The alarm clock jarred me from my dream. The world was almost supernaturally peaceful in the darkness before dawn. The thermometer hovered around five below zero–a reading that seemed to say go back to bed, you idiot. But it was late in the Montana deer season, and I was determined to take advantage of it.
During the drive to our hunting grounds, the sun reflected off the fresh layer of snow as it climbed above the mountains. The brightness of the dawn suggested warmth. I found as I left the heated truck cab that it was only a suggestion.
The only movement in the forest was the cloud of my own breath rising into oblivion. My father and I found no fresh sign and returned to the truck after several hours to enjoy some well-earned hot coffee and sandwiches. As I thought about the warm bed and hearty breakfast I had given up this morning, one question kept coming to mind: Why was I here? I didn’t honestly believe I would find a deer on a day like this. But in truth, I wasn’t here to harvest game. I was here to have hunted.
Humans have always been hunters, and nothing gives me the sense of returning to nature like fulfilling my role as a predator. Those who oppose hunting are arrogant enough to claim that we have risen above our role in nature. I believe that instead of denouncing our place, we should embrace it. It reminds us of just how connected we really are with the world around us, whether we believe it or not. Through hunting, I look at nature with awe and reverence and play a part in the natural cycle.
Harvesting game is by no means the measure of a hunt’s success, but it is something all hunters hope to achieve. Eventually a hunter’s persistence, sweat, and luck will pay off. But taking an animal affirms the ultimate link between a person and the wild. The joy and excitement of having gotten one is tempered by the responsibility and remorse of having ended that creature’s life to sustain your own. It is then that you realize how fragile life is.
When you take your place in the wild as a participant in the cycle of nature through hunting, the turmoil of the civilized world falls away. Instead, I am reminded of how simple life is. Although my escape is only temporary, my time in the woods helps to clear my mind and readies me to resume the daunting task of living in the civilized world.
Hunting also connects you to your fellow man. When two hunters meet and the conversation turns to the sport they love, all the tension between them evaporates. After swapping stories of the game they have taken and the ones that got away, it seems as though they have known each other for years. Those hunting stories bring a welcome touch of the wilds into my everyday life. To me, listening to or telling a good hunting or fishing story is the next best thing to creating a new one.
Hunting has always been a tradition in my family. My great-grandfather hunted, and the love of hunting and the outdoors was passed down to my grandfather, my father, and now to me. No matter how drastically the world has changed since my great-grandfather was young, hunting remains virtually the same. There is something timeless about searching for deer on a frosty autumn morning while dreaming of venison steaks fresh from the skillet.
Hunting is my link through the ages. The pursuit of game not only opens doorways to the past, but also doorways to the present. Nothing has brought my family together more than hunting. No matter how far apart we drift, we will always have the memories of the time we shared in the woods. Someday I will pass the tradition of hunting to my children, so they will have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors as much as I have.
I did not harvest a deer that day, but that didn’t matter. Each day in the field is an experience that can never be duplicated and should be cherished forever.
Daniel Bothwell is 16 and lives in Kalisppell, Montana.