One thing I have learned over the past year is hunting can very quickly evolve from a leisure activity to work. It starts with receiving a tag. There is this adrenaline rush similar to receiving an unexpected gift, wondering what is inside the box, and then opening it. That moment is just like drawing a much desired, and anticipated, tag. It is a great moment. The kind of moment people search for and thrive on that feeling. But then, the moment passes and the adrenaline rush fades away. The mind switches from excited to planning and work mode.
I think this happens because of the human tendency to work towards goals. A goal is set, in this case ending with the best animal possible, and a plan must be formed to reach this goal in the most effective and efficient manner. Many people will spend weeks scouting, target practicing, researching animal habits, testing and purchasing gear ranging from boots, scopes, and guns to scents, calls, and facial paints. Don’t get me wrong, this is all part of the journey and these pieces that create the whole for reaching a goal can be the best part. But it can become all-consuming and exhausting even.
This weekend, I went out shed hunting. I think of shed hunting as a more “fun” form of scouting. I like to pick a place where I have found myself questioning: “Do you think there are deer there?” I figure the best way to answer this question is to go looking for signs, which include tracks, shed antlers, and, well put bluntly, poop. While out wandering, it is amazing how desolate an area can feel when first starting out. There will be little life other than plants, little movement other than crows or ravens passing by, and little visible sustainability. I often wonder how animals can inhabit areas where there is no evidence of being able to survive. However, as I continue on I start to see the small details that allow life to flourish: the dew drops sitting on leaves, small potholes full of water and creatures, tiny bugs crawling, hidden shaded areas for resting and protection. An area appearing to contain sage brush and a few birds suddenly becomes a very busy animal and plant metropolis.
Typically, shed hunting is part of the planning process for filling a tag. This weekend, I started out with that in mind. I planned to research an area for it’s potential in filling my tag. I had a pre-determined area and a route I wanted to follow. In secret, I was dreading the idea of shed hunting, because it sounded so much like work. But as is often times necessary with work, I pushed aside my desires to sit around and be lazy, grabbed my bag and camera, and headed out.
It was an erratic weather day. When I first arrived, the sun was out and the sky was blue and cloudless. However, within an hour of walking, a large thunder cloud had developed over a mountain range to my south. The wind picked up ever so slightly, and the dark gray mass rolled quickly towards me. I could see streaks of rain spreading across the very open landscape and thunder echoed from the mountain range to my south, above my head, and onward to the mountain range to my north. Just as I was about to give up and turn back to the truck, the storm turned west and skirted around me. This strange pattern lasted for the entirety of the day.
I don’t know if it was the weather that first distracted me or the blooming pink flower settled upon a cactus, but my shed hunting trip evolved from a “work” trip to something much more. I started out actively scanning for sheds and other signs indicating animals were utilizing the area; however, I found myself stopping more and more often to look at the cactus and other desert foliage, listen to the thunder rolling across the flat, sagebrush covered ground, and feel the light breeze run across my body. I found myself actually relaxing.
Often times, when I out actually hunting, I tend to feel a bit stressed. I am focusing on a handful of details all at one time: not crunching dried leaves while I walk, keeping myself in a position where the wind pulls my scent away from the direction of an animal, reminding myself of where I want in aim in different situations, trying to make the right sound come out of my call, balancing my gun in a comfortable but convenient position, rebalancing my gun because the strap is now cutting into my neck, listening for sounds, telling my stomach to quit growling because it is being too loud, repositioning my gun yet again because not it is cutting into my shoulder.
All of these details are very important, and in their own way they are part of what makes hunting so great. But sometimes it is nice to forgot all those details, to drop the plan, to not do your research, and to enjoy shed hunting for one of the main reasons that anyone hunts: to just be outside and enjoy all the little things that are so amazing out there. I would never have seen most of the things I consider precious experiences in my life if I hadn’t taken the time to just go outside and walk around. That is the main reason I decided to take up hunting, so I would get to see what the outdoors is really all about. I was reminded of that this past weekend, and it was one amazing hunt.