I’m venturing a bit with this blog post. It’s that time of year… the chill in the air, the leaves on the ground, harvest time, giving thanks… and hunting season! I love fall for all the same reasons most people do, but most of my weekends, starting October 1st, are spent in a tree in the middle of the woods in southwest Iowa.
It’s about this time of the season, after over a month of hunting that I start to wonder, myself, why I’m even doing this. Weekend after weekend, I sit freezing my buns off, waiting… waiting… and getting nothing. This year, especially, has been tough since I’m over 6 months pregnant. So, honestly, I’m writing this blog to remind myself why I do this to myself every fall. But, maybe, for those of you that actually read this, you’ll understand and learn my reasoning as well.
How it all began…
Growing up, hunting was not something I ever even thought about doing. I really knew very little about it… rifle hunting was fairly common where I lived, but bow hunting was definitely not something I had been exposed to.
That was, until I met my husband, Alex, 8 years ago while working at Scheels. He worked in the hunting and fishing department, and even though I had been working there for a year, ringing people’s hunting equipment up, I still had zero interest or knowledge of the sport.
But… you know how dating goes… you’re always trying to impress, right? And I like to think of myself as a person who’s always open to try new things. So, after a few months of dating, when he asked if I wanted to go turkey hunting with him, I figured, why not?
I don’t remember this experience very well, and neither does he, but I don’t think it was the best first impression of hunting. All I remember is sitting in little chairs under a tree for what felt like way too long and literally nothing happened. Like, so… this is hunting? I remember he felt pretty bad about it, but I didn’t try going turkey hunting again that spring.
However, when fall came around, and he asked me if I’d like to join him in a tree stand while he bow hunted for deer, I gave him another chance. I think I bought a couple super inexpensive pieces of camouflage clothing, including a youth size jacket, woke up with him at God-knows-what-time in the morning, and snuck behind him as he lead me to a tree stand in the middle of some timber.
Again, the memories are foggy, but I remember watching several does and a few small bucks come right underneath the stand. We were so close to them, and they had absolutely no idea we were sitting right above them. And when I joined him a second time in a different stand… it happened again. The second time, I got more of an idea of the challenges of bow hunting, since the does actually smelled us, stomped their feet, blew at us, and ran off.
These experiences he shared with me, along with some influential women bow hunters like Eva Shockey and Taylor Drury, inspired me to take more interest in the sport for myself. Not to mention, I was pretty excited to shoot a bow for the first time.
So, I purchased my first compound bow… a pink PSE Chaos, complete with pink accessories and pink arrows. It was a youth bow, nice and light weight, with a whopping 30 pound draw-weight. I was looking pretty-darn lethal.
Having hardly shot a weapon in my life (except a BB gun and a 22 rifle), shooting a bow and arrow gave me all of the thrills. I loved it. It didn’t take me long, and I really had the hang of it. Not to mention, going to the range to shoot with Alex was a fun activity to do together. I was able to perfect my shooting all summer long. Then, I added some more camo clothing to my collection and got my first pair of hunting boots. It was time for the real thing.
My first hunt…
My first hunt was September of 2013 in some timber near my childhood home. We had set up a tree stand just for me a couple weeks prior. You see… I was a Nebraska resident, Alex was an Iowa resident. I couldn’t hunt with him in Iowa unless I drew a tag and paid way too much for a license/tag. So, this is how awesome my future husband was… he got me all set up with a tree stand, woke up bright and early with me, and took the time to sit with me and teach me everything he knows. You guys… I’m not the easiest person to deal with in these situations… let’s just say, Alex is a saint.
I will never forget my first chance at a buck. It happened so quickly (probably because I wasn’t paying attention) but this 6-point buck pops out at about 20 yards away from us. I was so caught off guard, I was so nervous, I was so excited. Alex whispered for me to slowly stand up and draw. I stood up… the buck was there… not moving… a perfect shot. “OMG… OMG…” I was freaking out!
I drew back…. I drew back…. ummm… still trying to draw back… I was freaking out so much, I straight up couldn’t pull my bow back. Alex was literally pulling my elbow back for me while I’m shaking and losing my mind. This whole time, the silly buck is still right there, like he was waiting for me to get ready.
I finally get drawn back and put my 20 yard pin on him, I shoot… and I miss. My first fail at hunting. People, I wish I could tell you that this was my only fail and that my next shot at a deer was perfect. But, that is not the case. This is now my 6th year of hunting (the year we lived in Minnesota, I didn’t get to hunt at all), and I have yet to shoot my first buck. I have, however, been successful at getting a late-season doe in my 3rd year of hunting but, that’s a long story, maybe for another blog.
What I’m trying to say is… even after 6 years without a buck, a slightly traumatic experience shooting a doe (again, long story), 5 separate misses, and way too many days of sitting and seeing zero deer… I keep doing it. Now, let me explain why and remind myself in the meantime.
Reasons why I bow hunt…
1 – The nature.
As much as I despise sitting in the freezing cold woods for hours at a time, I think a tree stand is actually one of my favorite places to be. You’re sitting 15 feet up in a tree completely incognito. I mean… some birds and squirrels will usually detect your presence, but you really are one with nature for the time being. I’ve watched turkeys strutting, quail scattering about, raccoons waddling (including some babies that melted my heart), coyotes sneaking, opossums being their gross selves, a badger wondering, squirrels fighting, woodpeckers doing their thing, owls hooting, fawns playing, does frolicking, and a some bucks cruising for some doe tail.
Just sitting there completely still and watching nature happen around you is an amazing thing. I have to remind myself of this when there isn’t a deer in sight and I’m bored to heck waiting.
2 – The anticipation.
And as I wait in my tree for a buck that I’m not even sure exists, I can’t help but just get excited about the idea of a monster showing up. Every squirrel that suddenly moves in the distance, every leaf that falls to the ground, every bird that shakes a branch… I freeze, hoping it’s a deer. Usually it’s not… and just when I let my guard down, that’s when a deer actually shows up (in my last case, I had just put a Nilla Wafer in my mouth).
Even if it’s not a shooter, the excitement when a deer is in your presence is so exhilarating. I sit completely still, hand on my bow, heart racing… I even start breathing funny, afraid they’ll hear me. Even when a doe is spooked by my scent, I can’t help but get excited. The surge of adrenaline that I get is all worth the wait in the end.
3 – The challenge.
Could I stay in my warm bed in the early weekend mornings? Could I partake in the same fall activities that you and your family might do? Could I just grab a shot gun in late November, go out to a field, and shoot a buck from 200 yards? Yep… I could do all of these things, but there is just something about the challenge and the sport of bow hunting.
There is waaaay more to it than just shooting a buck from a tree stand. And to be honest, I only have to do a fraction of the work it involves. You have to find the land to hunt on, you have to buy and set up tree stands, you have to purchase the equipment/gear (so very much), you have to practice your shooting, and on top of it all, you need a decent knowledge of what your doing out there. I am blessed beyond measure to have a husband and father-in-law that take care of a lot of this and devote their time and effort not only to their own hunt but to mine.
But those challenges that I am left with for myself, make this hobby more rewarding. The long waits, the cold temperatures, the not-close-enough encounters, and the missed shots are what is going to make my first buck one of the best things that will happen to me (and I only have hope that it eventually does).
4 – The eating.
Hunting is not just about the trophy. It’s also about harvesting your own source of food the way our ancestors had done it. I was so proud when we made the first meal with the meat from my first doe. I literally brought home the “bacon” for our family. And I absolutely love when Alex straight up provides us a freezer full of meat when he has success.
Not to mention, I think venison is delicious and we have so many great recipes! And after Alex brought home his elk meat, we might be extra spoiled… perhaps we should just elk hunt from now on.
5 – The conservation.
I have had 5 unfilled tags throughout my years of hunting. That’s about $300 in licenses/tags that seem like they went to waste. But nope… that’s $300 that goes to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to help with wild life conservation. Not to mention there’s the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, where about 11% of the hundreds of dollars that we’ve spent on gear goes to conservation as well. It feels good knowing that even when I fail, I’m still making a difference for wildlife.
So, there you have it! This is why I bow hunt. There is little success and reward, but sometimes just the adventure of it all is what it’s all about. As one of my favorite hunter’s, Steve Rinella, says, “a true hunter recognizes that experiences are the ultimate hunting trophies; he takes pride in walking the ancient and noble pathway that was laid down by his forebearers; and even when he returns from a hunt cold, wet, and empty-handed, he does so with a full heart.”
And this is absolutely true. Even though I’m done for this season (hunting while pregnant is not easy), and I was once again unsuccessful, I can’t wait to get back out there. The plan is a Western Nebraska hunt in 2020!