Reflections on My First Deer Hunting Season

It seems like it’s been a long while since I first got the itch to hunt; so long that I don’t remember when. I imagine it was while living in Florida, and likely after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Despite having been enlisted in the Army during the Cold War, having earned the High Firers trophy in basic training with the M16A1 (1983), and having been raised to target shoot by my father (a Marine) as a child (and by my mother as a teen), I spent a solid 15 or so years left of center in a California state of mind. The attacks changed me at my core; or perhaps more accurately, brought me back to who I truly was at my core… but that’s a story for a different venue.

Needless to say; for over 10 years I was, what some would label, a “poser.” I wore hunting t-shirts, joined Women In The Outdoors (WITO) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). By the time I was stationed in Kansas in 2011 (as an Army Civilian), I had already been a lifetime member of the North American Hunting Club for several years (as well as the North American Fishing Club) and subscribed to almost 10 hunting magazines! I had gone so far as to research hunting opportunities through WITO and NRA, and even earned my Hunter Education certificate while living in Florida. Yet, I didn’t hunt.

Several factors played into my lack of action. I believe first and foremost was my disability. Knees and back aside; having survived cancer by having my shoulder bone and surrounding muscle removed left me feeling vulnerable. It’s one thing to act like I’m not disabled in a work environment where I can conveniently keep my left hand in my front pocket to avoid movement; it’s another thing entirely to face nature with weaponry I wasn’t sure I could handle.

It was my disability which scared me into not taking my son camping when he was little… for fear I would not be able to defend him. Living in California, in the San Francisco-Bay Area, with a 70% disability in my left shoulder created a perfect recipe for learned helplessness. But I digress.

The other main reason I hadn’t begun to hunt was my lack of knowledge. Where would I hunt? Would I be safe? What do I do once I’ve killed the animal? How do I get it home? Unlike here in Kansas, where I have been blessed to be friends with a land owner (whose friendship I value in many ways beyond hunting) who mentored my hunting “coming out,” I didn’t know anyone who hunted before. I imagine most hunters learned to hunt beginning in childhood, taught by a respected adult. Many women learn via brothers or husbands. Most women do not, that I know of, jump into hunting in the middle of their lives just because they want to. Thankfully, I was eventually able to do just that.

The extended season for deer hunting has only been over in my unit for five days, but already I’ve reflected back over the past hunting season, and begun looking forward to the next. In all, I spent over 80 hours hunting between September and January. It took just over 40 hours in bow season to bag my first deer. I spent another 40 during rifle season with no prize to show for my efforts; but having learned much, and having succeeded at challenging myself in ways I never suspected I would. I visited with my chiropractor this afternoon, an avid hunter, and we discussed my rifle season exploits. He gave me kudos for sitting in a blind in sub-zero temperatures in an attempt to get another deer; and he stated that he wouldn’t even do that! I laughed and replied I probably won’t ever again either.

To take my experience and add knowledge to it, I started watching a DVD I purchased: SHE’s Beyond the Lodge; a compilation of episodes from season one of the series sponsored by SHE apparel for women (www.shesafari.com and www.basspro.com), and reading hunting tips online. One piece of information I garnered is that bow hunting takes a lot of effort, and many people hunt for seasons before bagging their first deer. I do understand that compound bow and crossbow are not equal in the eyes of bow hunters. Compound bow takes an enormous amount of skill, given that the hunter doesn’t draw the string back until the prey is in sight, and then aims and releases the arrow. Shooting a compound bow, from the perspective of loading the weapon, is more like my bolt-action rifle; my string is already drawn back with the arrow in place before any prey are sighted. None the less, the skill of successfully hitting the prey remains similar. An arrow just doesn’t fly like a bullet.

This led me to ponder how truly blessed I am, and how amazing it actually is for my very first deer kill to be with my crossbow after only 40 hours of hunting – at age 52 with a disability. And even more amazing still, that I caught it on video!

Yet, I realize I have much I still need to learn about hunting. Some things I will read in periodicals and online, some information I will get from hunting videos, but most of it will come from trial and error; being out in the woods and experiencing the hunt… hours of sitting, watching and listening, waiting for a target to appear. In the book Outliers, the author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before someone becomes proficient at their skill. That’s no small amount of effort and experience.

As a hunter, I have only 9,920 hours to go….

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