The Great Outdoors: How Do You Define a Great Hunt?

huntingHow do you define a great hunt? The answers are as varied as those that pursue wild game and fowl.

Age is one big factor that may color a hunter’s definition.

The perspective of a 10-year-old is so different than that of one who has hunted for 30 or even 50 years.

How one hunts has a direct effect on judging the particular merits of a time in the field.

For a bow hunter stationed in a tree stand, waiting patiently for a trophy buck to come within range, how does that person define his experience when a black bear comes near and puts its front feet on the ladder of his stand, but no deer show up? I’d say that’s an easy call.

How about the houndsman who chases rabbits, raccoons, or bobcats with his loyal pack of dogs. The bigger game one chases, the odds decline of bringing something to the bag.

But, does it really matter? In my opinion, hardly.

Watching a well-trained pack chase its quarry and listening to their howls and squeals of delight as they chase their quarry is akin to a religious experience for many. Seeing the determination and drive of the dogs is a joyous occasion.

Some deer hunters define a hunt by the size of the antlers of a buck they bag. While that’s fine, sometimes those outsized expectations can lead to a lesser appreciation of the hunt.

Yes, we all have days where we come home empty-handed and didn’t even see anything remotely interesting. Nevertheless, they do make us appreciate the more compelling outings a little bit more.

My deer season turned out quite a bit different than I had imagined.

The day after Thanksgiving, Brandi and I took a long walk across State Game Lands 244 near Reynoldsville. I was trying to pinpoint a spot to stand on opening morning, and after a number of hours walking and exploring, I felt I had a good idea of what to do come Monday morning. Then, things changed.

On Saturday morning, the phone rang. It was a nurse from Jefferson Manor calling with news that we thought we were all prepared for. My mom had died. She had dealt with Alzheimer’s and dementia for a number of years, and she had nearly passed a month earlier. Losing a member of your family that you know to be the backbone of it was difficult to accept, but the feelings were tempered by the fact that she was no longer suffering and was in a much better place.

My excitement for the first day of buck season disappeared for a bit while we made the necessary arrangements to celebrate her remarkable life.

I really wasn’t even sure I’d go out, but the outdoors has always been my sanctuary where I can put the difficult things in life aside for a time. And, both of my parents had fostered and loved the outdoors as well, so it was all something we have enjoyed together for many years. So, Monday morning found me in the woods for a few hours, but my heart wasn’t really into it, and there were other things that needed my attention.

I really don’t recall much of the season, but there wasn’t much happening. There wasn’t any snow, it didn’t look like deer season, and my enthusiasm was not very high. However, toward the end of the second week, a brief storm passed through the area, dropping a few inches of fresh snow and dropping temperatures into the 20’s with wind chills much lower. While I wasn’t thrilled with the cold, the snow still makes me feel like a kid.

Friday was the next to last day of the regular season, and I had returned to the Game Lands with the idea of hunting the area I had planned to on the first day. When I pulled into the parking area, there was no one there, and that made me feel good. It was quiet in the woods, and I moved to where I eventually stood without making too much of a disturbance. It took me about 40 minutes to arrive at “my” spot, but the walk was worth it as I didn’t encounter any other hunters. I thought I had dressed warm enough to endure the cold for a few hours before moving, but I was wrong.

It was cold!

I had placed the bottle of water I brought with me by the hemlock tree I was standing under, and when I picked it up, a good amount of ice had formed in it, and that was just in about an hour’s time!

I liked where I was standing, but I gave in, gathered my gear, and moved about 100 yards from where I had been. I was still watching the same bench, but it was a little more open. I leaned the 30-06 up against a tree and had hardly gotten settled when a noise and flash of brown to my left put my spirits into overdrive. There were three deer, and they had quickly moved down the bank onto the bench below me. They weren’t spooked, and they were probably trying to find a place out of the wind where the acorns were thick on the forest floor.

As the lead doe – the largest of the trio – passed below me, I squeezed the trigger and just like that, the hunt was over. There would be sausage making, grilled tenderloins and roasts in the slow cooker….Outstanding!

By the time I dressed the deer and made the long drag out of the woods, it was noon. As I loaded the deer into the back of the Jeep, I saw the tracks of two hunters who had arrived after me and departed before. Outlasting others in the woods does give me a little satisfaction, particularly when I have brought a deer out.

For me, that hunt was as satisfying as any I’ve experienced.

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“The Great Outdoors,” sponsored by the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors, is a weekly blog by exploreClarion.com’s Scott Shindledecker. Plan your next outdoor adventure at VisitPAGO.com or call (814) 849-5197 for more information.


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