Friday, October 30, 2009

dream season lost.

I was in the stand last night. It was eighty four degrees as I set out on the two hundred and fifty yard trek from truck to tree. I arrived with sweat pouring down my face, trudging noisily to the edge of a well utilized funnel.  I should have turned around, and I knew it, but my stubborn mind always pictures Mr. Big quartering away at fifteen yards every morning and afternoon that I hunt the bed-stand.  Having a chance at least eases my mind. 

The hunt turned about how you would think: wrong spot and none-deer. However, and as always, a lack of action allows for contemplation, and they are equally necessary to the success of a season. Sometimes the woods make do not make sense until you see them from the top of a tree. I thought initially that I was on the edge of a prime bedding area for deer. I found that I had ventured between the sheets and was resting my head on the pillow, essentially trying to kill while announcing my intentions. Being in the middle of the cane sure allows you to understand what is happening with deer. It also is a surefire sign that you will remain with no food in the freezer.  The bugs were bad and even if I had been in the right tree, the shots that would be presented would have to be quick and decisive, which is not the remedy for my early season habit of rushing the release. 

At this point of the thought process, my mind wandered back to opening weekend (last post). I suppose that I imagined this season to be the year it all came together with me and the bow. More time on the stand, thorough scouting, more mastery of the bow, and weather that seemed like it was cooperating at just the right time. The dream season. 

I was discouraged thinking about my expectations and then thinking about what has actually transpired. I have rushed two shots that cost me two deer (one miss, one unrecovered), which has been followed by ungodly october heat and zero deer movement. I sat disappointed for some time, watching a spider gracefully wrap a fly caught in a well placed web. The spider would climb up to anchor herself, only to float back down to knit the casket for the unsuspecting prey. 

The hunt is only successful for those that deserve it. It takes a dedication to finding the game, to mastery of the stick and string, to planting the crop, and it takes time. Thinking about two weeks ago, if the arrows had connected, I would be looking at a season to remember, with meat in the freezer and a rack headed to the wall. Instead, I sat thinking about a dream season lost. Its easy to think about it that way when the woods are still. Off-target arrows tend to take permanent residence in the inside of the mind, and those memories make it more difficult to remember the taste of success. 

Part of deserving it is having patience. Nature rewards those who put in their time, who know the woods like the spider and who approach the hunt with respect and that "floating grace." It also should shed light on the true nature of success.  Success is the end result, but I would say that any hunter who harvests an animal without understanding the consequences, or even worse, who is apathetic or calloused to the death inflicted, is an utter failure. Not to be a downer, but this is a matter or life and death and it should not be taken lightly. Deserving it is more than just connecting with the shot, it is also about mastering the contemplation that Izaak Walton describes so eloquently.

I used to have discussions on fishing with my friend Carson, and I would always harken back to The Compleat Angler and Izaak Walton, and I think they spoke to the nature of success. Fly fishing, I would say, is not about catching fish. Reluctanly he would agree, until one day he looks back and says "It may not be about catching fish, but it sure as hell isn't about NOT catching fish." And he was right. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

at the rack.

The first week of Alabama bow season has come and gone, capped off by a evening hunt that produced this tall, massive seven point buck-deer for Sam. Sam introduced me to bowhunting three seasons ago, and it is only fitting that I missed this buck only two nights before at twelve yards. Sam's thirty yard shot just before the end of legal shooting hours was well placed and resulted in the kind of swift and respectful kill that we all strive for.  This was Sam's first buck taken with the bow, and has been aptly named "Stan-Buck."

Our friend Clay also took his first whitetail with the bow over the weekend, arrowing his first on his own farm, then finally filling the freezer on Sunday night with a beautiful twenty five yard shot and a forty yard blood trail. Quite the exciting  weekend. Between the five in our party, there were other shots taken and some deer that went sadly unrecovered, but there is little more that can be asked of the early season. Temperatures were constantly in the forties, the moon was dark and the deer were moving. 

For me, it takes some time to get back into the rhythm of the hunt, and the more that I contemplate it I find that it is more like getting into the the rhythm of the season. It should be slower, it should be a shift in perspective. Autumn is a time where, conceptually, we move from taking the yields of the soils to participating in the harvest of the game. It is less methodical, more still, colder, quieter...and it is good.  It almost seems like a time of cleansing. Cleansing not only of your thoughts, of the mechanical routine of the modern adult routine, but a reaping the surplus of what your fields and labor have sustained. 

Back to rhythm. My first hunt of the year I sat a small archery plot that I had planted in late august. It is near an opening in a long fence-line between bedding areas, a consistent funnel for deer. I climbed into the tree late, reached the top, and then realized that my face mask was on the ground. First of all, a damn face mask is worthless, I don't know why I use it. The only camouflage I truly believe in is cover scent and being still, the rest is a marketing scheme that has us all hypnotized. I took it as a sign and stayed in the tree. Soon, though, I heard a thud, bent over the edge of my stand, and saw my bow sight lying on the ground. Hard to shoot a deer without a sight, so I climbed down and then back up. The next morning I forgot my stabilizer at camp. 

I ended up missing two deer at very close range this weekend, both because I rushed the shot. The second missed shot flew over the buck pictured above that was killed by Sam only two evenings later. It all comes back to rhythm. Rhythm is such a valuable and beautiful human sense, and the closer our we can match the rhythm of our selves with the rhythm of the nature with whom we participate, the more closely we will know and celebrate it.

One book that I am reading right now is Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.  Lets start by saying that I am in no way a mystic and I really do not practice Zen in the least. I was 
really just hoping for some shooting tips. Turns out this book gives zero shooting tips. I just want to leave a few quotes that I think are relevant to anyone, not just a theologian, philosopher, or mystic. 

"Unless we enter into...experiences by direct participation, we remain outside, turn and twist as we may. This law, which all genuine mysticism obeys, allows no exceptions."

Consequently, by the "art" of archery he does not mean the ability of the sportsman, which can be controlled, more or less, by bodily exercises, but an ability whose origin is to be sought in spiritual exercises and who aim consists in hitting a spiritual goal, so that fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself...In this contest of the archer with himself is revealed the secret essence of this art, and instruction in it does not suppress anything essential by waiving the utilitarian ends to which the practice of knightly contests was put.

Certainly a mouthful. If I could change one part of that, I would say that the the art of archery is the ability of the sportsman to realize the rhythm of the nature with whom (s)he participates. Sam and Clay found it this weekend. 

And it is a beautiful thing. 


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

pete fromm.

I would like to commend Pete Fromm for winning the 2009 Robert Traver Award from Fly Rod and Reel magazine. I just finished reading his story The Land Beyond Maps and was captizated. Also, I think that the magazine deserves some credit as well for choosing a story that truly has nothing to do with fly fishing, outside of its use in setting. Mr. Fromm’s writing is both creative and wise. It celebrates youth and love. Its one of those pieces that causes writers (mostly me) to shake my head in awe and jealousy. I enter the Traver contest most years, but I think that this year Mr. Fromm has set himself apart from past winners in both craft and content. I am sure that the judges had no problem quickly singling out his work as the deserving winner.  It is quite an amazing short story.  I highly recommend picking up the October/November 2009 edition of Fly Rod and Reel to read both the winner and runner-up in this years Traver Award competition. 

Monday, October 12, 2009


The American bison was once the most plentiful game in North America. Its population once thrived from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New York to Georgia, from Carolina to California. They were sacred animals, providing sustenance and economy to the pre-euro Americans. Today, the buffalo is somewhat foreign to the American identity, something akin to a myth or tourist destination. I would imagine that their place in the American character was similar or greater than the whitetail deer today, but they have quite simply disappeared.

 There is perhaps no chapter of the American narrative more tragic than the destruction of the buffalo.  The slaughter of the buffalo began with the introduction of the repeating rifle to native tribes. History books have looked at this singular event as simply the progress of rationalization and the thrust of innovation gifted upon the natives, resulting in the unintended consequences of relocation and mismanagement (I think that is as tactful as I can be).  While both traders and soldiers provided firearms to natives, the truth behind the disappearance of the buffalo is purely political. The post-war federal government of the 1870’s and 80’s was focused on reconstruction and expansion; reconstruction to rebuild the nation that they had destroyed, expansion to erase painful memories of the previous decade.  The rifle had immediate effects, making the buffalo harvest fast and easy, allowing the natives to harvest more than they needed, creating a market for buffalo meat and leather as a commodity back east (most of which was spoiled due to a lack of refrigeration on railcars), and thus depleting the buffalo population and forcing the natives to move or adopt an agrarian lifestyle. The American Bison, along with the culture of native America, ultimately succumbed to Western ideals of rationalization and conquest.

 Delegate R.C. McCormick of the Arizona territory is the buffalo’s Mr. Smith. In 1870, he lobbied the House of Representatives for protection of the buffalo on public lands. His efforts failed when he pleaded with congress to examine the effects that the buffalo destruction was ravaging upon the native populations in the western territories. Congress favored a “hard-line Indian stance” and saw this as a positive step for native conquest.  Others also proposed legislation in the coming years, resulting in the a relatively strong bill outlawing the destruction of the buffalo on public land. This bill was pocket vetoed by President Ulysses S. Grant, who is quoted as saying that the quick destruction of the buffalo will force the natives to adopt a “more agrarian lifestyle” and thus become more easily relocated.  With the destruction of the native economy (way of life), the federal government marched westward, forging the frontier on the shoulders of Columbus, Cortez, Coronado, and De Soto.

 The point of it all, I suppose, is that greed and power contributed heavily to the destruction of the American bison, and in turn, the destruction of Native American culture and economy, and it is sad. It is sad because of what we lost in natural understanding and resource. It is sad because of the state of native America at present. It is sad, mostly, because of all the death and pain that was inflicted for the sake of acreage and settlement. To me, this is the greatest tragedy of America, a nation of immigrants and champions, a nation with shallow roots.

 So this is The Buffalo Digest. It is a celebration of the harvest, an exploration of natural understanding, and an attempt to more deeply connect to the land and to natives old and new. My hope is that we never again allow the political extension of the people’s will cause such destruction and mismanagement, but more importantly my hope is that our roots grow deep and that our marriage to the fields and game fosters respect and honor. This is the place to explore those relationships and to share what it means to be a hunter, fisher, grower, and American.

 It’s the best week of the year, and I can’t wait for it to start. Happy Hunting.



For more information on the disappearance of the buffalo, read William Hornaday’s account of the buffalo legislation of the 1870’s and 80’s, along with Robert C. Kennedy’s 2001 The Last Buffalo cartoon essay. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


welcome to the buffalo digest, a celebration of the harvest.