How Long Can You Wait for Game?

Yesterday I helped set up decoys for an hour, then lay in a field staring at empty skies from 7:00 a.m. until the ducks and geese flew at precisely 2:50 p.m. Yes, it was a very long wait.* But, there were three of us, and while time passed at a glacial pace, it passed pleasantly. We could talk, get up and rearrange decoys, and improve the camo on our blinds. Even hunting by myself, I can watch the sky for fairly long time.

But, put me up a tree, waiting for deer, or at the base of one, waiting on a turkey, and there’s no way I could do almost ten hours. Boredom is my number one enemy, although the cold is catching up as I get older. My limit is about three hours, and that’s tough. Not only do I get bored, I have the nagging feeling that I should be sitting somewhere else.

It’s true that there are birds and little animals to watch in the woods, and that always makes the wait more fun. While deer hunting the other evening I got to watch barred owls up close, and was treated to the comical sight of six gobblers flying up to roost in trees all around me. They crashed through branches, landed on limbs that couldn’t support their weight, and switched trees. One flew down and flew back up again to get another run at it. All of them clucked angrily about the whole ordeal.

But in deer and turkey hunting there are also long, excruciating, skull-pounding stretches of starting at the same patch of empty timber with no distractions at all. Sometimes I used to take a book, and read a page, then scan the forest floor, but I always felt as if I might miss something. Back when I bowhunted, I would pack little fun size bags of M&Ms and reward myself with one on the hour. Or, I would deliberately hold off looking at my watch for as long as possible, then try to guess how much time had passed. I got pretty good at that game. Otherwise there’s nothing to do but sit. For those of us who are attention-challenged, sitting isn’t always easy.

Many years ago I remember reading a story by Tony Atwill, whose excellent writing used to grace the pages of Field & Stream. It was about bowhunting, I think, and he wrote something along the lines of “I have been bored waiting for the bus, or in an airport, but I have never been bored waiting for game.”

Some, like Tony, are never bored because they know the animal they’re waiting for could show up at any minute. That is not me. Which are you?

*By that time the wind had died and the birds wanted nothing to do with us. We left the field at 4:30 with one goose for approximately 33 man-hours of setting up, waiting, and picking up decoys.