The Vigil

No, you're not totally crazy. You're a late-season deer hunter.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Hunting deer at the very end of the season is the one time in your life when being a little bit nuts actually works in your favor. You've now been on stand for four hours without seeing so much as a squirrel. The air temperature is 15 degrees and falling, you have lost all feeling in your toes, and you realize that the little icicle forming at the end of your nose is not made out of water. Slowly it dawns on you that Elvis might show up before a deer does.

Fair enough, you think. Just as long as he doesn't set up between me and that corn stubble.

The late season is tailor-made for hunters whose heroes include John Paul Jones, Joe Montana, and Rocky (from the first movie, not the sequels). We figure that as long as there's time on the clock, we may yet succeed.

Let's assess the situation. The deer in your area have been hunted hard for three months or more. The gullible and unlucky have left the gene pool and are now hanging out in freezers, casseroles, and sausage casings. The survivors are immune to the strategies that worked so well earlier in the year (for your buddies, anyway), move at the fringes of legal light if they move at all, and are as skittish as Saddam Hussein at a VFW convention. Meanwhile, you're still here, still waiting. You have been doing a lot of waiting. You are becoming an artist of waiting, of actively doing nothing. You could write a book about it if you weren't so busy waiting.

Which brings up the contentious issue of reading. Some guys say it helps them stay on stand longer. Others say, sure, it helps you stay on stand, but you're no longer paying attention to your surroundings. Instead, you're lost in The Lord of the Rings. I used to take books but over the years have abandoned the practice. Now I mostly read the woods, sometimes with binoculars, sometimes without. I focus on the farthest thing I can see, and then try to look a little farther. Sometimes I see actual hobbits. In the late season, a certain amount of physical discomfort is your friend. Get too cozy and you lose focus, waking up 45 minutes later with drool on your shirt. If this happens, move very slowly. There may well be deer under your stand. Generally, I prefer to hold my gun or bow instead of hanging it from a hook, so I'm ready if something pops up right in front of me (which, despite my keen observation skills, I only manage to be about a third of the time).

In the same way, I've found that I actually fidget less if I'm standing. That's because the very act of being on your feet requires that you activate major muscle groups to hold your body up. Standing also means you're continuously performing tiny movements to keep your balance, another source of stimulation. When you sit, it's easy to relax nearly every part of your body, and pretty soon you find yourself tapping your feet just to satisfy the desire to move. Deer pick up on that from hundreds of yards away. They are less likely to notice some other types of physical movement that help keep you alert. You can slowly chew gum, gnaw jerky, or munch sunflower seeds without giving away your position. You can do isometrics, tensing and relaxing your back, legs, arms, and stomach. I've never found these helpful for keeping warm, but you can return home with improved muscle tone. When swimsuit season comes and young ladies admire your six-pack abs and ask where you got them, you can proudly respond: "Hunting." You've got to keep your mind moving, too. If you've got a rangefinder, busy yourself documenting just how deficient your depth perception is. But the best mental exercise is to constantly scan the woods and ask yourself where a deer is most likely to show up, and then decide how you're going to respond. What's the range? How long will the deer be exposed enough to take a shot at it? Which way is it likely to move? How are you going to get your gun or bow into position without spooking the animal? Run the scenarrio through your mind, even to the point of slowly-very slowly-raising gun or bow and taking the imaginary shot. Then do this for the less likely spots, which is probably where the deer will actually show anyway.

Late-season hunting is all about perseverance, the most powerful and important of all human traits. Talent can't match it for producing results. The world is full of talented men who never amount to anything. Genius? Same thing. Money? Some of the least motivated people I know have money coming out of their ears. Give me a guy with determination every time. A diamond, after all, is nothing more than a piece of coal that-like a late-season hunter-refused to give up. Hang in there.