In a world that seems intent on dulling our senses, sitting in the woods or along a field edge offers a rare opportunity for surprise. A squirrel might sneak an acorn, a raven bark overhead or a whitetail deer tiptoe among saplings. Run-of-the-mill occurrences, yes. But each can widen the eyes and stoke expectations, while easing the tedium of our otherwise workaday lives.
This weekend, when the firearms season begins, deer hunters in tree stands or other hinterland perches will feast on such all-natural revelations, none of which can be bought, sold or bartered. Thus, their pricelessness.
But how those experiences are appreciated, and to what degree they thrill, depends where along a continuum of deer seekers a hunter exists, inexperienced to experienced.
Attempting to nurture success among trainees, old-timers, as it were, often position novices along game trails or in otherwise strategic positions and instruct them to remain ever-alert and quiet.
Assuming the protégé can summon a certain levelheadedness — sometimes a meritless assumption — if a buck or doe saunters by, a rifle chambered for .243, .270, .306 or other caliber is shouldered, and the animal is felled. The trigger pull, oftentimes, suspends times, and celebration ensues.
Similar hand-holding of hunters can occur on guided undertakings, which are less common in Minnesota than in distant locales, such as out West, in Canada or in Alaska. There, even experienced hunters, finding themselves in strange environs, relegate their fortunes to contracted pros who know the landscape and the habits of the game pursued.
Sometimes this works out OK. Other times, the veteran nimrod tires of his reduction in rank from hunter to, simply, sharpshooter. There he is, take him can ring pretty hollow, after all, the difference being that of a pilot flying a plane and a passenger slumping in a back seat, along for the ride.
Which brings us to Minnesotans whose satisfaction this weekend will place them on the home run end of the deer-hunter continuum. Not because they shoot the biggest buck or waylay even a doe or a fawn. Theirs instead will be is a fulfillment achieved by soaking up everything around them, from squirrels sneaking acorns to ravens barking overhead.
Experience often leads these hunters afield well before opening day. They read and under- stand maps. But more so in their minds they overlay these topography, road and property plots with understandings of where game moves on lands they hunt.
Time of day is another consideration. Though less so now, near the peak of the rut, deer are creatures of habit. And territorial. Knowing this, the experienced hunter achieves a Zen-like concentration of all variables that might be encountered beginning one half-hour before sunrise Saturday. Wind. Snow. Leaves that might or might not crackle beneath footsteps. On the eve of another opener, the mind’s eye contemplates all of these, and more.
Paradoxical as it might seem, given the amount of time dedicated to understanding deer and their environments, success in the form of a filled freezer matters less to the experienced hunter than it might to a novice or middle-of-the-roader.
Of course, aligning a scope’s cross hairs behind the fore shoulder of a mature buck, its neck hulking and the base of its antlers dark and thick, is a goal. But not the goal.
The goal is the hunt.
Which is why opening day and even the days that follow can come and go and the experienced-yet-deerless hunter can nevertheless appreciate his time afield.
As with other endeavors, luck in deer hunting favors the prepared, and the experienced hunter knows that sooner or later, though perhaps not even this season, a whitetail buck will tiptoe among saplings just when and where he knew it would.
Or, better yet, when and where he thought it wouldn’t.
Ultimately, this fascination with the unknown, with surprise, keeps the experienced hunter coming back, season to season.
Different from more modern pastimes, hunting’s only certainty is an easing of the tedium of our otherwise workaday lives. And a sharpening of our senses.