Young Hunter Honing their Archery Skills
Young Hunter Honing their Archery Skills Photography - Kelli Gill

Some things I want some people to know about hunting. Hunting is not an easy sport.

It’s not walking into the woods and finding a comfy place to sit and then shoot what you’re after in a few minutes and get out quick. It’s getting out of bed early, packing what you need for the day, hiking in the dark with a heavy backpack on.

 

The author glasses for deer while waiting in stand
Glassing for deer while waiting in stand
Photography – Kelli Gill

Tolerating the cold is not as easy as some might think. Despite layers of clothing meant for being outside, it can still be challenging. For some, the cold doesn’t bother them. For others like me, the cold can bring on tremors that can make you shake so bad your arrow rattles off your bow. When the sun rises and it’s rays finally make it to me, I close my eyes and thank God for that brief twenty or 30 minutes of semi warmth, until the rays move with time and are lost on the other side of many trees. Times like that can make anyone realize how precious our sun is and be thankful to God for providing it.

 

Once you get past the cold, then it’s the comforts of home you miss. The soft chairs, warm soft bed and covers, even a cold toilet seat seems inviting. lol You give that up for hours of either a cold metal or cloth seat, or even at times, just a downed tree or rock that has a semi flat top… Being still and quiet are very important to hunting. Not to mention playing the wind right so you can try to outsmart some of the smartest animals that call the woods their home, one’s whose senses can smell or hear you from a hundred yards away. So moving to a new spot once in a while through the day might be an option from time to time.

 

All day, regardless of what you’re doing or where you are, you have to be aware of everything around you. You’re watching the ground for fresh signs of the animal your after. Being able to tell a fresh path through the leaves or if a track is fresh or not are things learned over time. A fresh trail through the leaves would have some kicked up dirt on the leaves, or the leaves that are turned over could be a little damp looking on top so the path could look a little darker than the other leaves covering the ground.

 

Once you find a spot to be, there’s always the waiting game. This is where patience and persistence come into play. Breathing slowly through the cold shakes, ignoring the desire to leave and give up,…you stay, you’re still and quiet, and you pay attention. After hours of watching and running scenarios through your head of how things could go, they ultimately surprise you. You are looking from left to right as slowly as you can so you don’t move too fast and scare anything away,…then look left again only to find the ghosts of the woods standing there as if they’d been there for hours. Then the game begins.

 

You watch them, waiting for them to move just the right way, maybe behind a tree or thick brush so you can make a move. You watch their ears and which way they are looking, you have to make sure if there are others with that one, that they too don’t see you and give your intentions away. When you can, you raise your weapon of choice, bow or gun and then take careful aim, take that breath. Checkmate. After the shot, you realize the cold doesn’t exist anymore, the world seems like it’s in slow motion. You replay it all in your head maybe a hundred times until you’ve gathered your belongings and get ready to see what just happened. If the animal didn’t drop in it’s tracks, it’s time to track


Teaching the young hunter: Practice Makes Perfect
Teaching the young hunter: Practice Makes Perfect
Photography – Kelli Gill

it. You remember the last place you saw it, then look for signs of the hit. Turned over leaves, dirt kicked up, and ultimately the stuff of life shining on the leaves.

 

Just because a shot was good, doesn’t mean there’s always a clear trail right to the animal. Like someone drew a straight line to it for you. Most of the time, you’re reading signs again,…the turned over leaves, fresh dirt, etc. Sometimes you’re crawling on your hands and knees through some of the thickest thorns and brush that you thought for sure no deer could fit through. In the end, the game is won when you find the animal. After saying your thanks, then the real work begins. You clean the animal, and work your way out of the woods. Sounds easy, huh? Dragging a deer who’s weight could be as much as 160 lbs or more after field dressing, is no easy task. So this is where the deer “gets you back”. You want it, you have to work for it.

 

Everything is working against you. The weight of the animal, the friction of the ground, tree branches on the ground, no level footing anywhere, your exhaustion from the day already, plus all your gear and extra clothing… It’s hard work. Me, I pick rest points every so often. Make it to that tree, or that rock… Little by little you work your way out to civilization, make it home to process your own deer, then finally close the freezer lid. Then the game is officially won.

 

Then, standing in a hot shower, trying to let the warm water get to your chilled bones, you realize that the day you just had was a day a lot of people never get to experience. You have a deeper appreciation for all God created. You are thankful for the heat in your home, something you may have taken for granted before. Thankful for warm houses and running water…You got to listen to the nothingness of the woods in the dark, not being able to see your own hand in front of your face after you turn off your light. You got to watch the sun rise and turn the odd shaped structures around you into trees and bushes and listen to the world come alive with birds singing and squirrels tricking you into looking in their direction thinking they were a herd of deer. You used knowledge that maybe your father or someone taught you years ago when, back then, all you wanted to do was get back to a warm house to watch your cartoons.

 

Young Hunter Honing their Archery Skills
Young Hunter Honing their Archery Skills
Photography – Kelli Gill

You outwitted one of the wariest creatures in the Pennsylvania woods and provided food for your family that didn’t come from a grocery store. And the most important of all,…you carried on a family tradition that was passed down from generation to generation. You did it to make your father proud of you. Even if he couldn’t be with you,…he was there when you heard that arrow hit or when that empty bullet casing hit the ground smoking. That’s all I wish for my children. That they can understand that hunting is no easy task. It’s a lot of work, a lot of patience and persistence. But in the end, it’s family pride and tradition to share such a passion and pass it on to the next generation. For them to understand WHY mommy does what mommy does. That it’s a love for something more than just a hunt. It’s stories and memories that will last forever. So take a child hunting…you might just change their lives forever…” Pics are my children. The hopeful next generation of Pennsylvania hunters.

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