At 54 years old, dropping to all fours and crawling on my hands and knees is never wise. I was just too excited to think before acting.
Fortunately, nothing broke.
Sure, pain shot through my body… but that was to be expected after I’d spent hours in a funny stooped position, meandering through the woods.
I crawled to the tree line at the edge of a cattle pasture, hoping I hadn’t ruined my hunt. Along the way, I tore grass while slowly moving for better cover.
You see, the deer I’d been tracking all morning had spotted me. I was now desperately trying to mimic the sounds of a grazing animal. Hell, I’d have chewed the grass if I thought it would work.
This was the culmination of at least three hours of concentrated effort. The idea that I could have just screwed up because I’d lost my focus for a half-second was heartbreaking.
I’ll complete this lunatic image by confessing that I was sporting an ear-to-ear grin. Even though I’d screwed up… I was having the time of my life.
You might think my work as an investment banker would cause this sort of apparent mental breakdown. But, in fact, nothing in my 9-to-5 requires nearly this much concentration.
It’s only during a hunt that I must apply 45 straight minutes of extreme focus.
The only weapons I carried with me that day were four small stones. These rocks were perfect: oval shaped and roughly the size of a quarter, made smooth by the running water of the creek bed I’d crossed two hours earlier.
My prey was a large 12-point whitetail that had been picked up by my game cameras a couple months earlier. His antlers’ massive spread indicated that he’d survived at least five seasons.
He was a trophy by any standard.
The deer was alerted to my presence when my attention stumbled. For the prior 20 minutes, I’d carefully placed each foot, trying to creep within a stone’s throw of my quarry.
And then it happened. CRACK.
The small stick that snapped under my foot sounded like a gunshot. After nearly complete silence for the last hour, one stupid misstep had warned my buck. (And for the uninitiated, after this many hours spent, he was indeed my buck.)
Fortunately, my mistake only pushed him about 50 yards further into the woods.
I’d eventually get my shot. It would, however, require more creeping… not to mention better concentration and considerably more stealth.
Silently I moved within range. I reached into my pocket, grabbed the perfectly shaped rocks and tossed them into the air…
Both stones found their mark.
Now, my technique has nothing to do with a Nolan Ryan-like fastball. There’s no blood either. In the end, my buck bounded away with an annoyed snort.
But I still count it as a kill – and an almost perfect hunt.
I had successfully stalked a 250-plus-pound creature… a creature with superior hearing, sense of smell and sight. And I did it with nothing more than patience and (nearly) complete focus.
There’s no official name for this hunting period. My wife likes to call it “Rock Season.” Though she’s never told me if it’s because of my choice of weapons… or what she believes is between my ears.
I optimistically judge my success rate is a bit north of 40%.
In other words, after roughly four decades of stalking, less than half of the time I’m able to approach close enough to hit a deer with a gently tossed stone.
Those who hunt from a deer blind often consider this a worthless skill. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent many hours sitting in a deer blind waiting for some hapless deer to wander by. But it’s not really what I’d define as “hunting”… or all that challenging.
Most hunters who work from a blind are looking for a trophy rack.
I really don’t care about trophy whitetails. When I hunt, it’s because I’m hungry. And, in my view, there’s no finer meat than properly prepared venison.
Without a doubt, spending time (lots and lots of time) tracking, stalking and hunting with rocks has made me better at the real thing.
If I leave with a rifle, there is no question… I’ll be coming home with meat.
Last year I brought home four does and one young buck. Each kill was a direct result of my ability with a stone.
Ancient Survival Skill
Stalking doesn’t require any special gear or expensive equipment. It can be practiced almost anywhere.
I’ve even waded into a state park sporting my banker’s suit, bright white shirt and red tie, looking for an opportunity to “hunt” for a couple hours before an evening business meeting.
What is required isn’t very popular in this day of the 10-second sound bite and $1,000 iPhone.
There’s no instant gratification… no glitz of a TV or video game.
More often than not, you’ll spend hours walking, listening and searching for signs to indicate you’re even on the right path.
After each hunt, my patience and concentration feel much sharper. My senses are at heightened levels, dwindling back to normal only after four or five days back at my day job.
Even during the worst weather days – stalking with cold rain or snow seeping through my gear, hands and feet numb, and yesterday’s tracks the only thing driving me forward – I know I’ll return home joyfully exhausted.
There’s a certain satisfaction in knowing I’m honing a near forgotten survival skill. It’s one that’s been practiced since man’s beginning… but it has direct and positive benefits to my modern, hectic life.