed more alive with birds, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits, and other times deadly quiet. ďWhat must have happened to all the creatures?Ē I would question.

I have seen more animals while quietly sitting on my stump than I could ever have imagined. Iíve spotted them at work and at play, and have mostly been unseen by them. Iíve seen the plump chickadees of the woodlots work their way through the trees pecking at the branch buds and twigs like a choreographed ballet. So still have I sat that theyíve lit on the barrel of my .30-30.

Iíve witnessed a mink hunting the creek bottom and watched hawks and owls silently cruise below the tree line in search of prey. Iíve heard the autumn drumming of the ruffed grouse, the warning cries of the red squirrels and blue jays, and many more noises that I still have no idea to this day what they were or what might have made them.

All these things I have experienced because I chose to take that walk into the woods. A walk so different each time, yet taken with the same purpose. My boots crunched dry leaves, made crisp sounds on the frosty floor of the woodlot, or went knee-deep through freshly-fallen snow. The weather brought bitter cold, pouring rain, thick fog, or days so warm and bright they hurt the eyes.

I have sat there and thought I had solved the worldís problems but have also been stumped by an insignificant event in my personal life. I have prayed and seen visions of past hunts and people running through my head like old movie reels. Iíve seen deer turn into fallen trees as the woods took in the first light of day. Iíve seen nothing there at all turn into the still, gray forms of deer as light rapidly departed the landscape. Deer have gone by me so fast that a glimpse was all they offered, and Iíve had them move so slowly and deliberately that I thought my beating heart would spook them at any moment.

There have been easy shots, hard shots, awkward shots, and no shots at all. There was the sound of a round fired from where a brother or my dad was sitting, filling me with the need to know the result. Was it a buck, a doe, a big rack or a small spikehorn, or a miss? Iím sure I was as excited as the person whose gun had broken the dayís silence. Perhaps something would come my way next, or that shot would be followed by a shout for assistance in tracking or dragging a deer.

Iíve dragged many things from the woods, the least of which were deer, and I carry them with me every day of my life. The family hunting land is now gone, but when I sit in my new deer stand, in a new spot, I can still feel those past hunts. Charles Dickens said that ďThere is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breastĒ and I have that passion in my soul. Hopefully, I will be able to share some of these passions and memories with children and grandchildren so they can be filled with the same enrichment, so the spirit of the hunt can live on.