Mid October brings along a turning point in the seasons. Half the trees have lost their golden colours to a blustery day, a skiff of snow dusts the mountains at higher elevations and darkness falls before dinner is on the table. Gone are the days where your morning layers need to be shed by mid-day; the chill never quite leaves the air, even when the sun beams down on you.
This tends to be the time of year that things start to kick up in the bush. Bare branches increase sightlines and the dropping mercury stirs that primal instinct in animals. For some, that’s migration; others, a feeding frenzy before burrowing in for a long winter’s nap. In our region, the two-legged, hairless and furless creatures (that’s us!) are hit with the realization that, for all intents and purposes, there is only one month left to put some meat in the freezer before the grasp of winter tightens around us for good.
That drive to get out there, to put something in the freezer to feed my family for the winter, inspires me to get out on those days when it would be much easier to just snuggle deeper into the blankets. But it is not the driving force behind repeating the madness day after day, most often without any success – if success is defined by meat in the freezer or photos with your harvest or antlers on the wall.
When I look back at past hunting seasons, there are few fleeting moments where success came my way. I have spent more time with frozen fingers, frozen toes, sore feet, sore legs and a sore back than I really care to reminisce on. I’ve seen big bulls in a spike-fork region and no bulls in an any-bull season. Big bucks have taunted me by showing up prior to the season or after the season, while young bucks frolic during a four-point-only time of year. Mountains have been climbed, only to be greeted with a 10-foot view of fog so dense that it soaks you to your bone before the hunt even really gets started. Swamps have been slogged through, lakes circumnavigated and dense alders bushwhacked only to come back to camp with wet feet and purple bruises. If my definition of success hinged on what went in my freezer or on my wall, I should have hung up the old huntin’ boots long ago.
Luckily, at the end of the year the memories I find myself cherishing the most are the trips that built character and stamina. The ones where not a single fresh track was seen, let alone a legal animal. The moments where I held my breath as a doe and her fawn walked past, oblivious to the hunter tucked in behind a tree only feet away. The taste of warm hot chocolate hitting my lips after a long, cold, day in the bush. The shared trials and limited tribulations with some of the most important people in my life. Those are some of the ways outdoorsmen and women define their accomplishments in a season – in this way of thinking, I am certain I am not alone. There is so much to a successful hunting season, when you look beyond the hunt.