Perhaps more so than in any other year of my life, I am ready for archery deer season to open. Thankfully, the wait is just about over. Archery season for deer opens Tuesday in Missouri. As often as possible this fall, I plan to escape into a forest where the squirrels and rabbits and deer have never heard of coronavirus and are unaware it’s an election year.
Growing up in Indiana, where the early archery season kicks off Oct. 1, I have always mentally marked October as the start to deer hunting. I have never really gotten excited about hunting deer while mosquitoes are still buzzing about. It’s the frosty mornings that appeal most to me. This year is different. Having lost so many amazing opportunities to travel bans — including trips to South Africa and Iceland — I can’t wait to start hunting.
What I mean by hunting, though, may surprise nonhunters who have a misconception about what deer hunting really looks like. Some of society’s depictions of deer hunting, fueled by false narratives such as the hunting scene in "Bambi" and the incompetence of Elmer Fudd, are far from reality.
Archery hunting is an incredibly serene and peaceful experience. Some of you may be shaking your head, wondering how an activity that results in death could be called serene and peaceful. I’ll do my best to explain.
Most bowhunting takes place from an elevated platform called a tree stand. So the hunter is literally sitting up in a tree. This is to provide concealment from deer and other critters on the ground. Deer, of course, do look up, so it’s not like they can’t see you. So you have to sit very still and can’t make any fast movements. There is peace in the stillness.
While you’re sitting statue-still up in a tree, the natural world goes about its business as if you are not there. The order of the natural world doesn’t include you. That’s how far we humans have become removed from nature. Everything is afraid of us. So you’re an intruder hiding in a world that hasn’t invited you. This is your chance to observe the goings-on of animals oblivious to your presence.
Watch squirrels gather nuts and hoard them away for winter. Watch a coyote hunt a mouse among the leaves on the forest floor. Birds land on branches near you. Deer hunters spend more time bird-watching than most serious birders could hope for. Then there are the deer — the quarry. For every 100 deer I see, I may shoot one. I know my family isn’t going to consume more than two deer per year, so there is no need for me to kill more than that. For the most part, I’m a deer watcher. And I love it.
Being able to witness deer in their natural environment is the main draw for most hunters. I don’t know anyone who hunts deer who would have any interest in doing so if they shot a deer every time they went hunting. That’s not the point. It’s the experience of being in nature, watching wildlife and coming away with stories and memories about what you witnessed.
This year has been stressful, much more so on some than others. I have been blessed to not have lost anyone close to me due to the virus so far. My livelihood has for the most part remained intact. Others have not been so lucky. If ever there was a year to take a new person hunting, to introduce them to the serenity and peacefulness of the natural world, this is it.
To introduce someone to hunting, they don’t have to carry a bow or plan to hunt themselves. I’m telling you, just take someone out in the woods and sit them in a tree stand, or sit with them in a ground blind. Have them hunt with binoculars and a camera. Let them see what you have been so fortunate to see. Show them what deer hunting is really about and maybe bring a calm to their soul in the midst of all this chaos.
See you down the trail.