There is an expression in baseball circles that a key to success is being able to ‘slow down the game’. I won’t belabor the theory but it essentially points to techniques that bring a level of calm to a sometimes frantic sport.
In that respect, I see parallels between baseball and deer hunting, and since I am abjectly terrible at actually killing deer I had a lot of time to think about this over the past few weeks.
For the uneducated spectator, baseball can seem to be the height of tedium. My lovely wife cannot stomach more than an inning on television and past attempts to get her to live baseball games have proven a mistake. She is not alone, and a four-hour-plus day at the ballpark does not hold much appeal to all but the most fanatical of baseball fans. So it goes with some types of hunting, but I find it most crystallized in a deer hunt, particularly when ‘on stand’. I have had many people over the course of my still young lifetime ask me one pointed question over and over again.
“What do you do out there? You mean you just sit? That sounds boring.” And to make a not-so-popular admission, it sometimes is cripplingly monotonous.
Of course, being on stand does not necessarily define deer hunting, or the men and women that do it. In some regions a drive or push hunt is the norm, occasionally accompanied by the sweet music of hounds working a scent trail. In other places, spot and stalk is the modus operandi. Rattling, calling, and decoying play an increasing part as well. Still, I would argue that if an informal survey were conducted, nothing defines or still serves as the default approach to deer hunting more than being 25 feet up a tree, or crouched in a ground blind, or leaned up against a stump or rock waiting for a deer to pass by.
Those are long hours, and depending on where you are in the world, they are sometimes frosty, wearying shifts. I have on more than one occasion done all-day sits that lasted from dawn to dusk, and guys in camp just shook their heads at me. Non-hunters consider it insanity and to put a fine point on it, I don’t really like it either. But I have to do it. I do not move quietly through the woods, I do not have a preternatural ‘eye’ for deer and deer sign, and I do not have countless hours at my disposal to scout and pattern deer.
A hope, a comfortable cushion, and a likely spot are all that I really have in my arsenal.
I’ve seen many enriching things, though, so all is not lost. I’ve seen late autumn sunrises and sunsets that provoke a deep visceral response and could move you to tears. I’ve walked out of a sit into the approaching nightfall while the big heavy flakes of a snowstorm fell fast on a driving wind, sparkling like stars in the beam of my headlamp. I’ve seen a small group of ruffed grouse parade past me at twenty steps, oblivious to the fact that on another day with another weapon in hand I may have turned a few of them into table fare. I had a pine marten climb the tree behind me and sit perched six feet over my head for a full ten minutes; he muttered and purred to himself the whole time while I slowly tried to get my camera out of my backpack for a snapshot. I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of mallards chattering and trading over my head before settling into a shallow lake a short distance away, their wings whistling in a way that was harmony and cacophony all at once. Songbirds have mistaken my rifle barrel for a twig and perched there for a time. A chickadee landed on my forearm once and a vole climbed across my boot top another time. I once watched a tree sway in a fierce wind and topple with a crash so exhilarating and violent that I felt the ground move from a hundred feet away while my hands trembled from the shock of it. I’ve been privy to these moments and plenty more.
Infrequently, I see a deer.
There has been research conducted that found that people would rather experience an electrical shock than be left for long hours with only their thoughts. I do not understand that rationale one bit.
On a deer stand I’ve considered whether proposing to my girlfriend was a good idea. I thought about if I wanted to have a family. I’ve considered what kind of dad I’d be and more recently what kind of dad I am. I have had epiphanies about world affairs that I’ve long since forgotten, I’ve solved complex problems at my job, and I’ve thought a lot about the place hunting has both historically and in the modern sense. I’ve written and rewritten dozens of posts for this site in my mind, and I’ve been inspired by the wilderness to write contributions to other sites. I’ve listened to voices in my head that echo the deer hunters that came before me, and I’ve remembered and forgotten more than clumsy clichés on a laptop can do justice. I’ve napped with an autumn sun on my face and I’ve shivered through sleety afternoons where a warm fire and a deep whiskey were vastly preferable alternatives.
Perhaps if I had paid more attention, I’d have shot more, but it did not seem pertinent then and I don’t really care at this point either. The game has always been slowed down for me when it comes to our deer hunts, so I guess, at least in the baseball definition, I’ve been successful to a degree.
Which is good because it feels like success to me.