As I posted earlier this month, I hunted for deer for the first time in my life this fall. With just two days left in the season, I don't think I'll get a buck. On the other hand, I was reminded each time I hunted this month that there are other rewards to spending time being quiet in the woods!
This morning, I got to see the sun rise over the Sierra Nevada. From my vantage point on the west side of the north fork of the American River near Colfax, I saw the sun come up over the newly snow-capped crest of the Sierra. As I was walking along the ridge, a golden eagle landed in a dead tree not far from the trail - a spectacular site at any time of day, but especially breathtaking at sunrise.
During the hours I've spent looking for the elusive buck, I've observed things I wouldn't see if I was cutting firewood or herding sheep on this land (which I've done in past autumns). I've seen a black bear and her cubs on several occasions - and once saw her footprints on top of my own from earlier in the day. I've seen evidence of some kind of animal being dragged along the ridge - probably by a mountain lion. I've seen last spring's fawns nursing on their mother - they're so big they lifted the doe's hindquarters off the ground in their attempt to get milk. I've watched squirrels, woodpeckers, bandtailed pigeons and stellar jays gathering acorns in preparation for winter. I've observed changes in the look and feel of the land that come with the first storm of the season. And while I didn't fire a shot this fall, I've seen several bucks.
I've also learned things - about deer, about hunting and about myself - that I would not have learned without the chance to be quiet and by myself. I've learned to pay attention to the wind and to the sounds that I make. I've learned that my knowledge of low-stress livestock handling has helped me in my approach to deer - the techniques I use with flighty sheep and cows work when I'm trying to approach deer. Being still is difficult for me, but I've learned that constant motion can sometimes be counter-productive.
I've decided that hunting, at least for me, is partly about food and partly about slowing and quieting myself. While I failed in the food category this year, hunting has allowed me to slow down and be quiet. It's allowed me to re-discover the wonder that I've always felt when I'm in nature. In my daily work, I've noticed that I'm more open to this wonder, too - I'm seeing wildlife and other things that I've probably taken for granted in the past. I'm looking forward to trying to get a deer again next year, and I'm looking forward to taking pleasure in being in the wild until then!