There was this moment when I was in the woods, chest heaving and heart pounding so loudly that I thought to myself ‘what, am I doing out here?’
So here I sat, leaning against a tree, trying to catch my breath, and retracing how I got to this misadventure. It began with “Sure, I would love to go deer hunting with you”. (You know that early phase in a relationship when you’re still trying to impress the other person). I meant it; I was curious about hunting. This could be fun and relaxing. I imagined we would walk into the woods, bring a thermos of hot cocoa, and sit comfortably in camp chairs. We could talk and get to know each other. I would wear a cute hunting outfit. This would be fun.
As I followed behind the hunter trying to keep up, the span of my stride was no match to his. Every so often he would stop and turn with a grin that made me realize I wasn’t doing so great. He would wait for me to catch up and then he would turn and start off again, focused on making his way across the uneven ground to climb the hill that lie in wait for us. Unfortunately, agility and balance were no longer on my side at 59 years old.
The very first step I took off the wooden dock onto the frozen marsh I lost my balance and fell knee deep into the weeds. Great impression that was as he lifted me back to my feet. I was certain I had broken my foot.
I have never been what I would call a girly girl but this men’s clothing he had me wearing did not fit my vision of what I thought this hunting date would be like. I think I was picturing myself more like Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, but instead I looked like me only bigger…much bigger. I blame it on the clothes. This outfit was not cute. The thread bare 10-year-old faded legacy pattern in a men’s XL felt like it added another 20LBS to me! The elastic waisted pants had seen better days and I had to keep hiking them up to stay on. Layer after layer he had handed me to put on until I felt like a child in a snowsuit, I could barely move my limbs. Not to mention his size 10 boots on my size 8 foot did not lend themselves well to my stability resulting in the first fall off the dock. He said the outfit was necessary to keep me warm from the bitter cold November wind.
I looked hideous! But I humored him and wore the 40LBS worth of outdated camo clothing that I’m certain he must have purchased from the movie set of Deliverance. The worst part, he thought I looked cute.
Once he got me back on my feet, I continued to follow him with my broken foot. Okay so it wasn’t broken but it hurt bad. I wasn’t going to tell him that. I didn't want to ruin this adventure. I’m not a quitter, I can do this I told myself, I will not give up! And so, I pressed on behind him.
When we reached the base of the hill I looked up and thought ‘he’s got to be kidding!’ How could I possibly make my way to the top at such an incline dressed like this! I could barely bend my knees! My foot was throbbing even more now from the weight of the camo clothing. But I did not complain, I stayed the course. I followed him as he made a path through the brush to the top of the mountain. Okay so it was just a hill, but it looked like a mountain, and with an almost broken foot and 60LBS of extra clothing, it felt like a mountain!
We eventually made it to the top with only a few close calls of me tumbling backwards. He set me by this tree to rest while I tried to catch my breath. He wandered off to stand by himself. I tried to think of things to be thankful for. Well…that didn’t work.
Eventually I began to breathe more easily. So, I guess I was thankful for that, and this tree that was propping me upright. I looked around. Wait a minute I thought, where were the comfy camp chairs? I was sitting on the ground leaning against a tree. There were no camp chairs or hot chocolate! I called his name just to politely inquire about the situation and he shushed me, that’s right he put his finger to his lips, and he shushed me! So much for deep conversation and getting to know one another. I sat in silence for an hour, then another hour and then… another hour!
The sun was now setting, and its orange glow was mesmerizing. As a photographer I was intrigued by the way the sunlight filtered through the woods. I watched a few squirrels in a nearby tree chattering as if scolding me for my presence. Some birds flew overhead, that was cool. And then I heard the soft sound of breaking brush and pine needles. There up ahead was a Doe and fawn. They walked gently through the woods not far from us. I watched in silence, they were beautiful. I watched the hunter as he watched them. He was leaning beside an oak tree, his rifle close to him, but he didn’t move. He didn’t lift his rifle. The Doe stood still, stomped her foot and then she and the fawn bolted. I didn’t understand what had just happened, but I marveled at the discipline the hunter quietly displayed. This was his world. The world of hunting that up until today I knew nothing about.
I was a city girl, and a wedding photographer. I lived among lace, flowers, satin, and frills. What a contrast our worlds were. And then it hit me, what a privileged it was to be here, to be watching him. A privilege that he trusted me enough to let me in to this sacred space, this private place where he sought not just the hunt, but where he communed with nature. The sight, sounds, and scents drew me in like I had never experienced before.
The hunter turned and smiled at me. It was time to go. As we walked back down the hill in the dark, I asked him why he didn’t shoot. He said it isn’t always about that, it’s about observing and respecting nature. The fawn needed her mom to make it through the winter. Another time a dry Doe or Buck will come along, and then the timing will be right. In that instant I understood the hunt in a new way, and for just one moment, I was… Katniss Everdeen, my foot no longer broken, the clothing no longer heavy, and all was good in my new world.
Jeannine Warnke(Follow her on Instagram) is a free-lance writer and photographer in Wisconsin. Together she and the hunter enjoy the hunt of every season. Her weapon of choice… Canon EOS R5 100-500mm. With the hunter as her guide, she captures wildlife in its natural habitat. He is enjoying that photography has extended his hunting season. As far as her wearing camo… New View Women’s hunting gear, lightweight, fitted, and cute! Life is good!