“Hunt the Experience”

“The beginning is often a poor place to start the story of a duck hunt. The true devotee of the wind-swept autumn waters hunts many other things besides ducks. He hunts the unfolding secrets of the dawn and the message of the wind. He hunts the curling waves and the tossing tops of suppliant trees. He hunts the poignant loneliness of a tender, departing season and the boisterous advent of one more rigorous. All these he hunts and, old or young, he finds them as they were before—primordial, healing, and soothing to mankind in his whirling world of complexities.”

-Gordon MacQuarrie, “A Pot-Hole Rendezvous”

I hunt experiences. I’ve been very honest when asked. I hunt and fish to write and would’ve starved long ago if my life depended on it. I would do everything quite differently if forced to do so for sustenance.

A foolhardy squirrel hunting adventure recently added weight to these words. It involved a church charity contest pitting at least twenty firearm-wielding, small-game hunters with beagles against four idiots and their longbows. It didn’t end well for the idiots. It never has. We’ve yet to make a single harvest in several years of participation. We get up early, we fling arrows into the trees until we get hungry, then head back to the church for coffee and desserts while everyone else is weighing in. It’s been a riot. We wouldn’t change the laughs for all the squirrel cacciatore in the world.

It was during this hunt that my friend Cary, one of the aforementioned idiots, muttered something that really spun my wheels. We’d just whistled several shafts across the tail of a terrified black squirrel, when he muttered something about a gun. “Sometimes I do it for the feeling. Sometimes I do it for the groceries. When I’m doing it for the groceries, look out, it gets ugly.” I understood what he meant. I’d felt the same chasing turkeys on several occasions. There is nothing wrong with ugly. There is a time and place for ugly and there is a time and place for elegant. Both of them get the job done but the tools, processes, and frame of mind vary greatly.

Whichever you strive for depends on your goal — a successful harvest notwithstanding. That part is obvious. No one is fishing with empty lines or hunting with empty bowstrings. MacQuarrie wasn’t pumping an empty 12-gauge. His gun was loaded and ducks were shot, but that was only part of his experience — a small one at that. This was the running theme of his entire catalog of works and why I hold them close to my chest. In fact, I’ll be very sad if the friend from whom I borrowed them realizes they are missing.

I prefer classic outdoor literature to anything written today. The world was slower and it was a more romantic time. The pursuit was paramount — no matter the weapon or animal — and the results were always secondary. Hemingway took plenty of game in Green Hills of Africa but the results pale in comparison to detailed passages like this:

“To go down and up two hands-and-knee climbing ravines and then out into the moonlight and the long, too-steep shoulder of mountain that you climbed one foot up to the other, one foot after the other, one stride at a time, leaning forward against the grade and the altitude, dead tired and gun weary, single file in the moonlight across the slope, on up and to the top where it was easy, the country spread in the moonlight, then up and down and on, through the small hills, tired but now in sight of the fires…”

-Ernest Hemingway, “Green Hills of Africa”

He didn’t have the storytelling tools we have at our disposal today. He had to invest time and words to set the mood and make the mundane elements interesting. That is where the real art was made. Writers like Hemingway and MacQuarrie excelled at keeping the romance alive when sharing their experiences. They understood that every outdoor adventure had a predictable beginning and end, and focused on the poetry in the middle. Their audience was less distracted, in addition, and had more time to read and appreciate what they were reading. That isn’t the case, today. The world is too noisy.

Storytelling is different now. The audience is different now. People live post-to-post, sharing the bulk of their lives with the masses. Hunters can shoot a deer, post a photo or video, and summarize the story in very few words. Most have nothing to show if there isn’t an animal on the ground or a fish in their hands. The average sportsmen doesn’t want to read a paragraph about returning to camp or watch a fishing video without a monster trout on the line. There is too much content available to appreciate what is being seen. We are over-saturated.

Think about the last time you had a lackluster day afield and thought “well…nothing worth posting about happened this trip”. I have. And I can guarantee many of you have as well.

Chew on that a moment, think about how insane it is, then remember these words:

“It may not have been post-worthy but it was absolutely worthwhile.”

My friend and podcasting partner Steve (Angell) called me to chat awhile back. He told me he wanted to start using the phrase “hunt the experience” for Traditional Outdoors. I loved it. I thought it fit the show and was a fantastic message to send. We started using it the next day and its been our creed ever since. Steve even made a video about it. He’s proud of it and I am proud of him for making it.

Check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it. It says everything it needs to say without saying anything at all.

You can watch the Hunt the Experience video here. If you haven’t, please check out our podcast and consider subscribing. We would love to have you at our campfire. If you are interested in Gordon MacQuarrie, I highly recommend you start here. It is a fantastic read. Follow it up with the Ol’ Duck Hunter trilogy if you enjoy it. It changed my life. Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook if you want to talk outdoor literature and have recommendations. I can’t get enough of it and can give your recommendations, as well.

A “Forest Bath”

A beautiful Autumn reflection.

In a recent Facebook post, I joked about people buying Life and Longbows overseas and being “somewhat relevant in Japan”. A friend commented the popularity of outdoor activities, such as Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” in jest and peaked my curiosity. A quick search led me to a Time Magazine article titled “The Benefits of Forest Bathing” by Dr. Qing Li, who wrote the following about the activity and his book on the topic:

This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world. – Dr. Qing Li

I stopped there. There was no need to read any further. I knew exactly what Dr. Qing was referring to, having experienced something similar a few days prior.

It was a beautiful Autumn evening and I’d made it my mission to spend it at my favorite public land spot in search of the elusive Michigan Whitetail. The 2019 season had been a bust thus far. My work and family life were busy, which meant my hunting life was non-existent. I tend to get irritable when that happens and was looking forward to something more than snappy emails and tornado-stricken playrooms. I needed something green, red, yellow and eventually brown.

I arrived to find the dirt parking lot empty, which was a fantastic start. A Saturday evening in October was almost always a crowded affair here. The odds seemed to be shifting in my favor and I was sure that fate was on my side. I stepped out of the car, slipped my longbow from its sock, and climbed the familiar path into a sea of maples, oaks, and firs.

Opening the senses wouldn’t be a problem. The sight, sounds, and smells of the natural world were well known to every bowhunter and a bow in the hand always meant an adventure afoot. I expected nothing less that evening and would receive more than I bargained for.

The hike in was perfect. The birds began to chirp, the squirrels began to chatter, and the wet ground muffled my feet enough to hear it all the better. I slipped into a trance of sorts. My mind was light and my heart was full. I felt connected to everything and there was a “rightness” in the air that was difficult to explain. I prayed it would never end.

Was this Shinrin-yoku? Possibly. The gap to the natural world had indeed been bridged but I wasn’t ready for what awaited me on the other side.

My hunting spot sat atop a ridge of red oaks with pine barrens to the west and a marshy creek to the east. It was a well-used whitetail corridor and I believed a savvy bowhunter could do well with a little patience and the proper wind. I had plenty of both that night but would need to cross the creek to make it happen.

With a depth of 6-8″ and a width of 2-3′ feet it wasn’t the most formidable body of water in the state, but what it lacked in statistics it made up for with annoyance. We had a history – this creek and I. I’d crossed it dozens of times and always ended up dirtier on the other side, regardless of the approach. I was certain the result of this trip would be the same and I didn’t care. It kept other hunters away and that was fine with me. Besides, I was one with the forest – Shinrin-yoku – and not at all concerned with muddy boots. I confidently strolled to the bank, stepped to the edge and prepared to jump.

I’d never been a fan of jumping. I disliked it when I was a chunky ten-year-old and loathed it post-35 when everything started to hurt. It was an awkward skill and I always looked awkward doing it. I learned early on that some of us were born to soar and others to sink, which is exactly what my left foot did before leaving the bank – it sank – the instant I put pressure on it. I was on my backside, staring at a muddy stump with little hope of freeing the leg beneath it.

The soothing serenity of the evening vanished, as I shoveled through the mud and muck. Shinrin-yoku had become too literal for my taste. My senses were still open but the stimuli had changed for the worst. I’d traded leaves for mud, mosquitos for birds, and crisp Autumn air for the smell of my own sweat. I was angry, humiliated, and planned on leaving the moment I freed myself.

Then something peculiar happened. With a final yank, my boot popped free, and relief followed. My anxiety was gone and I felt terrific – even better than I had before the accident happened. The hunt would continue. I scraped my mud-caked boot against a tree, and proceeded up the ridge to finish the hunt. It was cold, my pants were wet, and the rest of the evening was uneventful, but none of it mattered. I sat there, grinning like a fool, until the sun sank behind the pines.

Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness. – Dr. Qing Li

Now that I know more about Dr. Qing Li and forest bathing, I can’t help but wonder if he had considered scenarios like these when he wrote his book. Would he consider my forest bath a “forest bath” and add “sinking into a muddy hole” to his list of ways to connect to nature?

I doubt it. But he should.

If you like what you are reading, please consider buying my book, Life and Longbows. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. You can also purchase a personalized copy on this site. Visit my Bookshelf to do so. If you like outdoor related content in podcast form, check out the Traditional Outdoors podcast.