The way we traditionally hunt deer in the eastern U.S. is to find a spot somewhere that deer are likely to be and set up a tree stand. For the unfamiliar, this is a platform attached to a tree that will get the hunter 15-20 feet off of the ground, thus reducing the likelihood of the deer catching the hunter’s scent and being spooked. Once the season arrives you carefully tiptoe through the woods to your stand…and wait. And then you wait some more, hoping that a deer will decide to wander close enough to you that they can be killed. This is about as boring as hunting ever gets. Admittedly, when you take a deer the exhilaration that comes with it is pretty hard to match, but in my experience it still doesn’t trump all those long hours that come before.
All hunting involves some amount of boredom but the difference is that with most other game species there is an added element that makes it more tolerable. When the birds aren’t flying during duck season you can sit with your friends and have a conversation. When hunting rabbits you are constantly moving and you can watch the dogs work. In their worst moments no other type of hunting comes close to the lonely boredom that is deer hunting.
This season I spent six mornings in the deer stand, plus two full days. Those two days involved 13 hours each, sitting on a platform that measures about 24×24, in weather that was below 20 degrees. With nothing to show for it. Before you ask, my sanity was questioned several times both by relatives and myself. So why do it? Because for me it’s about the food. I desperately wanted to shoot one or two deer this year so I could load up the freezer with venison and…spend the next year giving it away. Wanting to share the game I have has become one of my biggest motivations when I head into the field these days.
This summer I did a confit of wild turkey and goose legs. When I wrote about it I mentioned that I was planning to take it to the farm for the start of dove season. After a long afternoon in the field I fried some tortillas into tacos, warmed the turkey confit and served it with lime, avocado, pico de gallo and a bit of Mexican cheese. One of my fellow hunters remarked, with a mouth full of taco, “This is pretty f*cking good,” while the other guys nodded their heads. A high compliment from that crowd.
Earlier in the year I took five pounds of deer jerky to work. It was gone within an hour. I have given away goose breasts, rabbit and frog legs. We gifted a whole duck and goose plus a log of deer sausage to a landowner in February. I know of few other items that carry as much significance as the gift of some venison backstrap to someone who knows what they are getting. I try hard not to use the gifts as a way of gaining favor with my friends, but rather as a way to simply say that I like to share good things with the people I care about.
When I was younger I hunted mostly for sport. In my 20s and early 30s I felt like I needed the time in the woods and the time with friends. As 40 quickly approaches I find my motivations shifting again. Now I am most motivated by the opportunity to share. Not just to share the food itself, which is important, but to share the hunting life with the next generation of my family. Taking my daughter and nephew into the woods has been an important experience as the act of passing on acquired knowledge often is.
This season marked my 26th year of deer hunting. More than any other hunting I do, deer hunting carries a lot of emotional baggage because it was something I did with my father. It was quality time he and I could spend together with no one else there to intrude. It represented his trust in me and his willingness to include me in that part of his life. My dad started deer hunting as an adult, after he purchased his farm, so I had the privilege of being with him when he killed his first deer. The pride on his face that morning is one of my happiest memories of him.
The fantastic thing about wild game is that in addition to being delicious, it brings back all kinds of memories. Eating that turkey confit in September, I was immediately taken back to the previous fall when I killed the tom we were enjoying. I remembered vividly the crisp October air, the blue of the sky, the frost on the corn stubble. This is the power of food. This is what I find myself thinking about every time I head out. Yes, I still enjoy the sport and yes, I still love my time in the woods. It seems this newest motivation only adds to the complexity of my life as a hunter.
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. You can also find him on Facebook. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.
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