Why do I hunt whitetail deer? It is a question that I have been asked on numerous occasions. I consider this question myself at times. I am not seeking self-justification, but rather confirming that the values and beliefs that I hold are continuously in line with my actions. This exercise in self-reflection reminds me, time and again, that hunting is more than just killing. It is an experience, a journey, a passion and a respect for mother nature.
The serenity of the outdoors at four AM is unparalleled. Stars shining in the sky like diamonds laid upon black velvet. Quiet and calm, the woods are still sleeping. It is in that time that I close my eyes and listen to the sound of nothing save for the rustling of the leaves, an occasional owl or the scurry of the night creatures moving about. I become lost in the stillness, enveloped in darkness, and alone in thought. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!
The dawn breaks and grey light rolls into the woods. Shadows and shapes appear as the promise of a new day is upon us. The air is cool and crisp and I feel alive and well. I am excited to be witnessing the world waking outside the confinement of my home’s four walls. It is an escape from the daily grind of life, the business, the pressure to provide and prosper. I rest my head against the tree, take in the magical scene before me and just breathe. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!
The sun cracks the rim of the horizon and light begins to flood the whitetail woods. No matter if it is in the fall or the winter, daybreak is an exciting time. The sun mixed with dew, snow, or ice, creates a kaleidoscope effect bending and refracting the rays. It is like acres of nature’s stained glass windows. A perfectly imperfect painting drawn upon a new canvas each day. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!
With the dawn, the woods awaken. Squirrels leave their nests in search of nature’s bounty in the trees and on the forest floor. Turkey fly down from the roost. Geese fly overhead, forming the classic V in the sky en route to their wetland destination. Birds sing a chorus welcoming in the new day. Deer can appear and disappear like ghosts. Anticipation grows with each new sound and movement. I am a guest, privileged to be invited to the party. Respectful and mindful, I live in each moment unsure of the outcome but confident that this is where I am supposed to be. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!
The buzz of my phone reminds me that I am not alone in my pursuit. Hunters are a community; adding another layer to the adventure. Whitetail hunters live vicariously through each other; sharing our experiences, actions, and thoughts. It is a community centered around respect; respect for the outdoors, respect for one another, and respect for the game we pursue. Conservation-minded and ethics-driven, we take the field each fall with the intent on the preservation of the species. This may sound counter-intuitive, but hunters and hunting drive the conservation and survival of the species that we hunt. We are stewards of the land, and I, for one, do not take that responsibility lightly. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!
Minutes turn to hours as I sit perched high above the forest floor. My thoughts drift to the planning and preparation I put in prior to the hunt. Whitetail hunting is often referred to as a chess match. A series of moves and counter moves played out on the deer’s home court. Each participant is trying to learn about the other without making the critical mistake that ends in checkmate. I replay my moves in my head. Stand location, wind, entrance and exit routes all planned in advance. I am ready and prepared. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!
Movement in the woods breaks me from my trance. Peering into the timber I see the flicker of an ear and the glint of antler reflecting in the sunlight. Carefully, I pull up my binoculars to confirm. It is him and he is headed my way. I stand up to find my knees weak and my breathing ragged. My heart beats so loud that I am afraid the deer will hear it. Hands shaking, I grab my bow to prepare for the shot. It is incredible how total calmness can transform into absolute chaos with the sighting of an animal. The journey getting here is not lost in the moment but enhanced by the increased pulse and shaking limbs. I have hunted for over 20 years and the exhilaration of this moment never goes away and I pray it never does. I breathe in and exhale slowly once, twice; attempting to regain my composure. I close my eyes on the last breath, opening them as I raise my bow and laser focus on my sights. The excitement of this moment is beyond words. This is the moment of truth; the moment I have dreamed about since the close of the prior season. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!
The sun has dipped below the horizon and daylight has faded into darkness. The once alive and chaotic woods scene has now slipped back into calm and quiet. I exit the stand under the same beautiful diamond filled sky that I experienced that morning. It is incredible to watch mother earth wake up and then put her back to bed again. Either I harvested or I did not. No matter the end result, a day in the woods renews both my mind and my spirit. The journey home is filled with reflection and excitement. I put my gear away thinking about all that I witnessed; the wonder of nature in all its glory; the colors blazing the morning sun and the shadow of darkness overtaking the landscape, the wildlife, the serenity, the community. There is no such thing as an unsuccessful hunt. Being surrounded by the beauty and bounty of all that nature provides is a success. This is what drives my passion and my affliction. This is why I hunt whitetail deer!