The Luxury of Patience

Those of us who have spent a lot of time hunting and fishing come to learn much more about ourselves than our skill as hunters and fishers. The outdoors offers an amphitheater to learn some wonderful things about life that is unmatched in the depth and generosity of the lessons it provides. Hunting has provided me with more opportunities than any other activity in my life to gain perspective about important aspects of life. In an inexplicable way, spending time in the outdoors allows us to develop clarity around the subtleties and finer nuances of the kind of people we want to be, our own values, and key elements of the human experience. Among other things, the outdoors teaches us the value of patience.

Self-Evident, Sometimes Forgotten

Patience is also a luxury that we sometimes forget to indulge. It is likely self-evident that patience is a necessary quality to be a successful hunter. We need the patience to sit longer, move slower and quieter, keep walking, watch and listen longer, and accept the inevitability of boredom.

But there is another element to the importance of patience in hunting. The ability to be patient with hunting itself, to become comfortable with the prospect of failure and continue to keep perspective, is a more nuanced and sometimes difficult lesson to learn.

We hear often in the hunting community that success is not defined by a kill. We especially remind new hunters and emphasize to the non-hunting public that we find success in the simple joy of being out there. Many of us look up to writers and outdoors people who approach hunting with a sense of philosophical reflection; we admire those thinkers that paint a picture of a deeply meaningful cultural and ecological history of hunting.

However, it is also true that it is easier than perhaps many of us would like to admit to become caught up the moment – the technology overload, the social media, a simmering and unspoken sense of competitiveness – and to lose ourselves in disappointment with failure. Sometimes we need to deliberately focus on being patient with our own expectations in hunting.

Lessons From Leopold

Others have thought about the unique lessons the outdoors provides in patience. The conservationist and hunter Aldo Leopold appreciated the value of quietude and patience in understanding the natural world.

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In his keystone text, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold describes listening to the awakening chorus of birds each morning outside his Wisconsin cabin,

“At 3:30 a.m., with such dignity as I can muster of a July morning, I step from my cabin door, bearing in either hand my emblems of sovereignty, a coffee pot and notebook. I seat myself on a bench, facing the white wake of the morning star. I set the pot beside me. I extract a cup from my shirt front, hoping none will notice its informal mode of transport. I get out my watch, pour coffee, and lay notebook on knee.”

Aldo Leopold, 1949

I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors growing up but I did not begin hunting until I was 25 years old. I think coming into hunting later in life has also allowed me to develop and appreciate a unique sense of patience with hunting.

The Adult Onset Hunter

The somewhat tongue-in-cheek term that has come to be used for those of us who do not grow up hunting but come to it later in life is “adult onset hunting”.

I was recently talking to some friends about the type of patience that I think is somewhat unique to the adult onset hunter. I think that those of us who come into hunting later in life, by choice and often after extended reflection about the implications of that choice, have a deep and conscious appreciation for the learning required to be a successful hunter.

In the absence of growing up immersed in hunting, we did not have the opportunity to learn by osmosis by constantly filtering hunting conversations into our brains. We have to be deliberate in seeking mentors and absorbing their expertise.

Many people who come to hunting later in life do so because a particular experience, idea, or entire worldview inspired us to engage with hunting. Sometimes that worldview is the desire to become more actively involved in gathering our own food; other times, it is a desire to explore conservation from a new perspective. Whatever the motivation, it is usually deliberate and identifiable.

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Learning Before Success

While I would never claim to have some sort of profound insight into hunting simply because I started later in life, I appreciate the perspective that the first quarter century of my life offers me.

Coming into hunting as an adult is like re-reading a book years later in life realizing that there is an entirely new meaning from the story and the experiences of the characters you missed the first time around.

When I started hunting, I brought a set of life experiences (and baggage) that acts as a lens through which I see my actions and understand the role and meaning of hunting in my life. These past experiences mean that my hunting experiences are not written on to a blank slate. Instead, they are integrated into an existing set of values and perspectives. I even brought pre-existing opinions about hunting itself.

I hunted white-tailed deer for four seasons before killing my first deer. Living and working at a hunting ranch, I had the luxury of being able to spend many days in the field throughout the season. I hunted hard, through the bow and gun seasons, for three months every year.

Over those few years, I accumulated more days in the field than many people do in years of hunting; and still without success. But I was deeply grateful to be in a place in my life where I could devote that much time to learning how to hunt and I can honestly say I never lost sight of my excitement about it.

Patience With Success

My own sense of success or personal motivation was not deterred by four years of “failure”. I think that coming into hunting with an existing set of values, heartbreaks, and joys also helped me bring a sense of patience to my own expectations of myself as a hunter. Knowing that I had a lifetime of learning to catch up on, it was the learning that I focused on.

Throughout those first few years I hunted, there was no pressure to maintain any ego or protect any delicate sense of self-worth attached to successfully killing a deer. I was quite comfortable in my role as a learner and genuinely did not feel the need to prove anything. I still am, and still don’t.

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As someone who is relatively new to hunting, I have just never felt the need to respond to competitiveness or pressure to prove myself. I have also been lucky to have found some wonderful teachers and friends to learn to hunt with. I think the sense of calm patience I have always felt towards any need for success was reinforced by the deep camaraderie for which hunting is known.

Enjoy the Patience

Over the eight years or so that I have passionately immersed myself in hunting, I have been fortunate to hunt a wide variety of species in some spectacular landscapes. Even now, after what I consider a great deal of hunting success, I still consider myself a student first and foremost, and I revel in that role.

I have come to enjoy and be thankful for the patience that I feel has helped enrich my hunting experiences. Having developed a solid understanding of the kinds of people I want to spend time with in my life, hunting is one more part of my life that has added value when shared. So I continue to focus on hunting as a part of my life that creates memories with friends and loved ones and continues to allow me the thrill of constant learning.

It may be a combination of other factors and it may not be the same experience for everyone, but I am certain that for me, coming to hunting as an adult allowed me to focus on some finer elements of the hunting experience. Bringing my own set of values and experiences to such an all-encompassing and deeply meaningful activity has allowed me to look at my own hunting story from a bigger perspective and enjoy the luxury of patience with hunting success.

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