What a Deer Hunter’s Day is Really Like

Hannah Utley (shown here) finds solace in her connection with nature, but she also wonders how many non-hunters understand how difficult hunting typically is.

On a recent deer hunting trip, as I sat perfectly still, my mind was free to wander. I was then struck by the realization that most non-hunters would never know what it really takes to be a hunter. I wondered how many people who don’t hunt know what it’s like to immerse yourself silently in the wilderness.

There is a common misconception that because a hunter has a gun, hunting is easy and even unfair to the animal. They think it’s easy to just go out there and shoot a deer. Hunters know this is far from the truth. Not only is there a large financial cost to getting prepared for a hunt, but there is also a great deal of time and effort required before setting out. I spend hours sighting in rifles, exercising, planning, and packing prior to a hunting trip.

Knowledge of the animal you are hunting is key to a successful hunt. I also take time to study the area, habits, and anatomy of an animal prior to hunting. All of this effort leads up to the long days spent out on the hunt.

Here’s a typical day at my deer hunting camp:

  • 4:30 a.m. (or so, depending on sunrise time): Wake up, get gear on

  • 5:30 a.m.: Walk (slowly, quietly) out to hunting spot

  • 5:45 a.m. to late morning: Sit silently, without moving (if possible) and watch and listen for movement in the woods

After the morning deer hunt: Hike back to camp

Daytime activities: Start fires for heat in the cabins, pack up the ATVs with trail clearing equipment, saw and remove trees from the trails; head back to camp; cut down trees blocking solar panel; clear the field of debris; eat lunch; finish projects around the camp (winterizing, clean up, check game cameras, etc.)

3:30 p.m.: Get gear back on and hike (slowly, quietly) out to hunting spot

3:45 p.m. to dark: Sit silently, without moving (if possible) and watch and listen for movement in the woods

After dark: Hike back to camp and remove gear; sit by the fire; go to bed exhausted after setting your alarm for 4:30 a.m.

Hunting requires getting to sighting in and becoming proficient with your gun or bow, but that’s only the beginning. You must know yourself, your gear, and your prey.

If at any point during this time you are lucky enough to see a deer and not scare it away as you raise your gun, you might have the good fortune of harvesting an animal. When I am sitting in the forest, even the slightest crack of a twig sounds like a 10-point buck. It takes patience to stay calm and still. Sitting alone in total silence reveals just how overwhelming nature is and how I am in no way in control of it.

Of course there are other ways to hunt. For example, when I hunt in Canada, we hunt on our feet, which is called “still-hunting.” This means waking up at 4:30 a.m., getting ready, and then hiking at a very slow and quiet pace for the entire day. When I hunt this way I will take short breaks to read signs from animals and choose the best path through the woods, but ultimately I end up walking 10 to 15 miles a day. Then I come back to camp, eat some dinner, set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., and hope my legs and mind will support me again the next day.

One of the most important preparations that I make for a hunting trip is packing for any weather. I hunt in any condition. I have hunted in the sun, rain, snow, sleet, and hail (and sometimes that is just in one day). It is deceiving when we see game animals by the side of the road or in our yards as we go about our day. It is easy to think it would be just as easy to see those animals on a hunting trip in the wild, but that is far from the truth.

When I am in the woods with my gun I am in the animal's territory. It takes years to learn favorite trails, when game will move, what water sources an animal uses often…. My daily schedule is dictated by the movements of the animal that I am hunting, and I need to adjust it accordingly. Animals do not adhere to a human's internal clock.

While hunting for deer the author moves throw the forest as a predator. The sounds, smells, and sights are become different when you are a part of the natural system.

The advantage is almost always with the wilderness. One day during this particular trip I sat near a tree that I did not know housed a red squirrel and its nest. Though I may have had the wind, location, and stillness to my advantage for a deer, the squirrel was not so easily fooled. After 10 minutes of angry chirping I knew that my hunt was over for the day. The wilderness had given me away, although I had used every “advantage” as a human.

Hannah Utley is a professional chef in Connecticut who has been hunting since she was eight years old. She writes about her outdoor experiences and details numerous recipes for fish and game on her website, artemiskitchen.com.