United in orange
Blaze orange is the color that binds us as hunters at this time of year. While we all may don the most visible shade known to man to let members of our hunting parties, or those in others know of our presence, the color serves as a common bond. It is a burning flag in the field that signals to all others our passion, drive and tradition, and united underneath it we represent the deer hunting nation. While each hunter takes the field bound by different traditions, experiences and styles of hunting, the banner of blaze unites us all, regardless of age, skill, firearm choice or other in-field preference.
Because I’ve never been a great off-hand shot, or had much skill taking aim at a moving buck that I’ve jumped from cover, I’ve never been much of a moving deer hunter. I’ve also never been much of a drive-style hunter, preferring to hunt on my own. Where I’ve found the greatest joy in deer hunting has come from a still position, whether seated in a blind, or a treestand or a nook in a hillside waiting for a rut-dumbed buck to give me an opportunity. There, in addition to holding for a more ideal shot to my skill set, I also have the chance to watch it all play out with the morning — the mumbling of the nuthatches in the gray of dawn, the noisy announcement of the blue jay’s presence, and the last few remaining robins chirping and taking flight before winter sets in. Then, things really get going, watching a pair of does coming into the field as the sun fully rises, and the hope that a buck, somewhere just out of sight in the shadows of the eastern treeclaim, will follow them into the opening.
From that same spot, I can watch the day wrap up. The cool yellow sun fading to orange through the tangled fingers of leafless late-autumn trees on the ridge as nearby geese take flight, honking out their evening songs. A vibrant, lingering prairie sunset filled with bright pinks and deep purples that fade into the blue-gray of evening, while buntings and sparrows flit feet from my face as they congregate back at their roosting bushes, while I shiver with with both the cool evening air and the adrenaline flowing from the expectation of what’s to come in the waning moment of that half hour after sunset, right up to the end of legal light.
Some sits are quiet, and except for the thundering of shots in the distance, there’s no activity from my vantage point. Others, however, have provided the most memorable trips in the field, like the windy opener where the gales were so high I expected to see nothing but tumbleweeds, but instead the deer blew in; first three or four does, then a set of young bucks chased by a nice eight-pointer that provided entertainment, and a number of passed-on shots to let the 15 or so animals that came through have a chance at another season. All gun openers have provided incredible memories, which, admittedly, I nearly missed out on.
If you would have told me that 10 years ago, that I’d love still hunting, I would’ve never believed you, but I’m glad I was wrong and found my place in the legion of orange. Hyperactive and high strung from well before my first steps in the field, hunting to me was always an active process — chasing dogs, raising birds and constantly moving. However, in those first few seasons, watching a flashing white tail and brown antlers bounce in and out of the scope on the rifle shuddering in my adrenaline-wracked hands made anything more than a shot in the dirt seem unlikely. Realizing this, I found a way to make deer hunting my own with the help of a few good mentors and their suggestions, gracious landowners who provided a spot for me on their land, along with a little bit of trial and error of my own. Still hunting has provided a different perspective, and in that time since I’ve taken my first 10 pointer a decade ago to the season, I’ve learned that it wasn’t the kill that kept me in the hunt, it was the hunt itself and all that goes with it.
For those opportunities, I am forever grateful to have remained in the orange ranks each November, sharing a common thread with others who may not hunt the same way but see the same sights, share the same experiences and enjoy the same results. While we may not all agree on the best way to hunt, we’re probably in agreement on how we’d all like each trip to end. Together in common excitement, tempered by the ideals of fair chase, and rooted in our own traditions we take to the field this weekend, with the shared goals of a safe and successful hunt, once again carrying the banner of blaze on our collective backs. United in orange, despite our differences, we carry on our own traditions and foster the continuance of a greater one…in our outdoors.