"Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy."
I would say it was a typical week, but typical implies some degree of normalcy. None of my weeks are normal. As the lead pastor of an active church, the only thing I count on each week is a flurry of activity.
That particular week in early November began crazier than most. Saturday, I studied all day. Sunday, I packed in two church services, a lunch for new families, and an elder's meeting. Monday hit me with back-to-back counseling sessions, drop-ins, and an evening Bible study. When I finally hit the pillow late Monday night, I didn't even set the alarm. I had one goal: eight hours of sleep!
However, the phone's ringing jarred me from sleep at 4:30 a.m. A nurse from the hospital had called to tell me one of my parishioners had been admitted. The family was anxious and wanted me to pray with them over the phone.
Being invited into a moment of crisis is an honor; it's one of the reasons I became a pastor. Yet, when I hung up the phone, I was out of gas. Tuesday's docket was full, and as I sat at the kitchen table with my wife, Jamie, at 5 a.m., I didn't have the energy to face it.
"My head is spinning," I said exhaustedly.
"There's no way you'll get back to sleep, Hon. Why don't you go sit in a tree for a few hours?" Jamie replied encouragingly.
Composer Franz Schubert wrote, "Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife." Jamie is my companion in a thousand ways. In that predawn moment, she knew precisely what I needed: to push the "pause" button on life, get outside, and clear my head. Following her advice, I took a long hot shower with scent-free soap, donned my warmest clothes, and took off for a brisk morning in the stand.
Normally, the first moments in a tree find me dreaming of big bucks and successful scenarios. Not this morning. Like a dryer on a continuous spin cycle, my mind raced from one thought to another regarding upcoming meetings, phone calls, and counseling sessions.
My mind might have spun all morning had it not been for him. At 6:35, just a few minutes before shooting light, movement caught my eye. The dew was turning into fog and just beginning to lift from the field. Peering through the haze, I saw the largest buck I'd seen all year. He was sneaking out of the timber and into the wheat field to my left. All my racing thoughts, anxiety, and stress immediately evaporated.
Because I had not planned on going out that morning, I'd tried a couple of things out of the ordinary. Specifically, I usually do not hunt field edges in the morning, and I don't use buck decoys. This morning, however, I gave both a try.
As the buck neared the middle of the field, he still hadn't noticed my decoy. In a few moments he'd be gone. I fumbled through my pack, found my call, and grunted. He stopped, froze, and cranked his head in my direction. I'd been wanting to try my new snort-wheeze call, so I gave it a shot. The deer's silhouette grew noticeably larger as the hairs on his body stood up. Angling my direction, he disappeared behind a line of cedar trees.
A few moments passed, and he remained hidden by the foliage. Grabbing my antlers from a branch beside me, I tapped them together and was still holding the antlers when the deer stomped through a space in the treeline. Aggressively he pounded the ground with each step, making a low guttural growl every few seconds. Reaching for my bow, I had to remind myself to breathe.
Every article I've read about decoying deer has suggested that a buck will approach an antlered decoy head on. Apparently this buck had not read those articles because he circled behind my decoy to attack from the rear.
I hadn't planned for that, and my only open lane was set up for the front of the decoy. As I slowly stood and strained to shoot over some branches, the deer must have heard me, or seen the movement, because in a flash, he took three bounds and ended up 25 yards away, concealed behind two cedar trees.
I could see only part of his body -- his vitals -- and with a clear shot I drew and released. The hit sounded good, and the deer bounded away into the woods.
Like all hunters, I promised myself that I'd let plenty of time pass before getting out of the stand. And, like many hunters, the anticipation got the better of me. After 10 minutes, I climbed down to find my arrow. Blood sign confirmed a good hit, but still I forced myself to wait another 45 minutes before taking up the trail.
Then, 200 yards away, I found my buck -- a 3½-year-old 10-point, the largest deer I've shot to date.
For the next two hours I eagerly called friends, snapped photos, and hung the field-dressed deer. By the time I exchanged my hunting boots for Hushpuppies to head to church, it was 10 a.m. Four hours outdoors had filled me with fresh air and renewed vigor.
Jamie knew it right away. As I walked toward the door to go to work, she stopped me and, with a self-congratulatory tone, said, "Well, say it -- I was right. That was just what you needed."
I gave her a hug and said, "Yeah, it was perfect."
Life is busy. Ironically, all the technological advances promising to make our days easier -- Blackberries, cell phones, laptops -- only speed up the pace. They keep us "on-call" 24/7. If you're like me, you enjoy your work, but the frantic pace can become daunting at times.
That's one reason bowhunting has such value. It gives us a way to push the pause button on the busyness. It provides time alone in nature, away from cell phones, cyberspace, and anything that plugs in. It gives us the chance to pull away and simply enjoy life.
French poet Guillaume Apollinaire wrote, "Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy." Being in the woods, inhaling the scent of pine trees, watching wildlife parade by our stands -- these are the things that make us bowhunters happy. When we're holding our bows, 20 feet up our favorite trees, we're not pursuing happiness, we're smack in the middle of it.
That crisp November morning in the woods along the Platte River cleared my head, gave me much-needed time alone, and prepared me for re-entry into a busy life. What a great sport!
The author is a pastor and new resident of Central City, Nebraska.
Author's Notes: My equipmen
t on this hunt included a BowTech Tribute set at 62 lbs., Easton ST Epic 340 arrows, NAP Spitfire XP broadheads, Vital Gear sight, and Schaffer arrow rest. I wore clothing from Scent-Lok.