Grace in the deer woods

My experience is that hunters all harbor different values or perceptions when it comes to respect for other hunters.

Bow hunting this fall, I was hunkered down in my blind on opening day on a deer trail awaiting the magic hour. About a half-hour before final light, a big critter came tromping along 10 feet behind my blind. When it came into sight in front of my blind window, guess what I saw. No, the critter was not an 8-point buck, it was another bow hunter. He walked by and crossed in front of my blind along the game trail I was hunting and shouted behind his back “Good luck.”

“What the…?” I was incredulous.

This was no random encounter. My truck was parked 50 yards away in front of the path used by the interloper. Even if the sight of my ground blind surprised him, you would have thought that he at least would have skirted my location at a respectable distance.

In my 60 years in the deer woods, most of my encounters with other hunters have invariably been pleasant and convivial. A veteran game warden once told me that his career had taught him that, like the general population, most sportsmen are polite and law-abiding, but there is that 10 percent who just don’t care.

At that moment in my estimation the brash bow hunter was, to my mind, a thoughtless, self-absorbed outlier not worthy of the community we call sportsmen, or the proud legacy of the deer hunting heritage.

A few years ago, during a bow hunt, I shared the deer woods at another bow hunter’s invitation. As luck would have it, I bagged with my bow a handsome 10-pointer. The fellow hunter was upset. “That’s my deer, the buck I have been watching on my trail cam,” he whined. At first, I thought he was joking, pulling my chain. I knew that he was not joking when he scolded himself for inviting another to share his hunting ground!

How do you behave when a fellow hunter bags the big one and you come home empty-handed? How you respond to failure in the field, as well as success, defines you as a sportsman. Are you happy with your comrade’s good fortune, or do you nurse envy?

Outdoor writer Wayne Van Zwoll writes about the importance of grace in the field if you are to call yourself a sportsman. “A sportsman is a person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, or victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity and courtesy.”

As Van Zwoll observes, it is sometimes easier to shoot a deer than to demonstrate grace to another sportsman. He defines it this way: “Without grace, hunting is predation. Grace defines a sportsman.”

We all as humans struggle to conduct our lives with more grace, sportsman or non-sportsman.

The bow hunter who “stepped on my trapline” heard from me later at the parking spot after the hunt. He didn’t seem like a bad guy after all. A gung-ho bow hunter, maybe 50 years my junior, he struck me as just a supercharged millennial more focused on the hunt than manners or sportsman-like behavior. In time, he may mature and find some balance.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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