Five lessons from a successful hunting season

My first hunting season since 1996 turned out to be a failure — at least if you judge success or failure of a hunt on bagging a buck. But all my quiet time — or not-so-quiet-time some days — gave me lots of time to think.

And as a writer, I spend plenty of quiet times thinking about how I can turn my experiences into columns, stories and general life lessons.

So, after a full week of thought, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you just a few of the many lessons I learned this hunting season.

• No matter the setting, sunrises are amazing.

I really don't often have a reason to rise before the sun does, so sunrises are not on my typical daily agenda.

But heading into the woods a full hour before sunrise, preparing for shooting hours to begin shortly thereafter, I found myself sitting, as quietly as possible, in the dark... alone.

Instead of resting my eyes, as I knew one of the most active shooting times comes right around sunrise, I did my best to take in every sound and every change around me.

What I experienced forced me to ponder the wonders of the world we live in.

As the time for shooting — a half hour before sunrise — passed, the woods were still what I would typically call dark.

But it was just about that time that the light started to seep in through the barren canopy, and slowly-but-surely, the woods came to life as they brightened.

Just watching a sunrise is amazing in itself, but fully experiencing one with all of one's senses, now that's a treat — and one I got to take in each day I made it out into the woods.

It really put in perspective just how big and complex the world around us really is.

• Things are not always as they seem.

The first day of buck season, I had the day off from work, so I spent the entire day in the woods, hoping for the big 'un to come along.

In doing so, I quickly learned that, at times, our senses tell us fibs, as we perceive things differently than they actually happen.

For example, I learned that in the woods, lots of things sound like deer moving through the leaves — or at least like you'd expect them to sound.
The wind blowing through the valley toward you sounds like deer moving through the woods.

A squirrel playing at the base of a tree sounds a lot like deer moving through the woods.

Another hunter sneaking through the woods sounds a lot like a deer moving through the woods.

Turns out, one of the only things that doesn't sound like a deer moving through the woods, is deer moving through the woods.

That, it turns out, sounds a lot more like, well, silence.

• Moving tree stands are the trend of the future.

As soon as I figure out how to make a tree stand that stealthily moves through fields and trees at about 55 miles per hour — and I get the state to legalize hunting from the "vehicle" after dark — I'll be a rich man.

After spending what felt like countless hours in the woods on a recent Monday and Tuesday, I made my way to work and put in a regular shift.

I usually finish work around 11 p.m., and on my way home, on two different occasions, I was forced to put my not-so-useful anti-lock brakes and power steering to the test, as I dodged a pair of crafty, groggy-looking deer.

If I had a doe tag, I suppose I could have saved some brake pad, but since I didn't, and because I'm trying to make the most out of my ol' car before she croaks, I felt lucky to have missed the pair.

• Sometimes, the "big one" gets away.

Where I was sitting the first day, I saw a pair of nice bucks, but wasn't able to get a good shot off at any of them.

For the rest of the week, I spent the mornings in the woods without a whole lot of luck.

The first Friday morning, I did the same — rising early and heading to the woods — this time sitting behind my grandparents' house.

Unfortunately, my stomach started to act up, and I knew I needed to make my way back toward civilization after just about an hour in the woods.

As I walked back in the direction of the house, my stomach started to feel better, and I decided to take a glance over the field behind our house.

I was making my way toward the wood pile I was going to use as a bit of a blind — about 10 yards away from me — when I was surprised by a very large set of horns popping up in front of me.

I was 30 yards away, eye-to-eye with the monster buck I'd been seeking, but with my rifle on my shoulder.

Motionless, we looked each other over until I decided to take a shot.

I reached for my gun, but with my first movement, he bounded away from me, and all I could see in my scope was his white tail fleeing.

I just couldn't get a shot. I had missed the big 'un, which leads me to my last lesson.

• An unfilled tag doesn't always mean an unsuccessful hunt.

My time spent in the woods this year resulted in an unfilled tag and no meat in the freezer, but it was far from unsuccessful.

I had a blast, spending some time and sharing some stories with my father, who also saw the big 'un.

And, most importantly, I took some time out of my busy "schedule" to just relax and sit still — a much-needed reminder of the importance of rest.

So, while I didn't bring down a monster, as so many successful hunters did this year based on the pictures in the paper, I can say that looking back on buck season 2012, it was quite a success.

I'm already looking forward to next year's hunt.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit.