As I was leaning against a tree wondering how squirrel tastes since no deer were stepping in front of me, I wondered if I really loved hunting and fishing, or simply trained myself to tolerate it until something exciting happened.
Four of us had hiked a mountain the previous morning to get prepared for Opening Day. By noon it was too hot for deer to be cruising around, and we didn’t want to walk around and spook one the day before we could hunt. There was no snow left on our particular mountain so there was no chance to find some enduring the heat there. So, we retreated back to camp and into the tents that were only more miserable. Take the rain fly off and you get burned through your tent. Keep it on and you’re in a shade that’s hotter than outside of the tent.
Zack chose to endure the heat and claimed it wasn’t so hot, which we thought was a lie.
Cody and Jake made shade out of their rain fly and the trekking poles, but were exposed to the bugs. At the time Jake was so happy he even took his shirt off. By the time he left to return to California five days later, he had 56 bites … from the elbow down … on one arm.
We saw exactly zero deer that evening, and the next morning only saw one buck. Zack and Jake tried to close from 500 yards to a comfortable shot for Jake, but the buck fed into the woods. It was 5:10 a.m. Cody and I were on the back side of the ridge trying to get across to another peak but got cliffed out.
Cody and I decided to head down the mountain and camp at the truck, leaving Zack and Jake a shot at the 3×3 the next morning, should the deer run the same morning routine.
We were up well before first light, but saw nothing and the buck didn’t show up on top of the mountain.
That brings me back to the squirrels.
I was nestled in the brush with a couple good shooting lanes, waiting for what I was pretty sure would never show up. The heat had relented a bit, but the bugs hadn’t. The only hard-working woodland creatures were the squirrels, busily playing “who can get closer to the human?” after I finished some trial mix.
After another hour, my disappointment in the first deer hunting trip of the season faded. What I decided was that there are necessary requirements to gain that dopamine dump when walking up on an animal that will feed you. You’ve gone to the source. You’ve taken responsibility. You haven’t outsourced the raising, fattening, killing and processing of an animal to someone down south.
That whole program takes time and patience and, most importantly, effort.
I also decided that the word “fun” can be broken up into two categories. Category 1 fun is surface level. It’s the type of fun that spits out tickets if you make enough baskets, makes you scream when the rollercoaster falls or win a digital trophy on a screen.
Category 2 fun is the type of satisfaction that comes with the results of work. If the results of the work don’t meet the desired end, satisfaction can still be achieved.
If nothing else, the four of us were participants in an adventure.
Two days later, Cody and I climbed up the same mountain in a morning rain and wind storm that dissipated just before lunch. Deer emerged from the woods. We took two bucks two minutes apart.
I don’t need to know what squirrel tastes like, I just need to stick with it.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.