My plans to take time off from work were squelched by too many year-end goings on at work. So I drove up to Connecticut last Friday night to get one full day of hunting in this past Saturday.
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the highways were regularly quiet. I-95 in Connecticut is normally a slow-lurching snake of chrome and misery, so to breeze north was a rare treat. I made good time in getting to my friend Steve’s house. Steve is an accomplished hunter and he is generous enough to let me stay at his house when I go hunting.
I was up before 5:30 a.m. the next day. Hunting or running the Tunnel to Towers 5k are the only reasons a anyone should be willingly awake before 6 a.m. on a weekend. I was ready and out the door without too much problem. Unfortunately I accidentally set off my car’s car alarm in the driveway of my friend’s house, waking him and at least one member of his family.
I was the only one pulling into the small area for cars at the unmarked entrance to the Cockaponset State Forest on Little City Road in Killingworth, Connecticut. I didn’t see any other human beings for the next 10 hours and that was a good thing. I saw and heard evidence of people, but all the time outside in the daylight it was just me and my quest to take a deer home.
Spending time in and around the natural world is a basic human need. The science is in, and there are significant health benefits to spending time around more trees and fewer people. Human beings are not meant to live without experiencing some part of the natural world on a regular basis.
I made my way into the woods. It was still dark, but a bright moon provided good light. Once it was past the legal hunting time I loaded up and kept making my way quietly to my chosen hunting spot.
I got very lucky the first time I staked out this area and it and it has the natural attributes that would make it a good location to begin with. It is a natural overlook with greenery for deer to eat and water for them to drink.
But nothing doing. While I heard gunshots going off in the distance frequently and thought maybe some deer would get chased my way, nothing doing. At midday, I decided to search out someplace different. I started by making my way to my old spot, at another overlook that is an even higher perch. It was there where I took my first deer several years ago.
The area has improved, in that the stream that was dried up a few years ago is back and flowing nicely. But it has attracted other, less ethical hunters. Someone left a camping chair and their garbage on this natural overlook, a major faux pas in the hunting world. I thought it would be justified to take this chair out of the woods, as punishment to whatever entitled rube left it there along with their refuse. Instead I moved on, making my way deeper into the forest.
And as I marched through an overgrown passage between trees, I finally saw a deer. He or she was not far away, but had seen or heard me first and was on the move, picking up the pace and getting out of good range before I could even raise my shotgun and get in my sights.
I paused, hoping some other deer may come along on its heels, but no luck. I hiked a bit more and found a new spot that looked over the growth where the deer I saw would have exited into a more open area, and if any deer had some along I would be in a good position.
The last two hours of the day passed by slowly. Someone in the distance fired off a lot of rounds; they were either target shooting or had come upon some prehistoric giant mega deer that took ten shotgun slugs to bring down.
I started to make my way out of the woods towards the end of the day, hoping to maybe get lucky on the way. When legal hunting ended, I unloaded and found my way back to my car.
Another hunting trip without some game to take home, but time in the woods is always time well spent.
New York City was treated to a Hunter’s Supermoon to start the week. It was fitting and inspiring, as hunting season is getting under way.
The fall is time for harvest and as we celebrate harvesting crops we also celebrate harvesting the animals that have traditionally been hunted in these parts. In the Northeast that is deer and turkey. The Northeast as an abundance of deer and it can be a problem. Housing development has taken away land the deer need and put them in closer proximity to humans. Overpopulation of deer causes more traffic accidents and make it more likely that deer will die of starvation or disease.
At the same time hunting is attracting fewer participants. I’m happy that it’s still very popular but there was a time when people of every kind would hunt regularly. I’m proud to say that I have a very wide variety of friends, but among my friends I’m one of the few that goes hunting.
Living in New York City, there is no legal place to hunt within the five boroughs and very little in the immediate suburbs at all approved for hunting. And the densely populated areas of Westchester to the North and the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk mostly only allow bow hunting. Bow hunting is great but it is much more difficult to hunt that way.
I’ve heard the arguments against hunting: that we can somehow coexist with an overpopulation of animals that raid our gardens and run in front of our cars or teach deer to use birth control. That hunting is somehow cowardly because it involves killing an animal. Unless you are a Level Five Vegan, your life is made possible by the deaths of animals. I would be a hypocrite if I ate meat but wasn’t willing to go hunting.
Taking an animal’s life shouldn’t be taken lightly and many experienced hunters have let deer escape their sights if taking them doesn’t feel right. I don’t take a shot unless I have a very clear kill shot. There may have been deer that I could have taken if I was willing to wound them first and then track them and kill them, but the idea of letting an animal die a slow painful death is not something I’m willing to chance. And I guarantee the deer I take from the woods and eat has a much more pleasant life and death than the average steer that winds up as hamburger or steak.
The hunter that doesn’t treat animals with respect is no real hunter at all. Hunting isn’t easy. It means standing in the cold for hours at a time for the chance to take a shot you might miss. Sadly there are plenty of mindless cream puffs who want to treat hunting like it’s a video game, but these are a small minority who lack the patience and discipline and will soon tire of having to hunt in the real world.
So start by taking a hunter safety course. You’ll enjoy spending time outside and having some fresh food to eat.
I look forward to going hunting every year. Last year, after two years of getting nothing, I got a small button buck in the Connecticut woods. It gave me a great feeling of accomplishment and I returned to the woods this year with a much-bolstered sense of confidence.
But a deer was not in the cards this year. This was the first season I’ve gone hunting when I didn’t even SEE a single deer in the two whole days I was in the woods. Even in the previous hunts when I came home empty-handed, I had at least seen deer in the woods.
I saw deer while I was driving to Connecticut and back. There is no shortage of deer in the world. The woods of the suburbs and country are still sick with the beautiful beasts. And I have a good spot as well. My favorite hunting spot is a bluff that overlooks a healthy slice of woods. I’m elevated and out sight. It has given me many chances to get deer.
My friend Steve, a very experienced hunter who has taught me a lot about hunting, said the deer were moving differently this year. It was windy on one day we were out and deer don’t like to move around when it’s windy—the wind carries their scent to potential predators. Steve said that some years that’s just what happens. You can sit for hours and days not see nothing. That’s hunting.
Hunting is a noble venture, and it requires a lot of patience and discipline. And that’s actually one of the best things about it. Hunting means you have to be silent and quietly observe nature for many hours at a time.
The first day I went out this year things were cold and windy. Leaves falling from the trees and swaying branches will sometimes catch your eye. Your mind can play tricks on you and you’ll see deer in every movement of the trees or leaves. You’ll hear a sound in the distance and think it may be the sound of some game approaching. It will turn out to be nothing but the wind.
Every clump of brush in the distance could be a missed chance at a shot. I found myself scoping in on things just to maintain my aiming acuity and in case these shaded areas of the woods turned out to be a delicious venison.
The second day I went out was about a week later and it was the last day of the hunting season. Snow had fallen and the woods were blanketed with a layer of white. There were fresh deer tracks not far from my regular spot. I got there plenty early and stayed quiet. I still saw nothing. It was beautiful to see the woods covered in snow, even seeing different animal tracks in the snow made the trip worthwhile.
Steve tells me that hunting is all about time in the woods. The more time you spend in the woods, the better hunter you become.
I’ll add that more time in the woods makes you a better person as well. Everyone needs some quiet time to contemplate nature. Everyone needs hours at a time in the outdoors where you don’t speak at all. You are quiet and watching and waiting. The peaceful quiet is its own reward, and may be your only reward that day. Sometimes that’s enough.
New York City has no legal places to hunt and it’s a good thing that we can’t start shooting geese in Central Park or pigeons in Prospect Park. Although one could probably bag a nice wild turkey in Inwood Hill Park if you’re patient enough, it would be a bad idea to take your shotgun on the A train.
But there are plenty of opportunities for city folk to get into hunting. I’m originally from the Big Apple, have been back in the five boroughs 15 years and I’m hooked on hunting for good now. There is fine hunting land upstate, on Long Island and in New Jersey and Connecticut.
Hunting is good for the environment and will get you fresh, free-range meat. I only became interested in hunting over the last few years. I would be hypocrite if I was willing to eat meat and wasn’t willing to go get it. If you’re willing to eat it, you should be willing to kill it.
But the first step to start hunting is to take a free hunter safety class, which you can do throughout New York City. I took both my gun hunting and bow hunting safety courses at different places in Queens.
There are gun ranges in every borough of New York City, so if you can get a gun permit (which takes some doing—New York City’s gun laws are unconstitutionally strict and permit costs can run higher than buying a firearm), you can practice close to home if you live in the Big Apple. But you can also borrow a gun or a bow from a friend who lives outside the city. I go to a friend’s place in Connecticut, which is near a state forest.
Hunting means you have to be alone in the woods with your cell phone off. You have to be very quiet and observe everything carefully. You will see notice things you haven’t noticed before and wouldn’t notice if you were hiking, camping or fishing. It requires mega amounts of patience, of sitting or standing very still for hours at a time in hopes of seeing a deer.
I went two years of hunting without getting anything and coming heartbreakingly close to taking deer. That was hours every day for several days in a row, getting lost and coming out of the woods empty handed but still loving it.
My first year, I was in a perfect position on an elevated ridge when two large deer walked by. When you first see deer that you have a chance to get, your adrenaline soars and your heart pounds furiously and you can hardly get the animal in your sites. I had a great shot on one of the deer and I was following them along. At the last second I stepped on a twig and the two deer bolted, their fluffy white asses taunting me as they ran away.
The next year, I again had a great spot when three deer walked almost directly in front of me. When I moved ever so slightly to get a good shot on one, they spotted me. One of them screamed (deer can scream and sound like the Muppet Beaker) and my chance was lost again. I didn’t see another deer the rest of that season, and got lost in the woods, three times. It was still fun.
And this year I made plans well in advance and was in the woods on the first day of the season. I was in a good position and I saw a deer only about a half hour into legal hunting. I shot at it twice, convinced I got a kill shot, but had only lightly grazed the beast. Hours later, after a fruitless search for a dead deer that wasn’t, I was confident that my day was over and was content to laze and doze on my old ridge from my first year.
Later on, early in the afternoon, at time when deer are not usually active, two more came to me. I managed to get off a solid shot on a small button buck. It went down quickly and I gave it extra time to die. I saw where he fell and waited 15 minutes. I found it, feeling proud and sad at the same time.
My good friend Steve, who got me into hunting, helped me greatly and without his help I would have come home empty handed again. He was hunting nearby and came to help and take my photo with the deer. He showed me some of the finer points of field dressing and soon I was ready to go.
The deer looked small, but didn’t feel very small while I was dragging it out of the woods. In a few days I’ll return to Connecticut and collect a hefty box of delicious venison from a butcher. Our freezer will be full for at least the first part of the winter. And I can’t wait to go back next year.