By Jake Dykstra
Now that it’s a few days before Christmas, most of this past year’s deer hunting seasons have come to or are shortly coming to a close. The Michigan whitetail deer archery season starts October 1st . Come November 15, those who haven’t yet filled their tags (myself included) or those who haven’t the desire to bow hunt, can bring out their rifles and shotguns for the two-week gun season Michigan offers. If by chance the hunter still has not harvested the deer they desired (myself included) the state of Michigan offers a late season Muzzleloader hunt extending from December 5-21. Most hunters by now are burned out, whether it be from cold temperatures, lack of deer sightings, or quite possibly the firm assurance from the spouse that enough is enough, and its time to hang up the hunting gear for another year. However, for the few die hards out there that have managed to make it up to this point with empty tags (myself included), there is still a late season antlerless whitetail hunt from December 22 through January 1.
As I sit here in the living room, sipping coffee and listening to the fire crackle, I can’t help but wonder how to make a seemingly uneventful and even disappointing hunting season appeal to you as the reader. After all, every successful hunting story has the obligatory picture or footage of the monster buck harvested, right? It seems more and more these days, regardless of the quarry hunted or fished, the success of the season is measured by the weight of the fish or the size of the rack, myself included. But is that what being a Woodsbum is all about? As much as I’d love to write, that in the ensuing paragraphs, you’ll find that picture of a monster buck harvested by myself with the hunt filmed from start to finish, that would be false advertisement. Rather, I would like to take you through the deer season as a fellow Woodsbum, sharing just a few of the small moments from the field that further molded me into becoming a better Woodsbum.
One of the advantages of being a Woodsbum is having the ability to view nature in a way that very few others can. Being an avid outdoorsman, I enjoy watching the deer just as much as I enjoy harvesting a good deer. The third day of my season I was sitting in the tree, watching a doe and her still spotted fawn feed comfortably 15 yards away from me in the bean field. Suddenly, the doe was in full alert mode, and coming down the field towards the pair was a red fox. Regardless of what the intentions of the fox was, it didn’t like the presence of the doe anymore than the doe appreciated the presence of the fox. After a brief stare down between the two, the doe soon bolted towards the little canine and ran him out of the field.
I couldn’t help but wonder how the outcome would have been different had the doe not been there to protect her young. Three weeks later I was once again reminded of this when a lone fawn meandered beneath my stand for quite some time. As small as this deer was, it was hard to imagine this fawn could survive the winter let alone fend off any predators.
It’s hard to describe the feelings one experiences when they can go completely unnoticed in a world that seems so foreign to them. There’s almost a sense of unity between the hunter and their surroundings. Whether it’s having a deer directly below you smelling the treestand you walked up, or having a one sided conversation with a squirrel that you seemed to have inconvenienced with your presence, there’s always a sense of accomplishment in itself just being able to be one with nature, completely undetected.
As I write this I’m reminded of the opening day of shotgun season. My fiancé climbed the tree with me to enjoy a chilly morning in the woods. Shortly after 8:00A.M. and having passed a few does earlier on, a large doe walked in front of us at a mere 10 yards. My fiancé turned toward me and asked if I wanted her to take the shot, to which I responded, “That is totally up to you.” The adult doe fed in front of us for quite some time before she wandered back into the woods. When the remaining deer ventured out of sight, she turned to me and said, “I couldn’t shoot, that was the closest I’ve ever been to a deer before. All I wanted to do was enjoy it and see how long it would stay so close.” What a successful hunt! Not one but two hunters were successfully able to merge into their surroundings, without leaving a trace, and had the opportunity to just sit and enjoy the morning with all its activities.
On one of the last hunts of December, I was on my way out to the field trying to decide where to sit. It was raining, windy, and with temperatures only in the 40’s, I really didn’t want to be out in a tree in the first place. But, with an empty freezer to yet fill, I made my way out to the field and decided to sit over a small clover patch surrounded by pine trees. Due to the weather, I opted on sitting on the ground below the pine boughs out of the wind and rain. I really didn’t have any high expectations, having sat the last week and a half six times without seeing any deer. This sit wouldn’t prove to be any different, but at a few minutes past 5, I had something happen that I never had experienced before. Upon hearing a leaf crunch, I turned around, only finding myself face to face with a beautiful red fox whose path was beneath the same pine tree I was sitting under. Only and arm and a half’s length away from one another, the fox stared at me, and upon realizing what I was, quickly scampered into the woods.
Its hard to put into words the excitement felt during such encounters, and I hate to admit during this hunting season I seemed to have lost sight of what being a Woodsbum was all about. It isn’t the tags that are filled or the big bucks that are harvested, but rather being a Woodsbum in the deer woods is to be a part of something much bigger. It’s being able to enjoy what always seemed so distant, up close. It’s being able to have the encounters that are only believable to those who have witnessed them personally. It’s being able to share such experiences first hand with those you love. It’s these encounters that have the ability to shape who you are. American author Orison Marden said it best, “Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes – every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man.”