Meridian Star


October 19, 2012

Circle of Life

The first cold snap of the fall greeted me as I stepped outside of my tent in Afghanistan this morning, and even though I was halfway around the world, my mind instantly flashed to a deer stand in the woods of Mississippi. As it has ever since I was a small boy, cool weather awakens a yearning inside that’s easily felt but hard to explain.

    How can you hunt an animal that you love so much? It’s complicated. My family thrills to see deer all year long on our property; adorable spotted fawns, graceful does, young bucks in velvet, and the rare but majestic trophy bucks. Like us, for most landowners and sportsmen in the South, deer hunting isn’t just a fall hobby, it’s a lifestyle entwined with the careful management of woodlands both for beauty and for the benefit of the wildlife we pursue.

     From planting wildlife food plots and young oak trees, to providing sanctuary acreage that we never penetrate, and thinning coyotes during the fawn season, managing for whitetails is a year-round participation in the life cycle of our favorite game animal. Selectively harvesting deer in the fall is just a small part of the overall stewardship of land whose objective is far greater than simply antlers on a wall or venison on the grill.

    To me, deer hunting means late summer bush hogging and the smell of freshly disked earth. It means several priceless hours a week shoulder to shoulder with my son in one of our tree stands enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. We chuckle at the antics of squirrels, feel the hairs on our necks tingle with the hooting of a nearby owl, and hold our breaths when a whitetail glides into view. Deer hunting is completely different from other hobbies we enjoy like water skiing or football because it allows us rare moments of stillness and reflection that recharge us on some subliminal level. And when we do decide to shoot a deer, it’s an emotional experience unlike any other.

     Last January, after harvesting three does earlier in the season, my son made a perfectly placed shot on a pretty buck. But after the initial celebration, as we knelt beside him to admire his antlers, my son suddenly got quiet and batted back tears. I put my arm around him and got choked up as well, and that’s when I knew that we shared a bond that true sportsmen have had since the beginning of time. My son understands this outdoor part of me because he’s experienced the circle of life in a way that the majority of the past few generations have completely missed.

    In a sense, the life cycle of these deer are a mirror of ourselves. It seems just yesterday that my son was like a spotted fawn, then he went through a gangly yearling phase, and now he’s a young buck in velvet ready to explore and eager to test his strength. Meanwhile, here on life’s back forty, I’m getting a little gray around the muzzle and am trying to fight smarter, not harder, as any buck that survives to maturity will do.

    The purpose of hunting has also changed as I’ve matured. It matters less and less each year if I kill a deer. Guiding my son has become my new favorite part of the great outdoors. Watching him check the direction of the wind or confidently lead the way out of the woods after dark gives far more satisfaction than hunting by myself.

    One day, my son will have a couple yearlings of his own chasing each other and butting heads, and my wife and I will be happy just to smile and watch. And if they grow up to love the woods the way we do, we’ll know that they’re turning out just fine.


    Craig Ziemba is a military pilot who lives in Meridian.

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