Jake Hamilton belted it out on the radio as I drove into the fading darkness. There was something electric and alive that day that seemed to super charge the air and, as if solar powered, the intensity grew even stronger with the rising sun. My thumbs drummed vigorously to the beat on my steering wheel; deer season was finally here.
My daughters and I arrived early the day before and my wife would be joining us after work later that day. It had been a long drive–almost five hours–to reach the Forest Service cabin we had rented. The girls wanted to relax after the trip, but I desperately needed to scout, so after unpacking the gear we hit the dusty road in search of a suitable hunting location for the next morning.
We drove around and checked out likely-looking spots. I brought photographs that I found on Goggle Earth, only to find that they weren’t everything the images promised. Area after area was either too thick or way too thin to still hunt. I was frustrated, and my optimism was waning because opening morning hung in the balance.
The girls and I had come up almost a month earlier to check things out, but we only had one night. We drove all over and walked a bit, but never really accomplished anything substantial. The time had been short and the drive long, and despite the many dusty miles I never really felt like I found a spot that screamed “Hunt here!” So we were pushing it now; throwing everything we had into this last minute scouting trip.
It was a welcomed distraction when a silver gray squirrel ran across the road and off into the brush. The girls both got out their bows and arrows and we began to stalk the furry little critter. They needed a break from riding in the van, and I needed a break from looking at the future of the next weeks’ worth of hunting.
My two huntresses pursued the wily little squirrel through the brush and never got a shot, but the excitement and adrenalin put a wide smile on both of their faces. My oldest daughter is at that tender age where it is just as easy to be embarrassed as it is to be in love. The youngest is still at that age where her whole economy runs on candy. So when we find that middle ground where both girls end up with a smile on their face, then it’s been a good day.
After the short hunt we headed back to the cabin to catch up with my wife, relax a bit and throw some arrows at a target. I was a little closer to knowing where I wanted to hunt, but I was not very confident. Like most of my life, this hunt would be done on the fly. It just seemed like a stressful way to start my relaxing hunt.
Opening morning I turned up a road that had an old burn through it. Green life grew against a backdrop of black ashes, and I hoped to find something feeding in the area. It wasn’t the best plan, but it got me started. I drove about a quarter mile when the dawn of the new morning highlighted a doe out feeding. Her presence ushered in a renewed sense of optimism as I started the day.
I found a place to park and slipped on my moccasins. I strapped on my backpack, checked the wind and then, in an almost surreal instant, I changed into a hunter. I guess maybe it’s weird to stop and think about that, but I guess I’m kind of weird because I did. Maybe it has to do with finally having license to be and do these things after waiting a whole past year.
With a lifted spirit and a light step I made my way up to an area that transitioned from timber to the burn. There was an old dusty trail that wound in between the burn, and the timber concealed the sound of my steps, so I followed it into the hope of the morning.
For me, the hardest part of hunting with a longbow is getting into a different mindset and just making myself slow down. Coming off of a long work week of running and trying to stay ahead of things, and then trying to dial it down to something that works in the woods is sometimes difficult for me, especially after yesterday’s last minute marathon scouting trip. With each step I took along the old dirt trail, I had to constantly remind myself to slow down.
Slowing down is so much more than a rate of speed. It’s remembering the quiet and the wind; how the trees move; learning again to blend back into something God-made. It is a total readjustment of our senses, which have learned to tune out so much in our day to day lives, and bringing those senses alive once again to take everything in. It’s learning to move at the speed of the longbow.
We are busy people. There are ladders to climb, families to raise and mortgages to pay. None of that seems to happen at a slow pace. Our career advancements, trying to get kids to soccer games and the fast food mentality have all become a hindrance to be unlearned with every step we take in the woods.
We often live so far in the future that we fail to realize the moment. We are always living three steps ahead of where our feet are planted. What that translates to, for us, is that we can see the deer over the next rise in our mind’s eye, but miss the one standing in bow range just inside the trees.
A transition needs to happen if we are to be successful. We need to think of nature less as something to be conquered and more as something to be lived in and enjoyed. Nature has to be tuned into, touched, tasted and experienced. It will not be rushed, pressed or ready in five minutes.
This slowing down is living beyond entitlement and the rushed existence that plagues our culture today. It’s learning to live in a moment in time that seeks not to gratify an all-consuming lust of self-riches, but richly gives of self in appreciation and gratitude in awe. It is in this spirit, and with this heart, that we move from the hectic empty void of consumerism and warped prerogative and transition into hunters; hunters who become part of the natural world around them. Our participation in this natural world is that of a student, a detective, a conservationist and ultimately a hunter. It is seldom understood by most, and even other hunters sometime fail to grasp it. It remains just out of reach for those who would cheapen the experience of the hunt with shortcuts and blood lust. And it is in this transition that the speed of the longbow is achieved.
At the end of the first day I finally slowed down enough that I got to witness a pine marten chasing a chipmunk. At first I wasn’t sure what was going on. I had just seen something black running toward me. As I stood still, I watched as a pine marten chased a chipmunk up and down and under and over a log less than 10 feet from me. I worked my camera out and started taking pictures, trying not to distract the hunter from his prey. It was amazing. Eventually the chipmunk made a fatal error and ran up a tree, and just as slick as wet soap the pine marten climbed that tree in a cork screw motion and snagged the chipmunk. With a couple of quick bites it was over and the chipmunk hung limp from the pine marten’s mouth.
It was then, as I positioned for another picture, that the pine marten realized I was there. I snapped a couple more photos as he had dinner hanging from his mouth. And as I turned to leave I wished him luck on his journey and thought about mine.
It was something I had never seen before in my life. Maybe it was a scene I’ll never witness again. But I know that had I not slowed down, the whole scene would have surely been lost, and my life would be a little less rich for having missed it.
As the day broke into evening, and the evening into dusk, I encountered a few deer along the way. Most of them had already been alerted to my presence by the ever-changing wind, and they bounded off before I could even determine if they were legal or not.
As I pulled in at the cabin, a sense of awe mixed with frustration dominated my emotions. There’s the frustration of having not scored, either because of the wind or failing to get slow enough or simply missing opportunities. And, in a strange way, it further builds as I relate the story to my wife. Though we are well taken care of (Thank You, Lord!) there’s still a pang in a sense of having failed as the hunter/provider of the family. I know that sounds primitive, but there it is. But as I related the story of the pine marten and the deer I’d seen and the encounters I had, I can’t help but stand in gratitude and thankfulness to have just been there, to have just played the game.
The next day I decided to head south into a different area and it proved to be a decent spot to hunt. I ended up spending a lot of time there during the remainder of the trip. I made some fun stalks, but much like the previous place, the wind was inconsistent and I was still relearning to slow down to longbow speed. But I had fun.
My most memorable stalk of the day was on a nice buck. Honestly I never even counted his points. His horns were tall and outside the ears, so that was good enough for me. The deer was with a smaller buck and, to my joy, I finally had the wind in my favor and it seemed to hold.
I made my way to where I had spotted them, but when I arrived they were no longer there. I slowly and quietly pressed into some thick brush where I figured they had gone. When I stopped to listen, I heard something walking away from me. I pressed farther into the brush, and as I did it began to open up into timber. I could hear movement about 30 yards away and slightly to my left. I nocked an arrow. As quietly as I could I moved slightly right of where the movement was coming from. The wind was blowing in that direction and I figured he would try to get downwind of me.
I pushed a little harder than I might have if I was hunting a local buck back home. I figured I would never hunt this guy again so I just went for it. I turned a little more to my right and headed deeper into the timber. About 30 yards or so inside the timber there was no sound, no movement. I waited. I measured every breath, felt every heart beat and tried to settle my nerves as best as I could. Minutes seem like hours and hope quickly dissipates with each second. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement. It was the buck I was stalking and he was about 30 yards in front of me trying to get downwind.
I wished I still had my moccasins on, but I didn’t. Luckily for me there was a deer trail going the same direction I needed to go. The trail was littered with sticks and debris, and I tried hard to not crunch anything as I moved to circle around the buck. If he got downwind of me it was all over. I broke out into an open area with a big downed tree in front of me, and I stopped and listened. Nothing. Maybe he slipped away while I couldn’t see him?
Then, just in front of me, slowly closing the distance was my buck. Thirty yards, 25 yards, 20 yards and then he stopped. He was looking at me but not seeing me, and I wasn’t moving. He was within my effective range but was facing me straight on and I will not take that shot. He eventually turned his head to look back toward where all the action had started. He was aware of something following him but wasn’t quite sure what it was. His head was behind a tree and I decided to press my luck. I took a small step forward and was rewarded with a crunch. Immediately the buck’s head turned back toward me. He looked for a minute, not really seeing me, and then turned and started to walk away. His vitals were covered with brush and I couldn’t get a shot.
I waited for a minute and tried to out-flank him again, but to no avail. The smaller buck, who had stayed out of the picture up until now, decided to leave the area a little bit faster than I would have liked, taking the big buck with him. I never did get around that buck again, but it was a great stalk and I left with my spirit high and praising God for the opportunity. It’s a great feeling and I felt a wide smile on my face. I didn’t feel rushed to perform or to kill, but just to be a part of my surroundings as a hunter, and it paid off in a memorable stalk.
One evening, later in the week, I was walking slowly when a doe and fawn appeared just in front of me. I paused and stood still as they passed by, well within bow range, unaware of my presence. It was a simple moment with little fanfare, but I felt as if I had finally found the speed I was looking for. It felt good.
Wednesday arrived too quickly and we packed up the cabin. I locked the gate for the last time and pointed my van toward home. The girls would ride home with my wife, and the five hour drive would give me time to relive the highlights of the week and consider the outcome. Though I did not end up with a deer, there was still plenty of season ahead of me. The memories of this hunt would play in my mind during the busy weeks to come taking me back to the hunt; a time enjoyed and lived at the speed of the longbow.
Author’s bio: Shane Jorgensen makes his home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley with his wife, Kim, and their two daughters, Avery and Constance. He is actively involved in his local church and loves to spend his free time in the woods.