For a few months every fall, my life revolves around hunting. As the days grow shorter and the nights colder, I begin prepping for the hunt. I start scouting my sites, clearing trails, reading sign and tracks, fine tuning my self-made osage bow, praying, fasting, and creating ceremony around the deer that I intend to harvest. Every extra moment I have to spare I use it for prepping for the hunt.
This pre-planning helps me feel connected to my landscape and the deer. Having a successful hunt is nice, but my main intention in hunting is creating deep connection and sense of belonging to my landscape. Furthermore, the better I know the in’s and out’s of my landscape the more likely I will be to have a successful hunt.
Once the actual season arrives and I start sitting at my blind, my intentions and focus only intensify.
For example, last year, I was stumped for the first few hunts. Almost every night I watched a lone doe come in to my area, but I could never get a shot at her. Sometimes she would sniff me out, sometimes she took a different route than I was anticipating, but always she evaded me. A game of cat and mouse developed.
Because of my inability to get close enough for a shot, I felt myself enter deeper into the hunt. Instead of seeing it as a failure, I instead took every missed opportunity as a chance to learn more about hunting, the deer and my landscape.
The deer’s awareness beckoned me to see what I was missing. Her avoidance of me highlighted my blind spots, and her ability to sense me invited me deeper into the hunt and into the interconnected story of my landscape.
After watching her many times from my tree stand, I came out early before the hunt one afternoon to see if I could answer any of the mysteries that were stumping me:
“How can I get closer for a better shot?” “What is she thinking?” “Where did she bed down last night?” “How did she smell me?” “What is it like to move so slowly and quietly?” “How did she disappear so fast?”
I walked the trails she walked, while pondering and looking for answers. I scoured the land for any clue that might help me understand the situation more. I looked at the forest from her perspective and eventually I began to imitate her.
I embodied her. I became her. I walked her trails and my feet became hooves and I felt her strong, yet relaxed limbs walk silently on the yellow and red fallen maple leaves of the trail.
My nose raised into the cold wind and I smelled the air with intense caution in the same way I watched her do so many times. Through this acting, I realized how she picked up my scent, and how I could change my game plan to get a shot.
After making some changes to my hunting approach, I found myself closer to the doe. She was nearly in shooting range, and as she walked close to my new stand site. I watched her move delicately and silently.
While I hunted her, she hunted me first. She searched for my scent and any sign of danger. With sharp, dark eyes she scanned the landscape patiently and without rest. Her large ears pivoted and searched for any din that may have given her any sign of danger. Through her actions, perhaps she, in a similar way to my process, became me. Her ability to sense me, the hunter, made her a better deer.
I witnessed and respected her ability to move effortlessly through the woods and her trust in her instincts. As she moved closer to my range, my heart thumped out of my chest with excitement. My palpitations felt so loud, I was afraid she could hear them.
As she sniffed the ground she smelled me again. I imagined her heart began racing too. Suddenly our hearts became synced up at an accelerated pace and for a few brief moments just before sunset, amongst the maples and the cool wind, we become one. And as one, we danced in this sacred, ancient, hunter// hunted celebration. Both of us benefiting and becoming better because of the hunt.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, she walked close enough within my range that I drew my arrow on my bow and without thinking, let the arrow fly. A sudden burst of sound in the quiet woods broke the baseline silence.
I saw the doe run off. “What happened?” I see my arrow in sticking out of the ground. The fletchings of the arrow signaling a miss. No blood, no hit.
I shot above her, or perhaps she “string jumped” my bow and dodged the arrow (not uncommon with deer who know something is hunting them). Regardless of why I missed, she once again bested my attempts and invited me deeper into the hunt.
Although I am sad about the miss I am thrilled to have the experience. I feel more deeply connected to my landscape than I did before hunting season, and I will always share that moment with that doe.
This is why hunting feels so sacred to me. Hunting has been the most constant part of life on Earth for Millenia. Yin and Yang, life and death. I am honored to partake in it just as our ancestors have done since the dawn of time.
Yes, I kill animals even if I don’t have to in order to live. However, no matter what we do as consumers in this world we are takers. Even if we only live off of plants and fruits, we still take nutrients from the soil, habitat from wildlife, and life from Earth. Life cannot exist without death. The question is not “how can we avoid death”, but rather “how intimate can I get to death?” and “how can I be a part of the natural cycles of death?”
Instead of being detached from those forms of death most people partake in everyday, I prefer to live in close contact with the life I choose to take. I strive to live in relation with my food sources, especially those that keep landscapes wild and less disturbed.
There is nothing I have found more connective than hunting with intention, with love, with prayer, with awareness.
This is why we offer the Sacred Hunt class at Holistic Survival School. In this class we help people learn the introductory material to start hunting and also share some of the more ceremonial aspects of hunting, in order to help us learn how to connect more deeply regardless of the outcome of the hunt.
Are you a hunter? Would you ever try hunting? What stops you from hunting?