There's no realm in which I more fully understand the frustration of works against the unfairness of grace than in the realm of blacktail hunting. This is because in blacktail hunting, as with the Christian faith, ‘victory’ is not based on output of effort. There simply is no promise of getting what you want, based on the best you can do.
Certainly, effort helps. There’s a great degree of truth in the ancient Seneca quote that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Every year, about 4 months before bow season starts, I begin running, lifting weights and watching my diet with extra care. I do inventory on my hunting gear and repair what needs repairing and when possible, purchase what needs purchasing. I set up a target range and try to familiarize myself with my hunting equipment by practicing everyday. I pour over topographical maps and satellite imagery for potential hunting spots. Constantly, I’m guessing at ranges and distances, forcing myself into ‘heat of the moment’ hunting scenarios, where quick thinking gets the job done. Yes, there’s a great degree of truth in saying that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I know each year as the season approaches that when opportunity comes, I’m as ready for it as I can be. The thing with hunting is… we don’t control opportunity.
I woke to a waning moon bright on my face and rose as a falling star fell. My alarm was shrieking obscenities at a peaceful world as I struggled with clumsy fingers to undo the zipper of my sleeping bag. ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!’ I muttered frantically. I always wake up panicked when I’m hunting, convinced the ‘monster buck’ will be scared away by my freakishly loud digital travel clock. Who knows… maybe he was.
Even in California, mountain mornings are cold. I know, not as cold as wherever it is you hunt, but, whatever, it was cold. We stumbled around the camp to get warm and wake up, making final preparations to our packs and for the hike to our stands for first light. When things were ready, we split up and began our hour-long hike to the ridge-rock bowls where we hoped to see buck herds like bison.
In the dying light of dusk, the granite thresholds of Gibson Peak seem to weep rivulets of liquid silver, but it’s only an illusion. Really it’s nothing but the last bit of sun, reflecting off hundreds of tiny feeder springs that trickle down to the lake below and hardly make a ripple. But this wasn’t dusk; it was dawn, and with every breath I battled gravity and time to beat dawns early light to my spot on the ridgeline. When finally I made it to my outcropping perch, Venus was swinging low from the moon like the old wooden seat strung up from the mango tree by my childhood home. But for all the beauty of my killer view, the deer did not come.
The sun rose quickly, changing the landscape from blue to gold, and what deer there were, though invisible to us, bedded down for the day along with hope and opportunity. Our group returned to camp near noon before going separate ways. They went back out the trailhead, one of their young men nauseous and cold. I ventured further up the valley, alone but intrigued at the thought of new vistas filled with deer. I had two days left to hunt.
I know, each year, when opportunity comes, I’m as ready for it as I can be. The thing with hunting is… we don’t control opportunity. We can’t earn it. It comes like the wind, refreshing but unmastered, unpredictable but real, and is no respecter of persons. Which is why there’s no realm in which I more fully understand the frustration of works against the unfairness of grace than in the realm of blacktail hunting. Because in blacktail hunting, as in the Christian faith, ‘victory’ isn’t based on output of effort. There simply is no promise of getting what you want, based on the best you can do. In hunting, as in the Christian faith, success depends on unmerited favor. You prepare, you sweat, you work —but not before you risk a prayer for help in submission to the God of opportunity.