As I sat in the pickup waiting for daylight, I pondered, “What has happened to me?” I had waited 10 long years to draw one of the Eastern Washington Quality mule deer tags and now here I am, trying to convince myself to get out there and pursue what I had loved doing for 30 years, hunt deer.
I used to really enjoy hunting deer by myself, but on this day it felt forced. As I tried to stay motivated, my thoughts drifted away from the present situation and I couldn’t get passed how meaningless this hunt felt without my boys along for the ride. I had spent the last 10 years in the woods with my kids, teaching them everything I knew about the outdoors, hunting was for them. Now, on this unseasonably warm November day, for the first time in years, I was hunting for myself and struggling to find joy in it.
I often hear stories about people hanging it up when they lose their hunting partner. Sometimes it’s a dad or a grandpa, other times it’s a lifelong buddy. Regardless, the joy is still lost either way. Although I have never truly experienced it, I get it. Hunting, to those who understand this, is not about killing an animal.
That is only a very small piece. I could have killed a 30 inch 4-point that day and it would not have mattered. The transformation from a hunter to a hunting dad was easy, transitioning back, on the other hand, will take some getting used to. I suppose in a way it’s like raising kids in general. Most of your marriage up to this point is spent parenting, sacrificing everything for the wellbeing of your kids. Then in a blink of an eye, they grow up and move out, leaving you and your spouse sitting on the couch, staring at each other thinking, “now what?”
When you raise your kids to hunt, you come last. I have grown quite accustomed to an unnotched tag since they started hunting. Luckily for our family, the boys have held up their end of the bargain. So much time and effort are spent teaching your kids to hunt, that you can easily forget about yourself. If you’re a hunter, but do not have kids, you will most likely never fully grasp this transition that takes place. Twenty years ago, I would have called you crazy if you told me that by my late forties, killing a deer wouldn’t really matter that much to me. Gaging the success of a hunting career only by the pile of antlers, is a fool’s notion.
As it would turn out, my solo hunt got easier and easier as the days went on. I listened to my own advice, often shared with the boys, always find something enjoyable each time out, that way when you come home empty handed it will not have been a waste. Even if that meant relaxing in the motel room at night with a can of smoked baby oysters and a beer for dinner. Each day that came and went I relished more and more the amazing country that I was in. Snow covered mountains surrounded me at all times. There are few places more majestic than the Methow Valley in late Fall. This was, by definition, God’s Country.
When I started putting in for this tag years ago, I had visions of killing a trophy class mule deer. It’s funny how things change in ten years. I am nowhere near the same person I was back then. When it comes to why people hunt, I always say to each their own. If a trophy on the wall is what you seek, by all means, go for it.
For me, I am completely content with where this evolution has taken me. I did end up finding a buck to shoot on the morning of the fourth day. It was nothing like what I had envisioned, which was fine, none of that mattered anymore. More importantly to me was the sense of accomplishment that I felt. Not in killing a deer, but in overcoming the urge to quit and go home early. My boys are very skilled hunters and they got that way because I loved hunting. I just had to convince myself that I still did.