I grew up in the woods. Countless hours spent in solitary silence exploring the town forest behind my home in rural New Hampshire. I brought home all sorts of critters to less than enthusiastic parents. Baby squirrels, hatchlings fallen from a nest, turtles, spotted salamanders, red efts, and the occasional garter snake. Once while biking down our dirt road, I came across a giant green snake. Having never seen a snake like that, I felt compelled to take it home to ID it. So I took off one rubber boot placed the snake inside. I then bike home, one hand on the handlebars, one hand on the boot, shaking the snake back into the boot every time it tried to slither to freedom.
As I grew, my love of nature never faded, but the amount of time I spent in the woods did. When I became a mother, the days of solitary silence in the woods became a thing of the past, replaced with extra loud hiking trips, scraped knees, and lots and lots of layers of clothing to put onto small bodies. My time in the woods became something that was always in the company of small children. I enjoyed sharing with them the wonder and secrets that the woods held. We spent hours bushwhacking trails on the family-owned property. Discovering plants, bugs, small critters, game trails, tracks, and googling "What type of poop is this." Although we usually enjoyed our time in the woods, sometimes the walk would prove to be too far, or the bugs too intense, or some other random ailment befell a child disrupting the peace and tranquility that might have been. Alas, life with kids!
My husband has hunted all his life. He comes from a large family full of men who all love to hunt. They take the opening day off work each year. They come together to help each other drag and butcher. They work together and share lots of laughs after big hunts. Before meeting my husband, I never had the opportunity to be exposed to hunting. Since we had young children, and hunting was my husband and the men in his family’s thing, I never gave it much of a second thought. But standing in the kitchen filled with loveable but loud children, I imagined myself surrounded by trees, the smell of damp earth, and the sounds of nature. It sounded like paradise. I felt a strong dose of envy every time he snuck off to his tree stand while I flipped pancakes and played referee. I began to imagine myself, bow in hand, stalking silently through the trees, out hunting all those men. As our youngest son approached school age, I decided to give hunting a try for nothing else but a moment of peace.
I got my apprentice license, borrowed our oldest son's rifle (my bow hunting dreams would have to wait until I was more practiced), and went out with my husband to a double tree stand on what we call "The Big Swamp" half a dozen times. This particular stand hangs in a cove of the swamp that never sees the sun. As a result, it is always cold in that stand. Not just normal cold either, cold, cold. Bless his heart, my husband listened and answered all 782 questions about deer habits and deciphering squirrel noises. He listened to me scold him for walking too loudly. He followed my inexperienced lead through thick whips and low-hanging branches. He manned the grunt call and gently corrected my rookie mistakes. It was fun spending time in the woods with my husband, but not exactly the picture of serenity I had imagined. After our last trip to The Big Swamp that season, I still wasn't quite sure if I would enjoy hunting or not. We hadn't seen a single deer during trips together, and I froze every time we sat in that double stand.
Unsure of my commitment level, I still decided to take the hunter safety course, mainly online, throughout the winter. The course wraps up with a hands-on field day and in-person testing. Due to Covid, the field day was a shorter version versus the typical all-day session. Unsurprisingly I was the only woman, and that is a story for another day. Nevertheless, I passed the class and would be ready to hit the woods in September.
I spent the summer practicing with my bow, familiarizing myself with its weight, maneuverability. As summer progressed missed targets, and broken arrows turned into good groupings and confident shot placement. I found my anchor point and began to feel like the slick bowhunter I imagined myself to be. I picked a spot for a tree stand not far off the private dirt road we live on, hung and camera, and readied myself for my first whitetail bow season.
Opening day fell on a Tuesday, which meant mom duties came first. We rushed through morning routines, breakfast, and missing homework. Finally, arriving at the bus stop just in time, my youngest son looked over his shoulder as he boarded the yellow school bus, and yelled "Good Luck. Shoot A Buck". It was a common saying in our house when their dad left for a hunt, but this was a first for me! Excitement pulsed through me as I waved blindly at the slowly disappearing bus.
At the edge of the woods, I go through a mental checklist of everything I have, strap on my release, knock an arrow-just in case- and begin the short hike in. I attempt to make my way quietly through the still fully leaved beech, birch, and oak tree forest. Finding respite in the silence of fallen pine needles and exposed stray rocks. I took way too long on that first walk in, but it was a feeling like nothing I had ever felt. I became one with the woods and everything in it. The rest of the world disappeared—my fears, worries, stress, mom duties, work duties, every-gone. My mind was entirely focused and engaged in the sights, sounds, and feelings around me.
I melt into the woods, becoming something that belongs.
Unnoticed by its inhabitants.
Small birds flit here and there, close enough to touch, calling happily to each other. A pair of chipmunks play tag on my tree, which would later come to annoy me- but on that first day, it felt like magic. My ears prick at every creak and groan of the trees around me. Every dropping acorn and scurrying squirrel is a monster buck causing my heart to catch each time. My eyes scan every inch of the V-shaped cut that my stand hangs at the point of until I know the position of every rock, branch, and leaf.
I see her before I hear her—brown legs in an area that moments ago had been void of anything but green.
Every alarm in my body goes off.
Instantly, and uncontrollably my body is held captive by adrenaline.
She was far, too far for a shot and behind a wall of beech leaves, but she was the first deer I had ever seen in the woods.
She meanders her way down an uppercut to my right in perfect view of my stand. I’m standing heart in my chest, arrow knocked, and release clipped, at the ready if she changes course. But she doesn’t deviate from her path, continuing toward the pond, unalert to my existence. Then, as quietly as she appeared, she vanishes back into the whips—two minutes pass, then five, then seven.
Slowly I exhale, a smile spreading across my face.
I was hooked.