Every year just before opening deer season, I find myself getting into a debate with someone who simply has no idea of what the true spirit of hunting represents.

“Just a bunch of hillbillies wearing cammo, carrying weapons and driving big pickups” is one of the most common perceptions. It always gives me a chuckle to hear that.

As heated as some of these debates sometimes get, I always tell them the same thing; “Hunting is not about the kill, it’s about the intimate connection with nature through a heightened sense of awareness and presence.” Most people have no idea of what I’m talking about.

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A few years ago, I went out for a week long solo hunting trip for opening archery season. On the third day, I finally felt relaxed and in my element as I slowly found my way through the darkness up to my spot. There’s a sense of vulnerability in the deep woods before first light, especially when your only weapons are a knife and a homemade bow.

As I crept along, I found myself in an altered state of awareness. It’s like I could hear the trees breathe and feel the life below my feet. Every sense was on hyper-alert and I felt disconnected from my body. (Imagine experiencing a runner’s high at a snails pace.) I completely lost track of time and space but I was completely aware of everything. “Cosmic” is an understatement.

Slowly, after about an hour in my spot, the forest revealed itself and started to wake up. As the light got brighter, the symphony of birds began and I could hear things rustling about. Within 15 minutes, I was a perch for birds and a curiosity for every critter that came along. It was right out of a National Geographic program and I was right in the center of it all.

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There’s a difference between walking into the woods and being part of the woods. Hunters know what this is like. You’re there long before first light and the creatures of the forest think you’ve always been there. If you’ve done a good job with scent control and cammo, you can experience any animal in the forest in their natural state. I’ve had bears walk within 10 feet of me many times and once I was even sniffed.

That morning, I saw my third or fourth pine marten in the wild. It ate a mouse on the log next to me while at least three different types of birds landed on me. The Douglass squirrels chased each other across my lap and a couple of chipmunks ate their breakfast just feet away. Several does with fawns passed by completely unaware of me sitting there. I even saw a grey fox.

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I was so drawn into the moment that I completely lost my desire to hunt. The experience, once again, was more than enough. As I got up, I peeked over the rock in front of me; a beautiful buck bolted away. I never heard him approach. He stopped fifty yards away, turned, stomped and snorted at me before disappearing into the thick. I got a sense that in some strange way, there was a mutual respect between life. I walked back to camp humbled and grateful with another lifelong memory.

I have had a hundred experiences like this, each one different but all of them similar in that they all came from the years I’ve spent hunting. There are thousands of stories that have been passed down for thousands of years around thousands of campfires. If you ever have a doubt, just ask a hunter to tell you a story. The gleam in the eye doesn’t come from the meat on the table, it comes from a place that can only be described through experience. That’s why we hunt.

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