All around the country, deer season is underway in one form or another. For die-hard whitetail junkies like me, it seemed like it would never arrive. The first few chances to sit in the deer woods really get me jacked - even in Texas where early October bow hunts are typically very hot. Starting in the summer, I mentally and physically plan for that first day. Stand locations are pondered and implemented, shooting lanes are cut, and trail cameras are thoughtfully placed throughout hunting properties. Though the late winter and spring can provide a needed respite from the hunting grind, there are still hunting activities such as shed hunting to do. When it comes down to it, my season lasts pretty much all year. In fact, there is probably no day where whitetails or hunting doesn't cross my mind at some point; and I know I'm far from alone when it comes to my DOB affliction (that's deer on the brain).
I sometimes cringe when I think of all the hunting I did when my daughters were young. I had the hunting bug bad and justified it boldly. I have always been blessed to have a very supportive "deer hunting widow" of a wife and perhaps took advantage of it at times. Looking back, it's clear that my motives were not clear. Sure, I loved hunting, but it was much more than that. I identified as a "hunter" and the importance of my time in the field and deer camp with my father or friends became misplaced. It was of great importance to partake in this "rite of passage" every chance I got. But in hindsight, I wasn't even doing it productively. Sure, I was intent on hunting the rut, opening weekend, and the like, but paid little attention to other factors such as hunting costs, weather patterns, and relationships. The "I'm a hunter, therefore I hunt" mentality ran amok.
What were my goals anyway? Killing a big buck, logging many hours around the campfire and watching college football come to mind. If the big buck part was the main objective, I sure didn't put myself in the best position. Going hunting often is hardly a great strategy on its own. Knowing what I know today, I could have maximized my time not only based on family events and relationships but sound hunting planning. Planning my outdoor adventures based on variables such as weather patterns and moon phases would have gone a long way toward a healthy life balance. I understood these and other factors but wasn't about to let them guide my plans. I was on self-control autopilot. Clearly, hunting had become my idol and today I still have to check my motives at the door from time to time.
Planning and Structure
Put simply, I was floundering and needed a plan. My love for hunting was authentic, but my hunting calendar was a mess. Come to think of it, my life calendar was in shambles. First, I had to let the word "hobby" marinate in my brain. I had a beautiful family and the disparate amount of time I spent at my hobby wasn't adding much value. Sure, it was good therapy for me, but it was too much. Isn't it okay to have hobbies? Of course. In fact, it was a healthy way for me to combat a somewhat stressful job. But I needed balance to my time; structure. My wife and I started having regular calendar sessions for clarity around family obligations and kid activities; and yes, hunting times. If there's one thing I've learned about structure is that everyone needs it; kids and adults alike. I found that actively acknowledging priorities is liberating and productive. This is when I learned to pick my spots. That is, I sought to schedule my times in the outdoors based on those most optimal for big buck success, as well as quality fellowship.
You could argue that I continued to hunt a lot compared to some, but I had at least added organization to the equation, and everyone benefitted from it. I've since become familiar with scripture that has everything to do with this very issue. Proverbs 21:5 for one says; "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty." Never truer words in my experience.
Who's in Control Here?
Once I learned to add structure to my hunting schedule, I realized that I had a lot more peace because I wasn't always striving to be in control. I know what you're probably thinking. Isn't planning taking control? Yes, but as I've grown stronger in my faith, I've come to understand that the true freedom came from seeking God's will instead of mine when making decisions. So, if you think about it, I achieved more peace and freedom from hunting less than more. That has dramatically reduced hunting guilt as well. Go figure.
On the Home Front
Like already mentioned, I probably spend more time thinking about hunting than I should. It can be hard to resist. Consequently, I’ve found that there is no good reason to stay home unless I'm prepared to really be present.
Being distant or grumpy isn't good for anyone involved - including me. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that nobody wants to be around that guy. Nonetheless, this can be a real quandary. I think of past weekends at home when unexpected cool fronts caused discontent. I was "missing out" on a great hunting opportunity! Oh, and gawking at nice bucks on TV and social media wasn't much help either. So, stand by your decision and while you're at it, decide to not be miserable. Take place in or even initiate family activities. Similarly, take care of chores that your hunting habit take you away from. It's gratifying to capitalize on this time. You'll feel better the next time you're in the blind or tree stand. Live in the moment and enjoy your blessings on the home front.
In the Deer Woods
If you are going hunting and are prone to hunting guilt, decide up front to enjoy it; regardless of the outcome. Like at home, be present in nature and deer camp. Why go to the effort and expense if you're not going to fully embrace your time outdoors. There are too many things to enjoy on a hunting trip; the new smell of autumn, interesting animal behavior, or the buck harvested by a hunting buddy. Further, when possible, include your kids and spouse in your hunting and other outdoor interests. They may or may not be as passionate about it as you, but chances are they will get a glimpse into this part of your world and see the attraction.
Now, as an empty-nester with adult children, the same concepts apply. I'm still blessed to have a wife supportive of my DOB condition, and I don't get it all right sometimes. You might say I'm the stubborn type and still can be bent toward pleasing myself. Hunting season, like all seasons, requires that I take time to prioritize and stay mindful when I get out of balance spiritually. For me, it brings to mind Ephesians 3:1; "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens". So, from the back forty to the backyard, strive to take full advantage of not only deer season, but all the seasons of your life.