So, it's official. I have officially been on my first bow-hunt, and Oh Golly was it a trip. Unfortunately, my camera battery died halfway through the trip, so I have almost zero pictures.
This trip was nothing like any other trip I have been on, where I reaped more spiritual benefits than meat, by a long shot. Bear with me as I go through some of the details of the hunt, because those details are important to the story and message I learned. So just grit through the hunter-eeze for a while. It's worth it.
It all starts two days before seasoned opened, when my bow sights all of a sudden were totally off - way off, and I had to re-align all the pins in two days. The first day I was anxious, tired, and shaky, making any attempts to shoot straight impossible. I went out again the day before I left, and this time, was much calmer, much less confident in myself, I got the pins back in to where they should be.
So, first day of hunting - nothing happened, besides flipping my friends trike I was borrowing over backwards on the way to the hole. Not cool, but everyone was fine. I went to the same spot I got my buck last year, and hoped to pull the same tactics - sit on the water hole long enough and wait, wait, wait, for a buck to walk up. The only thing that walked up (or drove up for that matter) was 6 quads/rangers and 2 jeeps, most of them passing the water hole multiple times, some getting out to gawk and the hole, take pictures, talk really loud, then hop back in the vehicle and drive off. That is literally more interference in one day than we had in the entire rifle hunt last year. So needless to say, NOTHING showed up. At all.
During the night, the wind blew so hard it broke my tent - clean broke it - snapped my tent poles and bent over far enough to beat us on the head all night long. I could have sworn a hurricane was blowing in or something. Different, I have to admit.
Went back to water hole in the morning, and sat and sat and.... the wind was bad, still. It was blowing the totally wrong direction, the same direction we hoped the deer were coming from. So, I decided to check out a different road I knew about that we hadn't tried before, to see if we could find something. So we (my hunting pal and me) piled in our pickup, and drove a ways down this road - the trip was suddenly cut short by several rocks the size of Texas sitting in the road. No big deal right?, just turn around. Well, in the turning around process, we got the truck stuck on more rocks, wedged on the frame, tires not getting enough traction because the hill was wedged on the middle of the truck.
One hour of digging, praying, and the such like later, we had the truck out - only to back into a tree and pop out the rear light. *sigh* After being scared to death that I had damaged the drive train and transmission on oodles of rocks, the tail light was the least of my worries. We headed out from there, had lunch, then headed home early to go see the second Hobbit movie - Review coming sooner or later.....
So, back again Sunday night, and we had a different tent that withstood the fury of the wind, and we got a better night sleep with the tent remaining intact the entirety of the night. Thank goodness.
Day Three, we again sat on the water hole, this time the wind had died down and we could pick our spots without the worry of scent flow.
Long story short, sitting on this water hole, we ended up running into three people that would drastically change the rest of the hunt. One was an old hunter on a ranger, the other, was the same old guy who told me where to get my deer last year, whom we nicknamed Jalopy from his old beat up jeep, with his wife along. The ranger guy gave us tips on where to go for the deer, and Jalopy told me and my friend we could stay in his tiny stone cabin just at the base of the hill for our hunt. It is this little stone cabin, built in 1882 by his grandfather, passed down through the years through various sundry ways. So, the rest of the nights hunting were spent out of the wind, safe in stone walls, on rusty spring bunk beds. It was about as luxurious as hunting is allowed to get before it starts becoming illegal - can't be *too* comfy on a hunt you know.
Day four, we had climbed the tallest mountain around, chucked rocks off it's five hundred foot cliff-face (post-lunch entertainment) saw one doe about a mile off, nearly died (or so it seemed) because we didn't bring enough water on the hike, then waded down the face of a mile-long hill though more types of mean and evil plants than you knew existed.
Day five, we sat near a spot all day where we had seen a doe on the way back to camp the day previous. Nothing, all day. Except that old hunter on a ranger of course. Those hunters around in there had better be glad we weren't hunting them.....
Anyway, by the time the last day rolled around, Day 6, a Thursday, I was desperate. We climbed back up to the big hill we had climbed on day four, in hopes of scouring it better and finding some bucks. The wind was wrong from the start, blowing the totally wrong way, and was bitter cold. The last time we were up there, it was hot, so on this trip, I brought less jackets and nearly froze.
I had basically made up in my mind by now that I was not getting a deer. Everything during the week had not gone as planned. The trike got a flat tire the first day, the truck had gotten stuck and scratched real bad, none of my plans were working, we had seen two does, and no bucks, I was tired, and the list goes on. The only good thing it had seemed was that we got to stay in the cabin. Loved that little place.
So anyway, here comes the meat of the story, but it still requires a little more explanation. On Tuesday, day four, climbing back down the mountain, we were hot, tired, and out of water. Clean out of water. Going down this STEEP hill covered with evil brush that tries to eat you alive is no fun anyway, but in that state, I had almost hit the point of despair.
And then, something changed.
Normally in this area, you pick your way around through the brush, through the thinnest spots and least resistance. Take the path of least resistance. About halfway down the hill, I had had enough, and something in my mind flipped. When picking a path and sizing up obstacles, it was no longer "will this hinder me?". It became "will this stop me?" I had a goal - getting down the hill. No tree or brush was getting in the way of that. Now, if I came to a dead tree limb, instead of working around it, my path zigging and zagging across the hill, I ripped the branch off and kept going in a straight line. Next dead bush in my way - no beating around the bush (literally) now. Straight over the top, smash it down, keep on going.
That was one piece of the puzzle God was assembling for me this week, that played into the last, momentous day.
Back to Day 6. The wind is all wrong. There is no deer in the area we had seen the one doe on Tuesday. The wind is frigid. We finally ducked under some fir trees for a while, ate lunch and tried to warm up.
With only a few hours left before we needed to head down the hill, we headed out again. And again, something changed.
Like I said, I was pretty certain I was not getting a deer. Last day before we leave, two hours to go, bad wind, no deer - it was not all adding up for success. But God nudged me down deep. I realized, if I really believed God would provide, if I really believe that God was in charge, then I needed to be ready for whatever God would do, and prepare in faith so that if one did show up, I wouldn't be caught without oil in my lamp. Up until now, during all the climbing, and glassing, I had carried my bow on my back. I unstrapped it, knocked an arrow, and kept walking. Another piece in the puzzle.
Still hiking, we came to a point where the wind blew up from one dip in the valley we had just climbed out of and onto the top of the hill. The wind was so tremendous, so strong, so cold, we stood irresolute for a minute, trying to decide our next move.
The wind is wrong. The wind is cold. Half hour left till we need to leave. No deer seen yet today. The wind is now blowing harder than ever, a large growing storm on heading our way fast, with big bad storm clouds threatening to dump cold misery down from above. I had been praying for a while. "God, just let me see a buck. I just want to see one. Getting one would be great, but I just want to see a buck today."
Again, another spiritual fight was waging. Should I call it a day? Was that the last straw? Should I give up, give in, and back down? Did I really believe God would provide? One by one, all the cards were against me. Time, terrain, weather, odds, everything was stacking further and further towards a good reason to turn my back on that wooded hillside and walk to the truck.
But I didn't. I kept walking, and decided to check one last area before we called it quits. One thought that came through my mind then, was that when I had a family to put meat on the table for, the weather was no excuse to walk away.
So, walking across the hillside, glassing the trees, it happened. I was ready - kinda, but not in the right way. My friend suddenly spun me around, and both of us watched the biggest buck we had even seen come out of the tree line 30 yards above us on the hill, and trot away the way we had just came. Biggest buck we had ever seen alive that is. Probably a 5x5, or the like, near 200 pounds. Big tall rack, thick bodied deer, totally worthy of the table - and the mantelpiece.
I stripped off my pack, stuffed my rangefinder in my pocket, and stalked after the buck of my dreams.
A half hour later, I had lost the buck, lost my friend, and lost my pack. Nice. Eventually I found my friend who had moved my pack, but the Buck was gone for good. We found where he had been sitting, under a tree, surrounded by bushes, watching us as we went by, then busted cover and ran after we passed.
The buck of my dreams had slipped my fingers, but actually, it didn't seem to bother me. I was rather surprised, actually, at my own response to not bringing that buck down. After I got my pack back, and started to head down the hill, I was just as giddy, well, close to, as if I had actually got the deer. I had asked to see a buck, and By Golly God answered. I thought about it as I hiked - smashing limbs out of my way as I went. The process, the stalking, the waiting, the hunting, was what mattered. The process, not the outcome.
Anyway, either way, I was happy. God had answered.
But the story doesn't end there.
- - - - ~ - - - -
It wasn't till the day after that all the pieces of the puzzle finally all fit together, and the life implications that all came from them. They fit together, piece by piece, to make a life message.
It started with my bow sights going wrong. God took my confidence away from myself and my bow, and put it totally, only on Him. God changed all my plans, all my ideas about how and where I would hunt, and made me trust that He had the best idea, not me. I learned to not let the little inconveniences distract and sidetrack you from the main goal. I learned to never give up, even in the face of overwhelming odds. I learned to have joy, even in the face of seeming defeat.
So the overarching picture of life it frames? Those aren't random thoughts, disjointed and disconnected from one another, but all fit, even in order of appearance, into one, coherent story. It's actually kinda scary how perfect it played out. It was laid out perfectly, point by point, like an instruction manual on far more than just deer hunting, but for the entirety of life. This is not only in the order I learned it in, but is a sequential chain of the order we need to live life in.
First in your journey in life, trust God, and not yourself. God used my bow sights to remove my confidence from me and put it on him. Whenever God is getting you ready for something in life, no matter what your skills and abilities may be, God is the one in control, and God is the one to trust in.
Second, the the game plan is in God's hands. He knows how he wants things to turn out, and trust me, it is far better than what you wanted. We can plan and prepare all we like, but God has the final call, and we need to be able to go where he leads.
Third, keep going through the small things that seem to bar your way, but are in reality mere inconveniences. Like the brush, it wasn't about whether or not it was in the way - it was about whether or not it would stop you. Keep plowing towards towards your goal, despite the annoyances.
Fourth, never give up, even when it seems everything is going against you. Our God is a God of lost causes, second chances, and no-end situations. It's in those times, when everything else is telling you to turn tail and run, that God shows his wonder and might and pulls everything around i seemingly impossible ways, when you merely put your head down and keep going.
Fifth, success is not the goal. Obedience is. Sometimes victory does not include winning. Sometimes the goal of a situation was not to get the deer, but to chase it and not get it. The goal of the trip was the journey, not the destination.
And lastly, and honestly, my favorite - This is where, just maybe, the story picks up again, and might end differently than last time.
Sometimes in life, after the lesson, there is a second chance.
Deer season hasn't closed yet, and after Christmas, I am going back for a day with some of my Christmas money, for one last shot at that buck. God made me go through the lesson before I got recess, the bitter before the sweet, the vegetables before desert, the journey before the destination.
But sometimes in life, there isn't that second chance. Sometimes it's a one-time deal. God wanted you to journey, not to arrive. There is always that possibility that we must accept, and learn from.
But who knows, I just might bring that buck home.