It’s still dark. First light hasn’t kissed the face of the Earth where I am, yet. There is a light snow on the ground and it’s cold enough that I can hear the crunch of the frozen leaves beneath my feet. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness well enough that I can make my way along the worn-down path. A fresh footprint left in the snow where my boot just traveled gives the impression that I am the first to have walked through this area but a quick glance around proves otherwise. Random patterns of tracks grace the surface of the fluffy snow, most of which have been made by trotting deer and scavenging turkeys. I quietly make my way, ducking under branches and side-stepping bushes, to the place where I will sit for the next few hours, scanning for movement while soaking in the essence of nature surrounding me. I can see my breath, the wisps of condensation dancing with the faintly blowing wind. I reach the blind and settle in, silently hoping that today will be the day that a monster buck will grace me with its presence.
I started hunting when I was 12 years old. My dad took me to a hunter’s safety course so I could learn all the proper etiquette, gun safety, and techniques for hunting. I went out with my dad quite a few times over the years but had never really had a chance to harvest anything. Back then, I was a pretty impatient kid. Sitting around outside in the cold trying to be still and quiet was rather hard for me. Once I reached a certain age, I stopped going. I went off to college, so I was never around during hunting season anymore and I basically stopped really thinking about it. Not too long after I graduated from my University, I moved to Michigan from Pennsylvania and found myself in a town that was very hunter friendly. Seeing all the camouflage and orange clad hunters walking around made me miss going out with my dad. I longed to get back out in the woods, but I had never gone hunting alone before. I had no idea where to start and that basically deterred me from getting back into it at the time.
In October of 2016, just a month before hunting season started again, I started having feelings for someone (his name is Chad) and found out that he felt the same. We began our journey as a couple. Guess what? He hunts! I don’t remember if he asked me to sit with him or if I initiated it by asking him if I could go with him. Either way, I was super excited to be experiencing it again! I did not take a gun with me the first year and his daughter and I both sat in the blind with him. He got a buck on opening day. He introduced me to eating deer heart, which is amazing, by the way. The following year, I decided to get a license, as my dad had given me the gun that I had taken out when I would go hunting with him. One of my favorite stories to tell about this particular year is about me having my gun on a huge 9 pointer. Chad asked me if I was going to shoot and I responded that I was, but that I was waiting for it to step out from behind a tree. As the deer was taking that fateful step forward, I heard a loud shot ring out, though I hadn’t pulled the trigger. It was Chad. He took my shot. WHAT A TURD! I got over it, though, and ended up getting my first deer ever later in the season.
I can remember the way my heart was pounding as I steadied the cross-hairs on the optimal spot for a shot. I remember telling myself to take a deep breath and to pull the trigger slowly. I remember saying a little prayer in my head, thanking God for the food and thanking the deer for its sacrifice. I remember pulling the trigger and hearing the breath escape my lungs as I exhaled. We had to track the deer for a bit but found it rather quickly. I discovered that it was a spike. I could tell that it had horns while I was aiming at it, but I had thought that it had more than just spikes. Regardless, I was excited to have taken my first deer and thankful to have obtained some food for the freezer.
The next year, I didn’t get anything. I wanted to wait for a monster buck but waited too long and then didn’t end up getting a buck or a doe. Chad tagged out that year with 2 and his daughter got her first deer! She shot it with my gun, and it was a spike, as well. Fun fact: all 3 of his kids shot a spike for their first deer (just like me)!
Regular rifle season has just ended here for this year. I was able to get a rather large doe. Chad still has his combo tag, I still have one tag, and his daughter has one, too. In the county that we hunt in, we can use our rifles during muzzleloader season, which starts soon, and then we also have a late doe season after that. So, we still have some opportunities to secure some more meat!
I know a lot of people may not understand why people want to hunt. There are many benefits to it!
If you hunt, you are directly responsible for helping to maintain a balanced wildlife population. The Nature Conservancy considers an overabundance of deer to be the greatest threat to the forests and farms. Deer are also a huge host for Lyme disease and help spread other diseases. Lastly, there were 1.9 million deer related vehicle claims in 2018. You are also acting as a funding source for state agencies that help to conserve habitats. Did you know that just over half (about 55%) of the Department of Fish and Wildlife is funded by hunting tags and taxes on sporting goods? They then spend that money to support hunting activities, research on wildlife, management programs, and buying lands for refuge systems.
Hormone-free, lean, healthy protein
Hunting is the ultimate organic food source. If you hunt, you know exactly where your meat comes from. Deer live completely wild and free lives, just the way nature intended. A deer also has a higher level of activity, as well as a natural diet which contributes to a lower level of fat content. According to the USDA, wild meats are higher in protein, iron and B vitamins than that of other red meat alternatives. It is also a great source of iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
I know the stigma is that men typically go out and hunt and leave the wives and girlfriends at home, but it seems that more and more women are starting to get interested in hunting. It could be the increase in changes amongst typical gender roles that are pushing women toward the sport. Or it could be that they want to help provide for their family. Further yet, I believe a huge part of it has to do with them wanting to spend more quality time with their partners and children. Just like I described above with my experiences in going out with my dad and Chad also taking his daughter, it provides a great means of bonding time between parents and children. Some people might have something like a deer camp where they can hang out and catch up with friends and other family members when they are not in the woods. I am lucky enough to have met Chad, whose dad owns quite a bit of private land. During the season, we go to his dad’s house and get to spend more time with him, his wife, and Chad’s brothers, usually chatting and eating good food. That’s always one of my favorite parts!
It may not seem super obvious to those that do not hunt, but hunting comes with many health benefits. It isn’t easy. You must trek through the woods and across fields, while carrying your gun or your bow. When you take a deer, you may have to drag it quite a way, too. Studies have shown that simply walking in nature can help reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure and anxiety. Imagine what spending all day in the woods could do for your mental well-being! Check out this awesome infographic for more information on how hunting and eating venison has many health benefits!
These are just a few of the many reasons why you should try hunting, especially if you have been thinking about it. If you have never gone before and have a family member or a friend that goes, ask them if you can tag along. I guarantee you that it will be an enjoyable experience!
Do you have any great hunting stories? Why do you hunt? Remember, I would love to have guest bloggers, as well. So, if hunting is something you are experienced at and passionate about, shoot me a message and let’s collaborate on a post!