By Mark Huelsing

The density of true darkness is compelling.  And the moon – on its final day before a new phase would begin tomorrow – could do little to penetrate it.  The stars were bright and would certainly be helpful for navigation if I was aboard a ship at sea, but they were useless in helping me find my way through the timber.  I had no choice but to turn on my headlamp.  The light, at its lowest setting, permeated the blackness with force.  The bright beam was diffused only slightly by my breath, which was rising, slightly visible in the cool air.

I found comfort in the fact that I could see my breath.  Comforted, not because it was proof that I was breathing – that was certainly never in question – rather, I found comfort because this visible vapor was evidence that the crispness of fall was beginning to manifest itself.

I continued to hike, present in the moment, yet also lost in my thoughts, anticipation, and recollection of previous hunts.  I soon arrived at my destination – a massive oak that I would call home for the morning.  I dropped the stand from my back, unloaded my climbing sticks, secured my harness, and began my ascent.

Now, settled 20’ up in the oak, the thoughts and anticipation that were previously racing through my mind skidded to a halt as they came in contact with the apparent stillness of my surroundings.  I always love being tucked up into a tree in the darkness, before the morning breaks.  I feel alone, as if I am in a sea of nothingness, yet I know that life surrounds.  I can’t see the other trees, yet I trust that they are there.  I can’t see the terrain, but I know it rises and falls all around me.

As I think about the gravity of being lost in these invisible surroundings I am struck by the deafening scream of silence.  It is odd, really.  How silence has become something that yells with more vigor than the loudest of sounds.

The concept of an “awkward silence” hints at the fact that, at one point, moments of silence were comfortable.  Now, in our world of constant busyness, never-ending entertainment, and limitless technology, all silence has become awkward.  The modern man’s encounters with silence are nothing more than fleeting seconds that occur between diversions.

The breeze that is drifting out of the East will soon be accompanied by an orange glow coming from the same direction.  Light will rise, and with it, life.  And this day – the opening day of my 2012 whitetail season – will officially begin.

Maybe I will have the opportunity of killing a deer and providing some quality, natural protein for my family.  Maybe I will get to experience the joy of harvesting – or even just seeing – a buck that is a noble representation of the breed, a true trophy.  Maybe I will merely get to encounter nature and escape the incessant tediousness of the developed world; indeed, I already have.

No matter what may come to be as light delivers day, I have already experienced many things that have revealed to me how fortunate I am to be a hunter.

Darkness, silence, solitude, space, clarity – these are gifts given to the hunter.  Let us not ignore them.

– Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors.  If he is not bowhunting, then he is planning towards it, training for it, and writing about it at