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!

“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.