Thanks to circumstances outside of my control, I wasn’t able to hunt the spot that fueled my off-season rut dreams. I took one buck there last year, but it was the other two that had me itching. The buck that never cleared the brush while I was at full draw. The buck that raked a pine tree, but never gave me more than a tail and tight quartering-away window. I wanted another shot, but didn’t get it.
I’ve been on Plan C and D before. But last weekend seemed much further down the alphabet, probably because I put so much hope into the spot I coveted, that is now forever changed. Before I could be rewarded for figuring something out, I had to find a new spot and do it all again.
They say it takes a good five years until you become a good teacher and I agree. You have tried enough to know what is likely to work and you can adjust to the dynamics of the students. You can create and connect and hone your craft when, at the start, you were just trying to survive. Survive now has a different meaning in year 17. I’ve never felt that I have ascended to the realm of expert teacher because that seems incredibly arrogant given the sheer number of variables that comes with teaching. It’s educating people, not tying flies.
Eight years into my hunting career I am amazed by how much I don’t know and the mistakes I still make. So, while I’m a much better hunter than I was, I wonder what it is that made me crest that nob the way I did on Sunday.
I pictured the reddish antlers reaching wider than the ears and splitting above them. This was it. Plan A was long gone, but it wouldn’t matter. Right over this edge would be a buck. Broadside. Perfect.
But I crested standing up. Below me was a strip of muskeg that was a protected, mostly hidden corridor between two clumps of timber. I didn’t have a clear view of all the half-court sized opening, but enough to see a buck turn and bound off. I tried to get it to stop with my call, but it was no use. Everything was going to be perfect, but I first had to perfectly get there. I didn’t.
What usually happens when we think we’ve learned enough for a reward, we get another lesson. I wish I could get the growth without the lesson, but life doesn’t work like that.
I ambled around in the forest for another two hours and parked myself on a small nob in a muskeg with much less dramatic features than the one where I had spooked the buck. I had the high ground, but only by a couple feet. The slope was gentle. The view was good. But there was nothing to view. I opened my pack and ate my sandwich. I sent a picture to my fiancé Abby telling her the sandwich tasted like defeat. It was a joke, but she responded with some encouragement because she knows that frustration often stalks me as I stalk deer.
For some reason, I didn’t get too down. I had little hope, but I hunted the last minutes hard and right. I hoped I would be rewarded with a buck on my hike back. Rewarded at the last hour for sticking with it and hammering on. But I wasn’t. I was never more quiet or attentive than I was on that last mile, but I only found a squirrel.
• 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.