My first rifle season has come to an end. Sitting in the woods, in the snow quietly watching the sun uneventfully sink below the ridgeline. Just like that, it was over. I came home again empty handed. This year did not end with meat in the freezer, but what I have learned will help me achieve that in the future.
I started the season knowing nothing. Many first time hunters have the encouragement and guidance of a seasoned hunter. In order to build a knowledge base I did a lot of reading before the season started. I joined online deer hunting forums so I could ask questions as I learned through experience in the field. I learned many things through reading, much more by just sitting in the woods.
It was late in the season when a friend gave me a copy of a magazine with a story about Wendell Berry. Mr. Berry is not a hunter. He is an avid birdwatcher, naturalist and author. However a passage from his 1965 book “A Native Hill” struck me as the best hunting advice I found all season.
“I began to see, however dimly, that one of my ambitions, perhaps my governing ambition, was to belong fully to this place, to belong as the thrushes and the herons and the muskrats belonged, to be altogether at home here . . . It is a spiritual ambition, like goodness. The wild creatures belong to the place of by nature, but as a man I can belong to it only by understanding and virtue.”
The reason I began hunting was to become more connected to my environment. While hunting, like when Wendell is bird watching, the ambition is to become a part of the environment, to blend, and ultimately to participate in the natural order. Measuring the success of a hunt by animals killed doesn’t take into account much of what hunting is.
Being a novice hunter I often felt like everything I did was wrong. Every step was too loud and every blind was in the wrong place. For many of these trips into the woods my measure of success was not whether I came home with meat. Instead it was how long a songbird would sit in the bush next to me before it realized I was there. It was in these times I felt success and some hope that in seasons to come I could improve and find other measures for success.
For a young hunter there are many opportunities to become discouraged. Measuring your success by end results instead of the ways that you get those results can often get in the way of the many smaller successes you have every time you’re in the woods. These small successes may not feel like much now, but over time they will ultimately be the path to achieving my goals.