I try to be extremely careful about getting enough rest before a hunt. Of course, part of my motivation is to avoid sleeping through a 16-point beauty passing by. But it's also a safety concern. As someone who's had the experience of falling asleep at the wheel (no one was hurt), I try very hard not to underestimate the effects of sleep deprivation.
I renewed my respect for sleep at the outdoors trade convention the SHOT Show a few years ago. It's actually a pretty embarrassing story, but anyway...
The show was in Las Vegas and was proceeded by an outdoors shooting event just outside the city on a Thursday morning. The Wednesday before, I worked a full day at the Field & Stream office in New York then caught a late flight. It was about 1:30 am when I was standing at the half-deserted baggage claim in Vegas, and almost 3:00 by the time I was dragging my suitcase into the hotel room. I couldn't fall asleep until around 4:00 and at 6:30, my cel rang when someone forgetting I wasn't on the east coast called with a work question. By the time I'd dealt with the call, it was time to get up and shower.
No surprise that I was kinda dragging on my way to the shooting event that morning. I actually hadn't slept well the few nights before the trip either, so I was already operating on a deficit. But once I got there I felt absolutely fine. I was excited to be back in Vegas and looking forward to the shooting. The event opened with breakfast, gift bags, and welcome speeches, and after a few cups of coffee, I felt good to go.
But two incidents betrayed my sense of well-being. The first happened during breakfast. I forget what was in the gift bag that I just had to open right then and there, but I borrowed a knife from a gentleman next to me to peel off the packaging. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention to how I was holding the box I was opening, and my thumb was right in the knife's path. The blade was so sharp, I swear it barely touched my finger and my skin parted under it like butter. Not wanting to draw attention, I grabbed a napkin and held it to my bleeding thumb under the table as the speeches continued. Then I went through another napkin, and when people were finally getting up from their tables I slipped off to the first aid station for a band aid (told you this story was embarrassing).
But still I felt perfectly alert. It was a gorgeous day, and there was so much activity it was impossible to be tired. The event participants were invited to visit different ranges and try various models, so I was having a good time as I made my way along to the shotgun area. This, however, was where incident number two would shock me awake.
I was loading a break-action, and apparently again not paying attention to how I was holding it. When I snapped it shut, it somehow pinched the webbing between my thumb and index finger and the pain set my hair on end. I gritted my teeth, unloaded the gun, put it back on the rack, and marched myself back to the first aid station for another band aid.
I sidelined myself after that, and just observed the other guns in action. I'd obviously underestimated how tired I was, and there was no sense in pushing my luck.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who's had sleep deprivation throw their game -- in the field or otherwise -- but hopefully our collective stories aren't any more serious than missing that 16-point. -K.H