Lessons From the Deer Woods

Steve Sheetz

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The sport of hunting teaches us more than we could ever learn in a typical classroom setting. The woods provide us with a lifetime of learning from which the collective experience that is hunting builds a solid foundation: not only of hunting knowledge, but also of human knowledge. It is this knowledge that can be taken out of the woods and applied to the classroom, to the boardroom, and to our everyday lives.

Only in the woods while hunting do you fully realize that every time you pull a trigger of a gun, or release an arrow, something or someone has the potential to die. You must respect the power of the weapon that you hold in your hands at all times. Before you ever pull the trigger or release an arrow, you better be sure that you can kill that animal, cleanly and humanly. It is the understanding of a cause and effect relationship between shooting and dying that is probably the most important lesson that hunting can teach young people and adults.

In hunting, and in the goal of ultimately killing an animal, kids learn how the choices they make directly affect the things around them. For example, if you don't stay still, the deer will spook. If you shoot an animal, death can, and often will, result. If you do not wear a safety harness you can fall out of a tree and die. Most American kids today don't understand that the choices they make ultimately result in, depending on the choices made, a positive outcome or a negative outcome. Most young people today associate killing with video games, and not to the ending of a life. If you die in a video game, you can just hit the reset button; unfortunately, the woods, and life, do not work that way. Hunting teaches that you are directly responsible for the actions you take, and of the outcome of those actions. This is a very important lesson for living in today's society. The choices you make affect how things turn out, and it could be positive or it could be negative. You make the choice. Is there a better lesson that could be taught to our children? After fifteen years of teaching in a public school, I can personally attest that there is not.

Experiencing this type of power literally in your hands will give anyone a new perspective on life and on its value. Once you have killed your first animal, you begin to fully understand that hunting equals killing. To take the life of any animal must be done with great care, respect, and an understanding of why you are doing it. Are you harvesting the animal for food for your family, or food for others? Are you harvesting the animal so you can have a trophy on your wall? Can you get the animal to the butcher before the meat spoils and the kill is wasted? Will you take the time to properly field dress the animal, even though it will make you feel uncomfortable? Will you do these things out of respect for the animal? All of these scenarios force hunters young and old to make sound decisions based on the value system in which they were raised.

Defining what an ethical shot is, is not a highly debatable topic. Quite simply, an ethical shot is one in which you can easily place the arrow in the animal's vitals just behind the front leg. It is one in which you will be able to hit the heart and lungs at distance no greater than 40 to 50 yards, depending on the type of bow that you are shooting. Remember: the further your wounded animal travels, the further you are going to have to go to recover the animal, and the more difficult it becomes to find the animal all together. There are other things that must also be taken into consideration before shooting the animal; for instance, are there other animals behind the one that I am aiming at that could be wounded if my arrow passes through the first animal? Are there branches, bushes, leaves or any other obstructions in my way that could deflect or alter the course of the arrow after it has been released?

The hunt also teaches how to think critically and adapt in a variety of situations. Hunting applications change daily, sometimes hourly, and sometimes by the minute. No two hunts are ever the same. Questions such as, should I hunt from a treestand or from a ground blind? Can I stalk the animal? What direction is the wind coming from? Where should I put my stand? Should I use my call? If so, when and how often should I use it? Other decisions, like when to shoot and what to shoot, also come into play when you are hunting. These types of questions must be addressed every time you head into the woods. This type of critical thinking and analysis of the environment can easily translate from the woods to the classroom or the boardroom. It is about developing a plan and being flexible enough to change your plan when the conditions of the hunt make it necessary.

All hunters begin to have a better understanding of their environment once they begin to pursue game in it. Every great hunter I know is a "wanna-be" earth scientist. They have an understanding of meteorology and are constantly checking wind speed and its direction. They understand how barometric pressure and the phase of the moon affect the feeding cycles of the animals. They are part topographer and are adept at reading a variety of maps, allowing them to find pinch points and other optimal stand locations. A hunter is part biologist, too: one should never underestimate the importance of being able to identify which plants and trees produce food for deer. Additionally, being able to determine the age of animals and which ones to select for harvest is critical to growing bigger animals on managed properties.

A lot of hunters today have become part farmer as well. This is directly reflected the number of companies that are making land improvement equipment and other land improvement based products for four wheelers, small tractors, and side-by-sides. The number of products on today's market is simply mind-blowing. Food plots are all the rage, and every good hunter recognizes that the more they improve their big game habitat, the bigger and better animals will be able to grow and hold in a given area.

In addition, people are developing environmental plans according to the standards set forth by the Quality Deer Management Association to improve habitat and stream flow, to build ponds, and to develop marsh land to hold deer on a given property. Most people understand that in order to shoot the ten pointer of a lifetime, you have to pass on that deer when he is a six pointer. By shooting only mature animals that have reached their full development, you improve the overall quality of your deer herd.

Focus, or lack thereof, is one of the topics that seems to get more attention every year in the psychological world of this country. The number of students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) seems to double in schools every year. Students are reportedly unable to sit still in their desks, and constantly require some sort of electronic stimulation to help them stay on task. I have personally seen kids that have been diagnosed with ADD and ADHD sit absolutely still and quiet for hours in the woods concentrating on the task at hand, all without medication, team-teachers, or electronic stimulation. For example, youngsters learn to increase their attention span by sitting for long hours in a tree stand focusing on the single goal of shooting a big game animal. Others learn to increase their focus through the endless hours of practice needed to execute the shots necessary when they are under the duress of the hunt. If a student can learn to focus on a series of tasks in the woods, than he/she can take that skill set into a classroom.

Hunting allows people to set goals for themselves and then teaches them what it will take to reach those goals. Additionally, the more time someone spends practicing and honing their skills as a shooter, the more confident they will become on the range, and, in turn, become more confident in the field. Once a student becomes more confident as a person, this will naturally spread into the classroom. Just like with anything, the more time and effort you put into something, the greater benefit you will get out of it in the end.

For me, the thrill of the hunt is the hunt itself. If I get to harvest an animal, it is a bonus. A trophy is any animal that I am able to harvest with my primitive stick and string hunting equipment. Granted, these are not the bows of Robin Hood and his merry men. Today's bows are made up of a super-strong aluminum or graphite that has been machined down from a single billet to less than four pounds and can hurl an ultra light-weight carbon arrow at the rate of 340 feet per second, but you get the idea. It is still more primitive than a rifle or shot gun.

When I was new to hunting, all I could think about was waterfowl hunting and the early goose season, but as I matured and saw my first gray hairs, I gained patience and the understanding of how to sit still for more than ten minutes. My focus then began to switch to big game. Now that I am older, I love to archery hunt for deer, elk, moose, wild hog or anything else for that matter. It is not the size of the animal: that is not important, just the opportunity to go after them. There is something magically intimate about getting inside of an animal's living room at a distance of 10 to 30 yards and putting the smack down on something that big.

The soft twang of the bow string smacking up against the a rubber stopper as the arrow is released, the crack and thump of the arrow hitting the deer moments later and passing through the animal, the anticipation of the impending secondary hunt that begins at the first drop of blood from the animal, where recovering the animal is the hardest part of the harvest itself: It is just so awesome. Archery hunting is simple by design, but complex in its execution. Today's hunters are always hunting. Pull back on a string with an arrow, aim, and let the arrow go.

Many people never seem to stop hunting, because even if they are not in a stand or sitting in a blind, they are always scouting for that next prize. They find themselves constantly glassing into the woods and fields when they are on the road, carefully analyzing the area, or they are finding time to hone their shooting skills on the range so that they may make the perfect shot under pressure.

It is an addiction that is seemingly stronger than crack cocaine. Many would say that it costs the same as a crack habit. Last year, hunters in the United States spent over seventy billon US dollars on hunting equipment. When you release your first arrow and it strikes a deer in its sweet spot, your body receives a rush of adrenaline that is so intense, you freeze that moment in time into your permanent memory bank, and your body becomes supercharged. That is a high that no drug could ever produce. Stay safe my friends and make it your goal in 2012 to introduce someone new to hunting this year.

Lessons from the Deer Woods is an excert taken from "For the Love of the Hunt" by Steve Sheetz

Posted by Steve Sheetz under Hunting Stories on February 1, 12 09:59 AM | Permalink

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