I felt like a coach who was sitting on the bench waiting for the clock to run out. No need to foul. The lead had been blown, and the deer were sinking their free throws. Admit defeat. Wait for the horn. Better luck next year.
What had started with two missed bucks with my bow on the first weekend of rut, ended unceremoniously as I peeled off my soaked rain gear and warmed up in my truck. I started the month with two tags to notch and five weekends (plus Thanksgiving break) to do it. But after that first weekend, I only saw one more buck. By the time my 8-mile Thanksgiving loop across three creeks toward the far reaches of a muskeg I figured would be too much work for at least some hunters, was complete, I was accepting defeat.
It seems that plans unravel more than they unfold and nothing really goes my way. Do not mistake that statement as bratish. I am no victim. It’s a simple statement that the way things happen is rarely as I planned them. In fact, with little things like hunting or minor direction adjustments in life, I almost welcome the change in course, though not usually at the time.
My way as a sophomore in high school would have 30-year old me living in Arizona working as a sports trainer for a college basketball team. My way as a junior in college would have 40-year old me being a beat writer for a newspaper, following college sport teams around the country. My way was writing a sidebar at the Final Four, not freelancing about the outdoors.
What I wanted was different than what I got. Looking back, I’m much happier this way. I can’t prove it because I didn’t do the other two, but if purpose and enthusiasm for life are indicators of happiness then I’m doing fine.
The two bucks I missed were in areas I had never hunted and had not planned to. My way would have been going to the spot where I had seen bucks the last year and set up a game camera in the spring. That didn’t work out. Circumstances forced me to learn a new area just as I had started to figure out the previous. I had found one of those “my spot” type areas I could maybe even refer to as a honey hole. This was going to be the year.
I don’t want to turn this into some “lessons learned” cliché — though I have been known to write those, too — because anyone can say the right thing but not really believe it, or do the right thing next time.
What I do want is resilience. I never ask for opportunities to be resilient, but the only way I grow resilience, is by being resilient.
If anything, this season was a reminder that it is not just a matter of making a plan and watching it work. Hunting is not simply going to the woods and picking up meat.
I never really thought it was, but I am more confident in my hunting program, so I do believe I am in a much better position to be successful, but it’s largely been the failures that have been the most instructive.
I’m a freezer half-full kind of guy, in more ways than one. Little about the season went to plan, but It was still one of the best four months I’ve ever spent on mountains and in the woods.
• 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.