Friday, February 20, 2015

A Season's Journey

The last evening of the 2014 – 2015 hunting season proved to be surprisingly memorable. Not because I filled the neatly folded deer tag waiting in my wallet, but because I spent the time reflecting on all that I was able to experience over the last few months. As I enjoyed the winter calmness that is only known in a deerstand, I glassed eight deer filtering from the snow covered tree limbs to forage for food in the cut bean field. The quarter sized snowflakes that nearly whited out visibility earlier in the afternoon had transitioned into a wet mist by the time the end of legal shooting light arrived. As poetic as the weather change seemed at that moment in time my spirits were not dampened.

The waning hours of the late season's gray light found my mind looking back to a much warmer September opener with good buddies John and Charles. We didn’t even come close to limiting out on doves. In fact I don't know if we actually saw doves? As only good hunting buds do for each other, we passed the time making fun of one another and enjoyed every minute of it. I don't know who picked the farm we hunted on for the opener but their decision making rights are under review. 

Hunt preparation for Ohio's dove season is damn serious business.
L to R: New beard growth Sean, Charles. Also pictured Jumper Johnny

It wasn't long before I was reminiscing about the youth waterfowl hunt that I shared with my son again this year. It was our second hunt in which he shouldered the decision on whether to shoot or not if the chance should present itself. This year the opportunity never arrived, but the memories created and the bonds my son and I share through the outdoors are indescribable. I look forward to experiencing this same rite of passage with my daughter in due time. She's already reminded me that her brother was allowed to hunt when he was eight and she IS going to be eight by next season. I'm guessing that she will be ready. 

Learning to blow a duck call is dang serious business.
Photo by Kali Parmley
October is one of the most gorgeous times of the year outdoors and spending time in the treestand with my friend Kent was another highlight to add to the season. We came close to arrowing deer on a few occasions, but as is often the case with bowhunting the stars didn’t always align. The closest occasion had me at full draw on a mature doe who decided to bolt instead of stand still as I bleated at her to stop. Oh well, we were actually able to experience all of the fun without the mess and work. I’ll chalk that up as a W.

Kent getting situated for a shot opportunity.

I have yet to experience a hunt with someone who I didn't end up considering a friend afterward. That is certainly the case after a small game hunt hosted by Adam and his father, Dean. These two guys gave up their entire day to have me and my son up to hunt on the family farm. We chased rabbits briefly until one the beagles gashed open an ear and needed attention. After the tailgate triage our game plan was to exchange beagles for squirrel dogs and take to the woods. Within minutes we had one squirrel treed. At the pull of the trigger, one squirrel magically multiplied into at least three bushy tails raining down from the oak tree canopy. One came down ready for the dinner plate, while the other two kamikazes dive-bombed the forest floor, sprang to their feet and had us on the run again! Any hunt where you laugh so hard that you actually cry is hard to beat. We managed a few squirrels, a lot of laughs and some lifelong memories that day.

The next trip of the season was sharing deer camp during the mystical mid-November rut with some of the best guys I've had the privilege to hunt with over the years. Since college, hell even before we knew each other’s last names (inside joke - all good deer camps have inside jokes, it's required), we were hunting together in southern Ohio.  If I have my way I’ll still be dragging deer out of the woods with Big Frank, Dr. Frank, Alan, and Adam when we’re older and grayer than we already are. Campfires, cold beers, mortars and ridiculously good food are the four staples that make any deer camp worth a damn. Anything else beyond that is just gravy. As I said before, any hunt where you laugh so hard that you actually cry is hard to beat. You simply cannot beat deer camp with these guys. I can hardly wait until next November; in fact I’m hoping that we can initiate turkey camp again this spring.

Waterfowl season was coming back in and hopes were high with geese actively feeding in a field I had permission to hunt. Plans were made with John, Charles and our newcomer Kali. We met up at the field shortly after o’dark thirty, set the spread, brushed in the layout blinds and had time to drink that early morning coffee while we waited on the birds to show. When the geese finally decided that it was breakfast time they decided to try the new restaurant next door, landing across the street in a field they had not fed in during any of my scouting trips! We made some adjustments (i.e. ran across the street and kicked them out of the other field) and worked a couple groups so we could scratch out a few honkers. Like always, we shoulda-coulda knocked down more birds but what fun would it be if every hunt worked out perfectly?

L to R: Charles Robertson, bearded Sean, Kali, John's mustache, John
The rest of the season balanced out between bowhunting deer and playing hide and seek with waterfowl. When the goose migration finally arrived the season was nearly done for the year. Fortunately, my friends and newly addicted waterfowlers Jeff and Zac were able to locate some honkers on open water next to their deer hunting grounds. I put in three hunts, the first with Jeff and Zac, the second with Jeff and my brotha-from-another-motha Rob, and the last with Jeff, Zac and Alex (and I don’t know his last name either). The third time proved to be a charm as we were finally able to coax some birds into the decoys and finish. It was the perfect setting to close the waterfowl season for me. We didn't limit, but the journey to that final hunt spent with good friends was the reward.  

L to R: clean shaven Sean, Zac, Jeff with some migrating lesser canada geese.

Timber doing work.
As I drove home for supper with the family after that last bowhunt I felt content, at peace. Not burnt out and run down like other seasons in the past. I was satisfied with the ups and downs that hunting season brings with it. Yet I was still looking forward to the next hunt. My personal goal for the 2014 - 2015 season was simple... have fun. 

Mission complete and then some. Thank you to all of the friends who I have been able to share the journey with. May we live each and every day to it's fullest, and may the memories that we make today become the stories we tell tomorrow! Cheers!