Of hunting tents and teenagers

As I write this, it’s four days into the 2010 bow and arrow season for deer and the newly expanded archery season for turkey. Sadly, I was tied up much of the opening weekend and only got out hunting one evening for two hours. I saw nothing but a gray squirrel.
Still, despite my slow start, I always look forward to hunting season and the annual excuse to spend time just sitting out in the woods. This year is no different. Over the next two and a half weeks, and then again for two weeks in November and another in December, I plan to spend lots of time doing just that: sitting in the woods.
Now I always hope for the one type of hunting success: the type defined in terms of fresh, wild, free-range, predominantly organic meat on my table. It’s a bit like gardening. I enjoy the act of gardening and the time spent with my hands in the soil. Though weeding can get dull at times, I enjoy the labors of planting and harvesting. I enjoy watching seeds sprout and grow. I like seeing what shapes my carrots will decide to take. I like experimenting with new vegetable varieties. It is pleasurable and satisfying work.
More than anything, though, I enjoy the high-quality food that ends up on my table — food that did not travel across the country, and was not genetically modified or raised on pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, growth hormones or antibiotics. I enjoy escaping what Aldo Leopold once referred to as the spiritual danger of thinking that food comes from a grocery store and heat from a furnace. So I garden and hunt, and in both cases I actually hope for a harvest, though one is never guaranteed. And the thought of that harvest is one of the things that motivate the labor.
Speaking of gardening, this year I’m additionally motivated to put one particular piece of venison in my freezer. Of the three animals that plagued and damaged my sleep, my furniture, my house, and my garden this summer — namely our pet cat Zoe, a fearless cedar-siding-consuming porcupine, and a voracious deer — only the last of these three would actually taste good on our table. (I’ve heard that porcupine tastes good but I don’t think I’m going to try it.) The venison might taste even better than the several meals of sweet corn I didn’t eat this year because of its successful garden raids.
But the biggest and best reason I look forward to hunting this year came as a recent and pleasant surprise. To my great astonishment, about two weeks ago my youngest son, Peter — a newly minted teenager — asked if he could join me hunting this fall.
I picked my jaw off the floor and double checked what I thought I had heard. I had, indeed, heard correctly. He doesn’t want to actually shoot anything himself. He’s not interested in holding a gun or a bow. He just wants to go out and sit with me in the woods and watch.
Now all of my sons go fishing with me from time to time. None are as passionate about fishing itself as I am, but they all enjoy the outdoors in general, and wilderness in particular, and so if I take a fishing trip somewhere interesting I can often get one or more of them to join me.
Until this year, however, none of them have expressed much interest in hunting with me. So I was delighted to learn of Peter’s interest. Unfortunately it presented one difficulty. I have no two-person tree stands, and not enough time to build one. So with my wife’s blessing, I went out this weekend and purchased a two-person tent-style camouflage scent-blocked hunting blind. I came home with it Sunday and showed it to Peter.
If possible, he was even more excited and pleased by the purchase than I was. And also even more excited about hunting. After all, gear is cool. And new cool gear makes any activity more exciting. It’s like Christmas morning. Who can resist opening up a box?
He didn’t want me to set it up without him. So we set a date to set it up. I picked him up from soccer practice at 4:30 p.m., came home, got our snack and headed out to our meadow with the new blind and a couple chairs. It took us only about five minutes to put it up and stake it down. Then we just sat inside it for a while and played with its special features: the various odd-shaped flaps and openings that quietly go up and down to provide visibility in different directions.
Of course the next step is to actually go hunting together. It’ll probably be another couple days before our schedules coincide to allow this. But at least now he’s excited to try.
Though I’m still hoping for some of that free-range venison, I figure this season is a guaranteed success whether I get any venison or not.

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