In October, my life on Martha’s Vineyard undergoes a seasonal transition that reflects changed outdoor priorities. It is a natural shift brought on by shorter days and cooling waters. Fishing season gives way to deer hunting season.
My preparations began weeks ago. I emptied out our shed and repacked it. I moved gardening equipment, which got little use by me, and the flotsam and jetsam of various do-it-yourself projects, into the corners. Out came five deer stands.
Our archery season began on October first on Cape Cod and the Islands, two weeks earlier than in the past. All part of an effort to reduce the growing deer herd. State wildlife officials, public health officials and local residents, many of whom have no interest in hunting but hate the ticks that feed on deer, had pressed for the earlier start.
I didn’t take advantage of the extra weeks. Our unexpected hot and humid weather was not conducive to my hunting frame of mind. Sort of like trying to celebrate Christmas in Los Angeles. A New Englander needs to smell cold air.
Unlike fishing, warm weather complicates hunting. Once, late at night I jammed a striped bass into our refrigerator to keep it cold. In a note, I promised my understanding wife Norma to clean the fish in the morning. It does not work that way with deer.
I was able to hang the first deer I shot this season in a new community cooler provided by the Island Grown Initiative, a nonprofit that supports food self-sufficiency on Martha’s Vineyard. For $50, the IGI gives a hunter access to a cooler all season. The fee is waived if the hunter donates a deer to the IGI venison donation program, which provides meat to the island food pantry.
I’m happy to be back in the woods. Hanging a deer stand in a familiar oak tree fills me with optimism for another season. And at sixty seven years I’m happy that I’m still fit enough to clamber up a tree.
Archery is followed by the shotgun and black powder seasons. Hunting ends on the last day of December. Till then I expect to spend many hours letting the world, and an occasional deer, pass me by.
It may seem a stretch to equate deer hunting with meditation, but time spent in a treestand lends itself to deep thought surrounded by nature.
A hunter outfitted in camouflage is likely to experience just as much personal growth as an individual in yoga pants sitting in a pretzel leg position at a costly retreat. The added bonus is being able to stock the freezer with fresh venison. The exception is the hunter who passes time playing video games on a smartphone — he can pretty much expect to stay at the bottom of the four stages of enlightenment.
I enjoy deer hunting because so few modern activities require that we remain absolutely still and attuned to our environment. Success is grounded in stealth and keen observation. Sitting quietly. Turning slowly. Distinguishing the tell-tale steps of a deer from the rustling of a squirrel.
Last season, on one November morning I hooked into my safety line and climbed quickly into my tree stand, then settled in with my bow across my lap. I waited for dawn to lift the darkness. A whippoorwill sang in the distance. Its haunting cry adds immeasurably to the Island hunting experience.
The morning was still. I heard a deer walking through a tangle of pines down a facing hill. I peered through the darkness. The footsteps were heavy and deliberate.
The deer walked in my direction and stopped about twelve yards from my tree. I did not dare move.
The faint edge of dawn was beginning to appear. A large, twelve-point buck began to take shape. It was, as my southern friends say, so quiet you could hear a frog fart.
If I lifted my bow arm I was certain the deer would catch my movement, or pick out the rustling of fabric, or the sound of my beating heart. My best strategy was to wait.
The buck stood stationary for a considerable time as though deep in thought, then moved away slowly in its same direction of travel. I picked up my bow and for a moment thought I might have a shot, but the angle was not favorable. Rather than risk a poor hit I chose to wait for another day.
I told myself, there is always next season. And now it has arrived.
For more information on the Island Grown Initiative deer donation program go to www.igimv.org. Nelson Sigelman is a resident of Vineyard Haven and the author of “Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors, Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island.”