As the old saying goes, numbers don’t lie. Then again, numbers don’t tell the whole story, either.
Take my 401(k) account, for example. The cold, hard numbers tell me my portfolio is down an ungodly 48 percent over the past year. But what the numbers don’t say is that I have another 30 years or so before retirement. During that time, I stand a reasonable chance of not only recouping those losses but making some handsome profits too. The trick is not ignoring the numbers, but taking care to keep them in proper context.
Much the same can be said about our bowhunting endeavors. For those of us who read a lot of hunting magazines and watch outdoor television programs, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game. Yet the true value of a hunt is measured not in antler inches but in quality experiences. Many of my memories from fruitless days afield burn more brightly than those from days that ended with a steaming gut pile.
I have to remind myself of such things as I reflect on my 2008 Pennsylvania archery season, because speaking strictly by the numbers, I did not receive a particularly favorable return on my investment of time and effort. According to my logbook entries, I made 26 separate hunting outings and spent 72 hours on stand — a figure that does not include time spent driving to and from my hunting areas or hiking to and from stands.
During all those outings, I saw roughly 75 whitetails, yet my carcass tally consisted of exactly one doe. So, it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly slaying them.
Still, it would be a mistake to call the season a failure. Watching the 74 or so deer I didn’t shoot — especially the two trophy bucks I just couldn’t kill — was a heck of a lot of fun.
Memories from those “empty” days include watching a 5-point scrapper buck breed a doe just yards away from my stand, a stunning misty morning sunrise and getting to know the habits of a fat raccoon that occupied a hollow tree trunk next to one of my favorite perches.
Sure, my release trigger finger got a little itchy at times. But when that big, mature doe finally strolled past on Nov. 12 — 25 hunts and 70 stand hours into my season — I didn’t just kill her. I had earned her. Her savory venison was my reward not simply for the 24-yard, double-lung shot, but for my commitment to the hunt. It was payment for thousands of arrows fired on the practice range, obedience to dozens of 4:30 a.m. alarms and the restraint I exercised in letting scores of yearlings and small-racked bucks walk.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to fill the freezer and feel the adrenaline rush of seeing big bucks as much as, if not more than, the next guy. Considering I keep a logbook that allows me to tell you exactly how many hours I spend on stand and how many deer I see each season, I’d have a hard time convincing anyone that numbers aren’t important to me. However, focusing on the numbers alone makes it difficult to appreciate more subtle aspects of the hunt that aren’t easily written down in black and white.
I believe this sentiment was captured perfectly by modern bowhunting pioneer Dr. Saxton Pope in his legendary work, Hunting With The Bow And Arrow.
“In the joy of hunting is intimately woven the love of the great outdoors. The beauty of the woods, valleys, mountains and skies feeds the soul of the sportsman where the quest of game only whets his appetite.
“After all, it is not the killing that brings satisfaction, it is the contest of skill and cunning. The true hunter counts his achievement in proportion to the effort involved and the fairness of the sport.”
May we all measure our bowhunting deeds thusly.