A few years ago I was fish-guiding a bright, twenty-something-year-old man named Cliff. He was eager to fish, but just as eager to converse about the wonders of nature. Throughout our impassioned conversation I laid out some personal Zen-like experiences I’d had in nature and how these experiences ultimately led to great success.
Cliff was fascinated with the concept of Zen hunting and asked me what the “pillars” of Zen hunting were exactly. I was a little dumbfounded by his question because, up until then, I’d never thought of Zen hunting in terms of ‘pillars.’ Long story short, I went home wrote down what I considered the pillars of Zen hunting to be.
Before we get all philosophical about hunting, let’s first examine the normal, non-Zen, hunting pillars, and then contrast them with Zen hunting pillars.
Note: The following isn’t an official list of hunting pillars, but rather a compilation of both personal experience and knowledge gleaned from experts in the hunting field.
Traditional Hunting Pillars of Success
The right equipment
Good physical conditioning
Zen Hunting Pillars of Success
(There you go Cliff! The pillars are finally written in stone.)
Hunting Pillars Compared
When we compare the pillars of Zen hunting with the pillars of conventional hunting, you can see they are very different; actually I don’t see any similarities at all. That’s because each list is a completely different approach to hunting. The items in the first list are mostly tangible and readily available, while the Zen items are more of a mindset approach to hunting. As we analyze the Zen pillars, you’ll see that each is really a step—one leading to the next—and completed in consecutive order. In other words it’s a path.
Obviously you can’t practice Zen hunting without including some normal hunting pillars, like stalking and shooting. On the other hand, you can practice regular hunting without using any Zen pillars at all—heck, most hunters already do. Either they don’t know what Zen hunting is, or they’re already applying some Zen to their hunting style and just don’t know it.
The concept of Zen hunting (or Zen-anything) is mostly foreign to Westerners because we tend to be results-oriented and gear-minded. We look at nature as a commodity—something to be tamed or dominated. Moreover, today’s society has a decreasing attention span, the byproduct of this hyper-information age and its constant distractions. We get bored easily and lose our focus. All of this leads to an impatient or aggressive approach to hunting, and more often than not, to failure.
The way we combat this is through Zen hunting. Zen hunting is all about using down time afield to focus the mind and reconnect with our natural hunting instincts. This is best done alone since another person often serves as a distraction.
The Zen Process
The first step is to free the mind of distractions and expectations through the natural mediation that comes from just sitting or walking in the woods. This takes time, so be patient. Letting go of expectations is the hardest part because human nature expects instant results. As hunters we expect to kill something. We have a goal in mind and are dead set on reaching it. In Zen hunting, our eyes are open to the bigger picture.
The simple pleasure of communing with nature is satisfaction enough. Our newfound appreciation for the woods softens our kill drive, and when this happens we connect with the energy of nature and the life force of the planet (hopefully you believe in such things). This is what it means to be “one” with nature, or to achieve “oneness.”
Nature lives and breathes at a slow, rhythmic pace. You can see that rhythm in the way things move: clouds, trees, and animals, and hear it in the wind and bird songs. Zen hunting helps tune us in to that rhythm. No longer do we push our ego-driven “kill energy” ahead of us, but instead, we move with nature. In effect Zen hunting acts as a natural camouflage.
Zen hunting also gives us a heightened sense of awareness. We become more attentive to the infinite supply of subtle clues which will eventually guides us towards our quarry. Simply put, we become better hunters by using Zen afield.
That’s the whole process; easier said than done, but attainable all the same.
The goal of Zen hunting is to become a part of nature rather than apart from it. Since humans are nature in the first place, it only makes sense to reconnect with Nature to meet our needs. That is the goal of Zen hunting, and also the mission of this website: To reconnect modern-day hunters with the timeless rhythms of nature and to guide them towards a more successful and fulfilling hunting experience through Zen hunting principles.
I just spent the last few days prowling around Idaho and still haven’t seen any decent bucks. Days are ruthlessly hot and dry; nights are freezing, which is probably why I languish with a painful head cold. My first step out of the dusty camp and my legs are sore with disease; my joints hurt, my muscles ache, my head throbs.
Foreign lands and no deer sign yet, but this remote valley looks promising. I’m headed toward the dark, north-face timber where I may get some reprieve from the glaring sun. But the route is thick with oak brush and cedar. Endless branches grasp at my body, tripping me and shoving me back down the steep slope.
I stop frequently to mop pouring sweat from my forehead with my camo cap. I’m still wearing the same stinky outfit I’ve donned for three days. Wind is my best ally or my worst enemy. There’s no point trying to be quiet. I just need a vantage to glass from. I don’t know where I’m going or where I’ll end up; just following my nose and reading sign.
Moments ago something crawled across my neck. I swiped at it and monstrous orange spider fell to the ground. But I won’t be dissuaded. This is what I live for; it’s all I know. Only a year ago my arrow sailed over the biggest velvet buck I ever shot at. He’s long since vanished now, which is why I’m here in Idaho. Redemption. New woods and new hope. I push onward.
Long out of tissue, both nostrils drain continuously, leaving a slimy trail of moisture everywhere I go, likely the only moisture this parched forest has seen in months.
Finally some tracks, but small. I follow to see where they lead. Maybe I’ll strap on my release; I hope I brought it. Just yesterday I was hiking in grizzly country and halfway up the mountain I realized I’d forgotten to load my arrows into my quiver. Stupid, stuffy head!
My life has been various attempts at various activities, but bowhunting has been my one true passion, and better yet, the only thing I’m really good at. But here and now, it’s hard to tell. My brain is gripped with pressure, my body is weak. I push on because I know nothing else.
In the pines a squirrel fires up, barking relentlessly, giving away my position. I always carry a squirrel arrow, but it’s mostly futile; there’s always another squirrel, and the biggest bucks are always in the dark timber with them. During a heavy wind last year, I stumbled upon a giant 4×4 buck bedded in a patch of thick blowdowns. Before I could pull an arrow, a squirrel fired up alerting the buck who quickly rose from his bed and melted away into the forest.
I try to imagine heavy horns moving through the brush, and then my arrow carrying cold steel through its chest cavity. The only way I win is if I wreak maximum carnage on an innocent, unsuspecting deer. I wince at the thought. Will I ever turn away from this bloody pursuit? Likely not, because life outside the woods has little appeal to me, and even less venison. A predator must eat.
At this time I’d like to formally apologize to my faithful and finely crafted compound bow which I’m currently dragging through an almost indescribable tangled hell. Only five years old and it’s already covered in battle scars; scratches, dents and dings. Sure it’s seen some fine moments, but this year it’s just a hiking companion. Its one moment of glory was a dirty coyote I sniped near camp in Utah.
After weed-whacking for two hours I’ve arrived at a fantastic rock outcropping with views of the entire valley. Only an 90 minutes of shooting light left and still no deer. I glass empty draw after empty draw, stacked in vertical rows below the summit.
I want to underestimate the mighty buck; I try to convince myself that he’s just another dumb animal eating and sleeping his life away. But I know better. He’s an ingenious survivor, evading predators year after year with very little effort and hardly a conscious thought. How is that possible? A hunter, no matter his experience, goes to his grave having merely scratching the surface of everything there is to know about these amazing survivors. Outsmarting him is the greatest challenge, and I suppose this relentless pursuit is why it never gets old.
The rest of my Idaho excursion iss nothing short of a grim letdown. The once promised land is mostly bleak, ravaged by human intrusions, just like Utah. ATVs and trash litter the landscape and the woods are devoid of huntable game. Big bucks live short lives hidden away in dark holes far removed from human reach.
Can you feel it? The changing season, a shift in the sun’s angle? Nostalgic aromas of ripening vegetation? We’re almost there, almost in the woods.
If you’re like me, you’re already out there, at least in your mind. Wits sharpening, watching the ground for clues, listening.
The annual ritual of prehunt mediation is upon us. We look like we’re working a job–we go through the motions–but we’re really out there, in the woods, sharpening our craft–woodscraft, stalkcraft, bowcraft, huntcraft.
As my spirit stretches into the wild landscape, I’m reminded of so many experiences unwritten and nearly forgotten. But the hunter spirit stirs the sediment of the mind into a swirling patchwork of sights, sounds, and smells.
In my next few articles I’m going to reach into murk and materialize some of these experiences.
I’m unofficially declaring December as National Anti-Political Correctness Month! The following has been on my mind lately…
I’m not racist. In fact I had several Hispanic and African-American friends throughout my life, and still do. My best friend growing up was gay as a June bug! Some of my best friends now are flaming liberals. Doesn’t matter to me; I judge each person on his character and not on his color, religion, creed, or political preference. This is normal. And for the vast majority of Americans, this is exactly how it’s been for many decades. Yet just recently racism has been re-introduced into our culture, not by normal individuals, but by race-baiting liberals in order to demonize good, patriotic citizens.
The Silent Truth
That being said, I am very prejudiced! I am prejudiced against every “politically correct” person–white, black, green, or otherwise. Politically correct persons (PCs) are the most offensive creatures on the planet. PCs are anti-America, anti-God, anti-freedom, and anti-Nature. PCs wish to take away your God- and Country-given rights to free speech, free thought, and free expression.
Modern America has been in a downward spiral thanks to PC lies for some time now, and it’s only getting worse. More and more people are being persecuted for their beliefs, whether it’s religious, political or otherwise. Ironically, if you believe in God or morality then you are automatically a hater. In my lifetime I’ve seen more good, intellectual, honest, hard-working Americans persecuted than any single minority person or group!
Because of this persecution, innocent, freedom-loving individuals are losing their livelihoods and reputations. One case that sticks out in my mind is from 2014 when Mozilla Chief Executive Brendan Eich was forced to resign simply because he made a donation to opponents of gay marriage. The evil PCs destroyed his career, not because of his job performance, but his personal values.
Another example is the Washington Redskins football team and their American-Indian mascot. Today, if I support the Washington Redskins–which I do–then I’m a racist. Never mind that more than half the team is black. Their mascot–the stately and strong, admirable American-Indian warrior–is detested NOT by American Indians, but ignorant, white, PC hate-mongers who don’t even watch football. Fortunately the NFL doesn’t care about these doltish PCs and their pitiful plight to change the team’s name. Team owner Daniel Snyder stood his ground in 2013, telling USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. … It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”
PCs are the REAL haters. These Godless, anti-freedom, socialist nuts are compelled to seek out and hyper-inflate any microscopic social issue just to feel better about themselves. They, along with the abhorrent, lying media, perpetuate racism by bringing the slightest black/white race conflict to the forefront of public awareness. They’ve hijacked the University by shoving these ridiculous, social-equity issues ahead of any actual education. They indoctrinate our children with a continual bombardment of liberal values, the highest being the elevation of the weak while suppressing the strong; this being the exact the opposite of Nature and survival of the fittest.
Why is rampant political correction on the rise? This question has plagued my mind for some time. It’s glaringly obvious that widespread racism has been all but wiped out, especially here in the future where we have a black president and countless other minorities in top political and social positions. But after observing many PC individuals in my own life, it occurred to me that political correction is simply a widespread fad; it’s the new “cool”. It’s cool to accept everyone and anything with no discernment between good and evil.
For decades American values were dictated by religious texts and the constitution. Suddenly these directors of values are persecuted and detested. It’s natural for our children–who are mostly excreted from broken and godless homes–to seek meaning and values in life. When they can’t find these things at home, they glean it from pop-idols and institutions of “higher” learning.
Since there’s so little for our children to believe in now, they buy into the religion of political correction (aka liberalism) which perpetuates the values of acceptance, tolerance, equality, environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and anti-God. Political correctness–aka Evil–is simply the new “cool”.
Tragically, kids think that being cool is acting, speaking, and looking like everyone else–in other words they are forfeiting their individuality. But if you live long enough, wisdom prevails. Being cool really means embracing freedom, saying what you think, pursuing your own dreams, and living your life according to good old-fashioned American values.
The major problem with being a cool kid today is that they don’t have a choice about it. One word of intolerance and the coolest cat in class becomes ostracized. You must be PC just to survive in society. From cradle to grave we walk on eggshells to protect our reputations and livelihood. Free speech and free expression are no longer tolerated in our poisoned society.
Being a hunter puts me in a minority class. I’m judged negatively by the most people for harvesting natural, organic, self-renewing animal protein. I find myself hiding my hunting lifestyle from many colleagues and clients. I feel I must continually defend myself against attacks against my lifestyle choice. By definition, I am an oppressed minority! No joke!
Well, ya know what’s funny about being a free-thinking member of the silent majority? I don’t care. It’s a free country and EVERYONE has the right to think and express whatever opinion they want. If someone hates blacks, gays, Jews, hunters, Hispanics, or any other minority, who cares?! Now, if someone burns a minority on their front lawn, well, that’s a problem. If they blow up a church in the name of God, that’s an issue. If someone makes a Muslim joke at Thanksgiving, who cares?! Go crazy. It’s a free country.
Speaking in poor taste certainly makes you less popular, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. Acting on evil impulses makes you a bad person. Say what you think, express how you feel, and turn Thanksgiving dinner into a racially- or politically-charged cluster bomb. That’s your right as an American. Liberty and freedom; that’s what makes our country great.
In conclusion, I implore you to do your part this holiday season to combat the evil of political correctness. If your free speech or free expression offends some mindless PC troglodyte, or if someone gets their feel-bads hurt at the annual Christmas party, just remember, there’s only one answer to political correctness: WHO CARES!
I never thought much about turkeys. I love bowhunting more than anything, but it was my wife Esther who took an active interest in hunting turkeys. In spring we drew turkey tags for Southern Utah where we’d come across plenty of birds in the past. Getting tags was easy enough, but that’s where easy ended.
First off, we decided to do it with a bow. I don’t do guns—I am a bow-snob…I mean purist—so now we were hunting unfamiliar prey with light tackle.
Second, Esther couldn’t get any time off work. Her schedule is a consummate nightmare, but somehow she was able to secure a single weekend at the end of the April. Now this proved to be a problem because the turkeys we ultimately hunted were already people- and call- wary. Can you say sloppy seconds?
Thirdly, the weather report called for heavy thundershowers and snow. What choice did we have? We went for it anyway.
We left late Friday night and already it was raining. Four hours later we set up camp in the back of the truck and went to bed. The morning was cool and lovely. We ventured across a small river and up the mountain. I decided to make a video of our ordeal, so Esther carried a bow and I carried a camera. I would be the caller for the first couple days, and after she got a shot it would be my turn.
We hiked and called for a few hours, but got no response. A while later, we heard a turkey gobble out of the blue, so we set up a decoy, dropped back, and began a calling sequence. The turkey ignored us and so we kept hiking.
Later that afternoon, some thick, black clouds rolled in. As we were making our way back down the mountain, a gobbler fired up fairly close by. We holed up under some junipers to devise a strategy, and that’s when the rain started. We pulled out our raingear and pretty soon it was a downpour. At some point I realized we were on the wrong side of the river, and if the rain continued we might get trapped on the mountain. So we bagged the hunt and made a run for it.
By the time we reached the truck the rain had turned to heavy snow. The snow let up later in the afternoon and so we ran back up to where we heard the gobblers. But they were gone. For the rest of the evening we hiked all over looking for tracks in the new snow, but found none. The turkeys had flown the coop!
The next morning we woke to a full-on blizzard. Around 10 a.m. it subsided, so once again we crossed the river and headed up the mountain. We hiked from four inches to six inches of snow. We covered an immense amount of ground, but heard no gobbles and found no tracks. The turkeys were gone.
It seemed to me that the only direction they could have gone is downhill, so we packed up the truck and headed to the bottom of the mountain.
It rained most of the day so we spent several hours driving the low-elevation dirt roads and scanning the hillsides for black blobs in the snow. We found none.
In the late afternoon we decided to find a place to camp. I remembered a dirt road that gave access to the low-elevation drainage. Basically, the steep dirt road drops into a bowl before turning back up the mountain. Well, half-way to the bottom, the truck started sliding sideways and I struggled to maintain control. We got to the bottom okay, but now we were really stuck. We slopped to a flat spot to camp, then, with a break in the storm, hiked up the mountain to see where we’d be spending the last day of the hunt.
Things began looking up.
Almost a mile up the muddy mountain, we heard a gobble. With a couple hours of light left, we rushed in, threw out the decoy, and made some calls. There were three gobblers struttin’ around us, but it was way too thick for a shot. I kept dropping back and making hen calls, but they just kept circling us nervously and gobbling every few minutes.
We pulled the decoy and repositioned to a better clearing, but they still wouldn’t come in. We pulled the decoy again and rushed toward them. We were getting close, and so was nighttime. As we sat there trying to figure out where to plant the decoy, some big red heads came bobbing through the sagebrush. The toms were about to pass right in front of us at only twenty yards! Esther nocked an arrow, and when the turks went behind a juniper bush I whisper-yelled, “30 yards!” When they broke into the open, Esther let an arrow fly…and missed! The arrow sailed right behind the first turkey and the second turkey jumped straight into the air. Somewhat alarmed, they all trotted out of sight.
It’s funny how thin the line is between failure and success. After two hard days of hunting, we suddenly had turkeys all around us. Although Esther missed, we were just excited to finally be into the turkeys!
On Sunday we got up early and hiked to where we left the turkeys. We were excited, and I even carried a bow this time. Sure enough, we were greeted by gobbles. Several times we set up the decoy and made calls. The toms responded diligently, but wouldn’t come in. Instead they continued up the mountain and we followed.
Now this is where things get real bad; where Nate and Nature have a serious falling out.
With plenty of new snow, it was easy to follow their tracks. We spotted the turkeys a hundred yards ahead of us. I quickly set up a decoy and dropped back to call. Just as I started calling, a small herd of elk came running through the oak brush. The elk had caught our scent and ran right through the turkeys, nearly trampling them! The turkeys spooked farther up the mountain and we followed.
We caught up to the turkeys moving ahead of us in some boulders and brush. Squatting low to the ground, I trotted up and planted the decoy again. No sooner had I started calling, some coyotes suddenly lit up howling like crazy a short distance behind us. The toms made one last gobble, some other turkeys across the canyon gobbled back, and then everyone shut up. Those were the last gobbles we heard.
Esther and I followed the tracks way up the mountain into the deep snow, but they were moving too fast. Eventually the tracks led out of the huge valley, crossed a saddle, and disappeared. Stupid coyotes!
Frustrated, we turned back. While on top of the mountain, Esther decided to call into work and let her boss know we were stuck in the mud and may not get out by tomorrow. Her boss wasn’t there, but the nice fellow who answered the phone informed her that her 23-year old work-friend had crashed his motorcycle and died over the weekend. Now we were super-bummed for the rest of the day.
With the day slipping away, we had no choice but to make our way back to where we started. Who knows; maybe we could find some new turkeys.
And we did! Half-way to the bottom of the canyon I spotted a hen walking in the sagebrush. I made some calls and some new gobblers fired up. I snuck out to the open and plugged the decoy in the mud and snuck back. I could barely make out two large, strutting males wandering back and forth in the trees ahead.
We started calling and this time a herd of nine deer came bounding out below us. Now, these deer were hell-bent on going uphill, and did so by running right through the turkeys. All the commotion spooked the turkeys off and again it was silent. You gotta be kidding me! First elk, then coyotes, and now deer!
With no other choice, we followed the toms into the dark timber. The snow had melted in the lower elevations, so following tracks was no longer possible. However, a short while later we got them gobbling again. The problem was they refused to come in. We called for more than an hour with no luck.
Frustrated, I decided to make a move. I told Esther to hang back. I’d sneak above them, and if they spooked, they might run back towards her.
It didn’t work. Instead, one of them busted me and all three toms slipped away down the mountain. I went back and got Esther. With only a couple hours of daylight, we made one more setup at the bottom of the canyon.
After half an hour of futile calling, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t going to just sit there and watch it get dark on my hunt. I told Esther I was going to enter the dark timber and sneak around for the last hour of light. She would stay in the ravine with the decoy and continue calling occasionally.
I was hiking up the steep, timbered mountain slope when out of the blue I heard something: “Cluck—-cluck—–cluck.” Well, this was new to me! I pulled an arrow. Sure enough, 40 yards below me, a huge chicken—I mean turkey—came sneaking and clucking along, all alone and completely oblivious to my presence. As it rounded a tree I let my arrow fly.
The arrow hit the giant black bird perfectly broadside and dead-center. The tom’s wings flapped wildly as it sprinted out of sight with my orange fletched arrow sticking straight out of its side. I was super excited as I dropped down to see my trophy…which was gone.
I found a couple clipped feathers and some torn up dirt, even a speck of blood or two. I followed in the direction the stupid bird ran, found another feather, and then lost the trail. I started walking circles. I called Esther on the radio to come help. She showed up and we search up and down and all over. The turkey was gone; run off to who-knows-where with my arrow. The problem with turkeys is two-fold: they don’t leave a blood trail, and they can sure take an arrow!
We continued our search by headlamp, but with no trail to follow, there was no choice but to give up. I was so deflated as I walked back to the truck. Few words were spoken.
The next morning we somehow slogged the truck out of the mud and drove home with nary a feathered foe for food.
Later study proved the turkey’s can take an arrow better than most animals. Basically their stiff wings, when folded against their bodies, creates a sheet of armor, like a stack of zip-ties. This armor will slow, or even stop an arrow, before it penetrates anything vital. In most cases it eventually kills the bird, but only after a lengthy sprint. A head/neck shot is really your best option.
The story ends here. But it also begins here. Next year you’ll find me and Esther in the same area, earlier in the season God-willing, with both heavier arrows and more experience in our quivers.
When facing nature one-on-one, the mountain and its infinite variables often wins. But this particular mountain still owes me a turkey, and I’ll never give up until I get one.
While hunting last December, I found this tree eating a No Trespassing sign.
This photo suggests a more accurate perspective of time. On a short scale, life is long and we are in control. On a longer scale, we exist in an insignificant, tiny sliver of time. A hundred years from now, you and everyone you know will be gone.
Mostly, this photo reminds me of who is really in charge. If mankind were to disappear, there would be no trace of his existence within a thousand years, or maybe less! Nature would take it all back in a relatively short period of time.
I’m not depressed about all this. On the contrary, it gives me a more positive outlook: It’s this fragility and shortness of life that gives life such great value! When we forget this seemingly obscure truth, then we focus our life’s energies on things that aren’t important…like television and political correctness.
Fortunately, we are nature ourselves! It is my opinion–and hope–that as long Nature exists, so will we, in one form or another. The gift of consciousness is infinite.
It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that this giant, 200-inch monster muley stepped out in front of me at 20 yards. It’s even harder to believe how easy that hunt was! Now, how in tarnation can I expect that to happen every year?
After an incredibly difficult season this year, I have two words to say: WHO CARES!? I spent many, many days afield, marveled at God’s natural splendor, and came out with a rejuvenated spirit…many times. And at the end of the season, with hopes and dreams dashed, I still get to come home to a loving wife, a room full of magnificent mule deer trophies, and countless memories of amazing hunts.
A couple years after getting the infamous Droptine Buck, I remember telling my brother that failed hunts don’t bother me anymore because at the end of the day I can go home, take the Droptine mount off the wall, and snuggle with it in bed. Russ got a kick out of that.
What really happens is I hobble downstairs on sore feet, cramping legs, and with a broken ego and weary back. I slowly look up from the floor and stare at these magnificent creatures. If their glassy eyes could see my face, they’d see a man with many more questions than answers. A minute later, solemnity fades and I force a smile. I think these masters of the woods deserve appreciation, and I think I deserve some satisfaction, even amidst failure.
Anyway, failure is relative. I failed to meet my goal this year, but in the final hour I still brought home some sacred meat for the family. Guy Eastman once wrote that if you fail to harvest a deer, it’s okay. It just makes the ones you get that much more special. These words of wisdom have stuck with me, and I want to believe it’s true.
With only a week left in the extended hunt, I saw the looming clouds of failure building. Then I remembered Superbuck and asked myself, “How long is a trophy good for?” It seems a buck like that can keep a man going for a few years, at least.
This year, I will rest on my laurels. I think I’ve earned it.
Whenever you fall, pick something up. –Oswald Avery
If you are following this blog, then I apologize for my absence. My last post was over a month ago. Work obligations are somewhat to blame, but more than that, it’s been my lack of inspiration following a long and difficult hunting season.
When the general season ended with no new venison in the freezer, I was somewhat perplexed. What did I do wrong? Going in, I was convinced I’d unlocked the secret to bagging big bucks. But try as I might, I couldn’t do it. Immediately following the hunt, I felt deflated and uninspired. Five weeks later, I’m just starting to realize that failure is exactly what I needed to keep my ego in check. How can a person ever fully understand big bucks in the first place? It’s impossible. They are brilliant, highly adaptable survivors!
All told, I spent 13 days hunting hard all over my prescribed unit, but never drew my bow on a buck. At the same time, I could have shot at least a dozen small bucks–mostly 2- and 3-points–but I was holding out for a trophy. This is what caused me so much grief. No matter how much ground I covered, and no matter how high I went, I was disappointed by the low numbers of mature bucks. I knew I could find them if they existed, but they were almost non-existent. Of the 50+ bucks I saw, only two were mature bucks in the 170-180″ class range; barely trophies in my book. Long story short, these bucks were either inaccessible or the stalk failed for one reason or another. Either way, the problem is with how few big deer there are anymore.
In observing so many deer in the wild, I was blown away by the sheer brilliance of the modern mule deer and the ways in which it’s adapted to avoid modern hunters. Their survival tactics seem well thought out and highly effective. For instance, some of the largest bucks would keep does between them and the timberline as a sort of security fence. Basically, a bowhunter would have to get through a string of does to get to the bucks, making it nearly impossible to hunt them. This and many other evasive tactics were documented and will be covered in my next blog-post.
So the hunt was a failure, but only because I failed to provide meat for my family. At the same time, the hunt was a huge success. The countless hours spent sitting alone in nature, watching sunrises and sunsets, creeping through the dark timber, and observing innumerable animals going about their business–all these things stirred my soul and rejuvenated my being. Life’s daily problems and stresses melted away. I saw the hand of God through all his creations, and all questions about the purpose of life were answered.
Fortunately the hunt isn’t over yet. The extended hunt began where the general season ended. Now, the extended hunt can be extremely difficult due to high hunting pressure, dry and noisy leaves on the ground, and the low numbers of scattered deer. At the same time, the odds go up when the snow flies and pushes big bucks down from the high country and concentrates them on the lower elevation windswept slopes. This occurs in mid-November, and that’s where my hunt will resume.
Yes, I failed to harvest a deer, but the season isn’t over yet. I still have an unused deer tag and an elk tag in my pocket, and I will succeed in providing meat for my family. I have learned humility through failure. I have found my inspiration and I’m full of hope. I still believe in Zen hunting, and through the process of Zen hunting, success is still a decision.
In the past two years I’ve had the unique opportunity to teach hundreds of people basic archery. Because of the nature of the organization which I’m affiliated with, many of my first time students are left-wing oriented, if not out-right liberals and even anti-hunters. Although this hasn’t been a problem, I’ve had quite a few impassioned conversations concerning the morality of hunting.
As it turns out, many anti-hunters are regular meat-eaters. In conversations about the ethic of hunting, the very first point I make is: “If you eat meat then you are directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of animals. You just have someone else just does the killing. I prefer to take that responsibility into my own hands.” This almost always brings the “offended” into the realm of reality and diffuses any potential negative redneck argument.
Learning the art of archery doesn’t mean you’re suddenly expected to go hunting. It’s just a fun skill to have. But I have to wonder, what drives a flaming anti-hunter to pick up a bow-and-arrow in the first place? In my studies I have learned that almost every culture around the world has used the bow and weapon as their primary source of food and protections for thousands of years. The reason—I think—that so many people from so many diverse backgrounds are inclined to pick up a bow-and-arrow is because it’s already deeply ingrained in their bodies, minds, and instincts. In fact, one in ten of my students becomes masterful at archery within five minutes of shooting, as if they’ve been shooting their entire life, but having never picked up a bow before.
Many first-time archers view bows and arrows as recreational toys. Often times, if I didn’t insist on teaching safety first, people would just grab a bow and start flinging arrows. Consequently, at the beginning of every session I stress the importance of safety. One of the very first sentences out of my mouth is, “The bow-and-arrow was designed for one thing and one thing only—killing!” At this proclamation you can see the slight discomfort in a few faces, but it never deters a person from shooting.
At the same time, I never push hunting on anyone; I won’t even bring it up unless someone asks—but someone always asks. Without getting too much into it, I explain how bowhunting has always been my greatest passion, how it provides the majority of meat that my family and I eat, and that shooting a bow-and-arrow proficiently has nothing to do with hunting well.
Many people from the big city have a skewed view of hunting. They are conditioned to believe that killing an animal is as easy as pulling off the side of the road and shooting some helpless creature to death. And so I go on to explain that hunting is a completely separate skill from shooting, and the hunting aspect requires a lifetime to master.
In the end, I don’t want to kill anything; I don’t glory in shooting some poor creature to death in cold blood. But I don’t want to starve to death either. Nor do I want to wander down the meat aisle at the supermarket and sift through a pile of carefully packaged, hormone-infused, mass-produced, inorganic farm-garbage-salmonella-burgers. What I prefer to eat is purely organic, super-lean, free-range, healthy meat that walks the earth freely as God intended. NOW, I digress.
Overall my arguments for hunting have been met with surprising respect, even from those who “agree to disagree.” Even more, the relationships I’ve developed with many anti-hunters have been mutually beneficial. I’ve been forced to honestly and deeply consider the ethical and spiritual nature of the sport I love so much, and at the same time I’ve witnessed a change in the hearts and minds of those who were previously misinformed about the evils of hunting.