At Dawn or Dusk

There are moments during a hunt where I’ve been spellbound by the life around me. It is in these moments that society loses its grip and I become attuned to the natural state of things. These are tangible moments. I can smell the air change and hear the quiet ringing in my ears. And when I blink, a simpler world appears before me. This is when I am the most affected and effective. This is when I know I am hunting.

Getting to this place hasn’t been easy. The modern world is noisy and complicated. Shutting it off and stepping away has been my greatest challenge. It’s been hard to focus on the things that matter in a state of constant interruption, even when surrounded by the natural world.

Bowhunting has taught me many things in the last ten years. The most important is that there is always a dusk and there is always a dawn. And it is during these moments of transition where the the things that matter become clearer.

Both begin with a calm. Always. Everything seems to settle at the same time. The trees, the animals, and the birds all seem to stop moving in unison. It’s as if they struck some kind of unanimous accord unbeknownst to the observing tourist. Whether orchestrated by natural forces or fabricated by my fragile human mind, I don’t know. But it always happens the same way at the same time and it is a wonder to witness.

A ringing of the ears follow — not because of a loud or persistent noise — but due to the lack thereof. We’ve all heard the phrase “the silence was deafening” and that is the best way to describe it. You hear nothing but everything, and it seems to last a very long time. An exclamation point marked with precision to prepare the senses for what is to come.

The birds are the first to break the silence. They are the most active during these times and are focused on calories. The evening conversation is dominated by busy wrens, thrush, chickadees, and the occasional whip-poor-will. Their song is one of hustle and purpose save for the mighty barred owl, who interjects only to let you know it is there and that death follows on the wing.

Dawn’s chorus has a similar cast yet the tune sounds different to my ears. The celebratory tones are full of hope and promise and seem to build with the rising sun. This could be my interpretation of a simple event, but I’ve heard it enough to remember the tune and know the words. I prefer the song of Spring and its early morning robins and gobbling turkeys. There is nothing more electric to my ears than the powerful thrum of a mature tom lusting for a hen. It is powerful. It is primal. And it will make you feel microscopic.

But as wonderful as the birds are, it is the furry and four-legged that summon this bowhunter to Autumn’s cold woods. The whitetail deer is the object of my affection and the feature presentation of either showing. While the always energetic squirrel excels in its cameos, the elusive whitetail has real star power. It’s the anticipation of this magnificent animal that sets the mood. When things are predictable, the whitetail is often unpredictable. In times of hustle, they move with poise. And when it is time for flight, they do so with a grace and elegance unrivaled by any other living thing.

Hunting this worthy animal at such a special time is intimate and spiritual. The details have a way of sticking with you. I’ve seen saliva drip from the jowls of a rutting buck within feet of my shaking longbow. I’ve been alone in the dark with a doe and welled-up as she took her last breath. I know how awful it feels to “give an animal time” when every inch of you wants to go find it. And I know how wonderful it is to shake your buddy’s hand and see his smiling face in the beam of your flashlight.

I’ve absorbed these experiences and many others from a decade’s worth of dawns and dusks. And take comfort in knowing where to look when I get lost in the noise.

Thank you for reading. 2020 has been a rough year for all of us. I apologize for my absence and hope to share with you on a more consistent basis. I am currently working on my second book and hope to publish it in 2021. Stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, you can find me on the Traditional Outdoors Podcast and on the Facebook Community of the same name. Good luck and stay safe!

No Squirrels Harmed

Archers

In my social circle of “avid” traditionalists, the phrase “small game hunting” should be amended to “small game trying”. Though many would question the accuracy of that statement, as well.

Every year, as the sun sets on deer season, empty promises are belched over the roar of the campfire and into the woods beyond for every squirrel, hare, and partridge to hear, remember, and immediately forget.

“Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do more of…squirrel hunting. I was covered up in them this year!”

“Me too. Portly blacks and noisy reds mostly. I even had a wirey old gray rummaging through my daypack yesterday. Tried to eat my damn Snickers bar!”

“Had several opportunities, myself! Squirrels the size of house cats no further apart than you and I. Too lazy to shoot.”

“You’ve gotta shoot those! Squirrel cacciatore!”

“Catch them? Why would I want to do that?”

I’ve heard statements like this repeated year-after-year with very little follow up. Michigan tends to go dark from late December to early April. Archers are too busy joining indoor leagues, tying flies, ice fishing, tuning turkey calls, or dodging potholes to brave the elements for a bagful of rodents.┬áThe one exception, as far as my band of stick-flinging cronies is concerned, is the annual small game competition at Whitneyville Bible Church in early February.

This particular gathering has been a blessing in disguise for the longbow-toting, winter weary Michigander. While the bulk of its contestants are parishioners with beagles and .22 caliber rifles, a handful of foolhardy outsiders have made it a point to brave the elements with blunted arrows and the hopes that we’ll run over several with the truck on the way there.

That never happens (in case you’re wondering). If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all and the closest thing to a success was convincing an old, stressed out gray to leap to his death from atop a maple by pestering him with our arrows. Even then, he survived the endeavor, and cursed us all to a lifetime of poor shooting afield.

We’ve had few encounters since and would love nothing more than to blame our lack of opportunities on squirrel sorcery. But I am a realist and positive our ineptitude has more to do with bad hunting than luck. The following outline of a typical Whitneyville hunt should illustrate my point.

Disclaimer: This timeline probably isn’t historically accurate but I can assure you that all of the events are 100% factual.

7 a.m. – We meet at a pre-determined place and the hunt officially starts.

7:30 a.m. – We examine each other’s new gear acquisitions.

8 a.m. – We finish our coffee, string our bows, and toss movie quotes at each other while laughing like idiots.

8:30 a.m. – We don our orange and start walking.

9 a.m. – We take a break to talk about things that irritate us — and bourbon.

10 a.m. – We get back to “hunting”.

10:30 a.m. – We take another break to complain about the weather, the rising coyote population, and why we aren’t seeing anything to shoot at.

11:00 a.m. – We get bored and decide to shoot stumps.

Noon – We run out of stumps but empty our quivers into an open field “just to see how far the arrows go”.

1 p.m. – We collect our arrows and argue about Michigan hunting regulations — and beer.

2 p.m. – We get back to the truck and realize the hunt is over, which is fine because we are hungry anyway and know the church provides chili dogs at the weigh-in.

2:30 p.m. – We fill our faces and hope to win the door prize, while everyone everyone else gives thanks for the woodland bounty adorning their truck beds.

Now, I should clarify a thing or two, less you judge us too harshly. If subjected to heavy questioning, every bowmen in the party would confess this is not the way you harvest a snowshoe hare or Michigan squirrel. However, those same folks would testify to it being the perfect formula for a good time.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

I would personally like to thank MLA members Sheri and Matt Stoutjesdyk for inviting us to this event every year and the fantastic folks at Whitneyville Bible Church for having us. We’ll keep coming as long as we are tolerated!