By Cody Altizer
This isn’t going to be a very long post because it’s the holidays and I am more in a reflective and grateful mood right now than I am hardcore, pound the woods to no end, big buck or die mood. Plus, I’ve eaten a lot of food, so I am a little slow. But I was sitting in my stand the other day (in the rain and cold, mind you. Feel free to pat me on the back and tell me how tough of a hunter I am), and thinking of how, at the time, it was a “bad hunt” because of the dreary conditions. This, of course, prompted a thoughtful conversation with myself, and I’ll share with you my thoughts below.
Is there such a thing as a “bad hunt?” How would one define a bad hunt? Sitting there in the rain it would be easy for me to whine and complain that my current time in the treestand wasn’t the best. I didn’t see a deer the entire morning. I got cold. I got wet. I could have stayed at home in my warm bed and slept in.
But whose decision was it to wake up early in the morning? It was mine. I checked the radar before I left the house. I didn’t think it was going to start raining until mid-morning, after I had gotten down, but it started before. I certainly acknowledged the risk that I might get rained on. I owned that decision. I can complain of a bad hunt when the very hunt itself was my decision. Plus, I got into my stand without spooking deer, and quietly exited a thicket without bumping deer on the way out. That’s a success in its own right.
But what makes a hunt a bad hunt? Bumping deer? Maybe it’s when a deer gets downwind of you? Trust me, both make me feel terrible. During the hunting season, it literally makes my stomach cringe a little when I hear deer stomping and blowing at me before they tear through the woods. I hate it. Sometimes, though, you just can’t help it. Last time I checked, deer smell pretty well. Chances are they are going to smell you at least a couple times throughout the season. And no matter how hard you try to mask your entrance route, eventually you and the deer are going to cross paths an hour before first light on the way to your stand and you’ll cuss yourself and whine and pout and convince yourself the deer gods are out to get you. It’ll happen. And you’ll also feel like a fool when 2 hours later you see a family of does work their way past your stand at 30 yards completely unaware of your presence. Bad hunt? I don’t think so.
What about when you miss a deer? Now THAT’S a horrible feeling. You’ve worked so hard the entire off season, put in countless hours, sacrificed time at home with your family, school, work; the list goes on. You’ve invested a large part of yourself to get close to a mature whitetail, and when you finally do, you blow it. It stinks. There’s no beating around the bush. It’s just not a cool feeling. Bad hunt? Nah, I don’t think so. So you missed? It’s going to happen when you hunt deer. Getting close to mature deer, especially bucks, tends to make people nervous. If you are cool, calm, and collected on every shot and you shoot every deer you see then, well, hunting would be pretty boring now wouldn’t it?
Now, here’s a REAL bummer, even worse than missing a deer, in fact. You fatally hit a deer, track it for hours, and never find it. We’ve all been there. If you haven’t, you will be. I’m not being condescending, but if you hunt enough you will eventually hit and lose a deer. Realizing and accepting this will allow you to handle the difficult situation much more easily and maturely when the time comes. But, man, is it a horrible feeling! Like I said, it’s even worse than missing. Most of the time, you’re just inches away from killing that animal, but you let it slip away. Most of the time, we have no one to blame but ourselves when we lose deer.
Bad hunt? Well, it’s about as close to a bad hunt as you can possibly get. But let’s put things in perspective, shall we? Yes, you made a bad hit. You lost the deer and your confidence and pride is shook and you’re feeling a tremendous amount of guilt for making an animal you genuinely care about suffer a long painful death. But is it the end of the world? No. Count your blessings. YOU had a safe hunt. Hunters die and are seriously injured every year climbing in and out of treestands. A safe hunt is a good hunt. You lost a deer, despite tracking it through nasty terrain for hours, on hands and knees searching for blood, and realizing that your deer is suffering. But you can go home, kiss your wife on the cheek and tell your kids about your day while they hang onto to every word. I’m not saying that wounding deer is okay and we should just brush it off, but when we put the hunt into perspective with the rest of our lives, hardly ever is there a bad hunt.
Now, I’m finished. I’ve eaten so many cookies, brownies, turkey, gravy, sweet tea, milk, and baked mac and cheese that I think I could den up like a black bear and hibernate the rest of the winter. Maybe this post made sense to you and hit home, maybe you were offended by it. I’m hoping for the former, but if it’s the latter, blame it on my mom’s home cooking.
– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com