Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hunting for ... something

Well, another hunting season passes, and another winter with an empty freezer approaches.

See, this hunting thing is my longest on-going life futility. I have been carrying my own weapon in the woods most years since I was fifteen, and I have yet to leave those woods hauling anything but my rifle or bow and a headful of lovely autumn scenery (so it's not an entirely fruitless enterprise).

I now realize, after four decades, during which I've hunted at least half of those years, this ongoing lack of a kill is beyond any reasonable or rational law of averages, and well into the realm of statistical significance. (Fuzzy math, but trust me on this.) And I know (I swear!) that it's not just because I suck at hunting: I've many times gotten within kill range of animals, but have not been able to take a shot because they were either the wrong species or gender, or because I didn't have a clear line of sight.

Hell, just this year while elk hunting, I found what I thought would be good spot, where two forested drainages with running creeks came together. So I sat down for a long, quiet wait. After a while, four deer came right out where I thought they would. (Well, where I thought elk would, actually.) I practiced sighting my rifle as they milled about for about fifteen minutes ... until I finally had to shoo them away as they eventually walked right up to me.

That to me means it's something else.

So I go back to the woods every year anyways. Whatever the purpose is behind this divinely-intervened (I hypothesize) lack of success, I still love being out there. Because, meat-making or not, the hunting itself still wields a potent impact that is thoroughly unlike anything else.

See ... on the surface hunting is about getting an animal -- hence the definition of a "successful" or "unsuccessful" hunt. But, even though I've never bagged and elk or deer, my hunts have always been successful in other ways that are nonetheless valuable and important to me.

In a nutshell, hunting is like a redneck version of a multi-day-long silent Buddhist retreat. (Or, as I like to think of myself, Buddhish.)

In broader terms, when you hunt you move across the landscape in a way that is unlike any other type of woods-walking -- or unlike any sort getting around anywhere anytime. You walk differently hunting. And I mean "walking" in the grandest sense: How you move through the world -- the real, tangible world, right there, within arm's- and eye's-length. You're present. And you're moving deliberately, consciously, with concentration. And you not only move differently, but you look differently. And, hence, see differently. And listen. And smell. And feel. And -- the true sixth sense -- even think differently.

This is our most natural state. And so hunting engages our senses in the way they were evolved to be used -- and in ways we so little use them in our normal daily worlds. So I think it's good to blow on those ancestral genetic embers occasionally. And nothing does that like hunting -- not trail running or mountain biking or hiking. Those are all good ways of getting out, but hunting is an extreme, concentrated version of that.

Hunting is a tincture of attention, the crack of concentration, a profoundly powerful dose of presence. So I go again, every year, back to the woods.  Because despite my futility, I still feel no frustration.

It's all about what you're hunting for.

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