I stopped in the middle of the trail as the last bit of daylight hung in the air. The darkness seemed to roll in faster now that I had noticed its looming presence. I stopped in the middle of the trail and tried to hold back the tears. For over two weeks I had been racing home from work in the afternoon to sit in my stand behind the house and this was what felt like another big, fat flop.
I kept muttering to myself, they were right there, they were right there. Ten more feet. They were right there. And they had been. Two of them. Two does. I had been so ready.
In my stand, as dusk just started to take over the day, I heard a rustling in the distance behind me. I had been in this stand enough that I knew it wasn’t any of the squirrels or moles I’d been watching. I looked around, slowly stood up, turned my body around on the platform, and clutched my bow in my hands trying not to shake; trying to focus on my breathing.
At first I thought it was just one, but the longer I listened and counted each step I knew there were at least two deer in the woods, even though I could not see them. I caught a glimpse of their legs finally trying not to tremble with what many call “buck fever” as they slowly edged towards the shooting lane, closer and closer. I drew back my bow and in the moment it was swift and silent. Relieved I hadn’t screwed that part up, I held my draw, tried to breathe calmly, and waited. With about ten feet to go to my shooting lane, the front deer picked up her nose and blew into the air. She looked around quickly and within seconds they were both gone. I felt so deflated, and it wasn’t just from this encounter. Earlier in the week from the same stand, I had seen the biggest buck I have ever seen in the woods and he wouldn’t give me a shot. He had even spooked once and came back to a bleat can, but it just didn’t line up. Rewind to opening day of the season, I had taken a shot from the stand at a doe – not realizing until after I knocked the second arrow that the tube holding my peep sight straight had snapped. It had been a long and trying couple of weeks.
So here I was, standing in the middle of the trail now with tears slowly streaming down my cheeks. I felt like this was it; chance number three. And it had come and gone with no success. My dad and brother both with deer already under their belts for the season, and I was standing here empty handed, and crying. I don’t know what felt worse, the utter feeling of disappointment in myself or the throbbing in my head. In this moment it took everything that I had not to scream, to let it all out. I wanted nothing more than to throw the world’s most pointless temper tantrum. To let all of this intense pressure that I was putting on myself out. As I stood there trying to pull myself together, I uttered one word quietly to myself: “why?”
It was not until later on at home when I was replaying each of these three scenarios in my head for the umpteenth time that I realized something. As I held a glass of wine in one hand and a Reese’s peanut butter cup in the other – I mean come on, I am only human – I realized that I had been asking “why” in the woods for the wrong reason. That night on the trail with the tears, holding back my screams of frustration I wanted to know why did this keep happening? Why can’t everything just line up for me for once? Why can’t I just catch a break? Why is everyone else tagging deer and not me? What I really should have been asking myself at that moment was why are you putting so much pressure on yourself to shoot a deer? Why aren’t you enjoying yourself? What aren’t you having fun?
I have written about the pressures of everyday life countless times, and how my passions for hunting and fishing are what keep me grounded. How my passions uplift my spirits and put everything in perspective. In just less than three short weeks of the season opening, I was putting all this weight on my shoulders to shoot a deer. But why? Why was I being so hard on myself? Why wasn’t I just enjoying everything that nature has to offer? Why wasn’t I enjoying this time that I had worked so hard to carve out of my schedule for me to simply do what I love? I came to a very abrupt conclusion.
If I let the pressures that consume me in everyday life also consume my time spent in the woods, then that time is no longer mine.
Nature is unpredictable and although that’s one of the best parts about experiencing it the way that we do as hunters and anglers, it can also be the most frustrating. I know I am not alone.
Don’t let the pressures of being “successful” in the field creep up on you and ruin your fun. I quote the word because in my opinion, harvesting an animal in the field is really just an added bonus. The real success is that I am taking the time to do what I love. That is the victory. One of my goals for the new year is to be more conscious of when this pressure starts to creep up on me; to try to shift my perspective back into one of focusing on why I am really in the woods. I know, much easier said than done. But if my passions for hunting and fishing are ruined by the need to be “successful”, what is the point? If harvesting a deer every season is my only goal, then I should hang up my gear right now and call it quits; and that’s just not going to happen.