Until COVID-19 triggered advisories to claim 6 feet of personal space whenever leaving home, I just assumed closer versions of “social-distancing” were second-nature or common courtesy for everyone.
I didn’t view “self-quarantine” as a defining expectation of bowhunters; a trait unique to us. Doesn’t everyone curse intruders, horde their hotspots, sit alone through November gales, and scorn those who drop in uninvited when trying to sneak out for a quick hunt?
I assumed everyone saw wisdom in John Gierach’s great line about fishing: “There are only two types of anglers: those in your party and the a**holes.” That’s true of hunters, too. But bowhunters know their own group can wear thin, too. Many of us prefer to go alone.
In fact, I so often hunt solo that I sometimes feel awkward when joining or welcoming others for a day in the woods or on the mountain. Do I let them shoot first, put them in the best stand, or quit early to help them track, pack or drag? Or do I just ignore them till dark, and trust bloodlines or friendship to endure?
Yep. Back in the day—roughly mid-March—I considered “self-quarantine” a personal preference, not government edict. I feel relaxed when hunting alone, neither imposing or being imposed upon. Besides, it’s less grief when screwing up. I don’t exhaust my imagination on excuses or apologies.
And yes, I know the Aldo Leopold quote: “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlookers.”
Yeah, well, that’s fine, Aldo, but I’d rather suffer alone when missing a buck or bull. I don’t need a laughing mob to rub it in.
Besides, I’ve long sympathized with Huckleberry Finn’s view of ruthless guilt: “If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know more than a person’s conscience, I would poison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of the person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good, no how.”
Maybe that’s why I’ve focused on deer hunting the past 40 years, and on elk hunting the past 15. I usually hunt alone all day, share dinner and camp at night, eat quietly after reveille, and sneak away again before dawn.
I’m alone for hours with my thoughts, whether shallow, juvenile or wistful. Hermits might be onto something. Maybe they know why so many people hunt, fish, hike, run, swim or kayak in solitude. They assume we’re relieving stress or “clearing our heads.” If we craved anxiety or cloudy heads, we’d pack our trucks, park at crowded campsites or trailheads, and always seek company. You wonder why one-person kayaks are the jam?
But COVID-19 is making “alone time” difficult for those seeking solitude outdoors, especially in big cities. As Alex Williams reported in the New York Times on St. Patrick’s Day, government officials still see social, physical and psychological benefits in cycling, running or walking city sidewalks and urban parks, provided everyone stay 2 yards from each other.
Even in Milan, Italy’s COVID-19 “red zone,” residents can take walks or go run “for the sake of outdoor physical activity” as long as they stay within their imaginary bubble.
But the provisions and caveats of local officials aren’t enough for self-righteous cranks and harpies along the way. Nope, they rain wrath from windows and balconies, chanting “Flatten the curve; stay home!” as lone walkers and runners pass by, beyond reach of elbow-bump greetings.
Sheesh, talk about the terminally outraged. Ship your bullhorns to residents bordering Florida’s beaches so they can chirp at college students crowding the sands and surf. At least their concerns have cause.
I wish more folks were stocking up on fishing tackle, bowfishing gear, and turkey-hunting broadheads instead of hoarding toilet paper for the months ahead. With bars, restaurants, ballparks, fitness centers, movie theaters and basketball arenas all shuttered, more Americans should get outdoors to save their sanity and perhaps arrow a turkey or catch a few fish; whatever comes first.
The more skilled they get, the better they’ll dine. That’s not wishful thinking. Post 9-11 and during the Great Recession seven years later, hunting and fishing increased for much of the country. Lapsed and newbie hunters and anglers suddenly had more time to try sourcing and supplementing their food.
Yes, fewer nonresident hunters chase Western elk and mule deer in bleak times, but more residents hunt and fish near home. Call it coincidence, but Wisconsin sold a record 266,435 archery deer licenses in 2008. It also sold 643,266 gun-deer licenses that year, which was nearly 2,000 more than in 2007 and nearly 30,000 more than it averaged the next 10 seasons.
Meanwhile, hunters and anglers often own two chest freezers, and stock them with meats that money can’t buy—at least not legally. In health or pandemic, we smugly count our frozen caches of venison, geese, turkeys, walleyes, bluegills and trout.
We might have shot, caught or arrowed much of it while alone outdoors, but few things are more satisfying than eating it wherever friends and family gather.
Just add every leaf to your table and be sure to sit far apart.