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Last fall I received a photo essay from a now dear friend of mine. At first glance, he and his trophy elk grand slam were center focus, but then I discovered a phrase modestly resting at the edge of the page, summing up how the feat was accomplished: "Blessed by faith, prayer, patience, persistence, and God's abundant love." How true for all of us! That has been food for deep thought that has held my attention ever since I read it. If my friend's accompanying questions were not enough to get me to examine my passion for hunting, his assertion provided a window into the healthy soul of every child of God, and every ethical hunter. And so I go beyond a hunting narration, exploring and sampling the general Christian philosophy shared by the weekend hunter and traveling trophy-seeker, because essentially we as healthy sportsmen and women keep returning and appreciating this privilege for the same reasons. Some of those reasons are never voiced, but it is important we at least search our hearts for them so we can stay dedicated to the future of hunting and not limit our concern to simply our own lifetimes.
My gratefulness to be a hunter began to establish a rightful place in my mind and heart last autumn and spring. Talk about a heart leaping like a deer! I was able to appreciate manifestations of God's unconditional love that fall upon all He has created because I traded in rose-tinted glasses for a magnifying glass. I did not enjoy a Boone & Crockett that year, but what I did enjoy was very special. What we take from hunting varies as we grow and change. I used to use the time to figure out myself and what I am here to do and now find the opportunity to cultivate relationships in the spotlight. It doesn't matter; I mean business in all of it and natural surroundings help me develop awesome plans-of-action.
I present my faith because I know that it is the basis for my appreciation of the outdoor experience and fellowship with other hunters. When I hunt, it may look like I am alone in that stand, but I am not. A fundamental experience of the hunter lies in the strengthening of faith, patience, and persistence by prayer seeking insight and offering thanksgiving for the perpetual and limitless love our Father showers upon us.
The success of a hunt is not always measured by the harvest of the trophy. After all, the actual kill is anticlimactic. The hunter feels remorse and joy that appear to conflict with no origin of convergence. Ah, but as the old saying warns, appearances can be deceiving. Remorse is healthy, normal, and expected upon ending the life of a beautiful animal that only moments before graced the land, majestic and proud. It is important that we strive to eliminate suffering and provide an expedient end for the game that we pursue. Working hand in hand with God to read and know as He does the animal that will provide the family with nourishment is a source of joy that surpasses the mere certitude that a bullet or arrow connecting with vitals. Hopefully to many of the veterans of hunting it becomes clearer that those that get the most out of the sport are the hunters who appreciate every aspect of it. Scouting, marksmanship practice and gun cleaning, frostbitten fingers, pins-and-needles bottoms and feet, bonding with hunting buddies, slick snow and mud spots that showcase graceful slides, choking turkey diaphragm and grunt calls/bugles that sound awful, the "one that got away" miss, the wary trophy bagged, the tales swapped to entertain for hours, these all ebb and flow, familiar to the hunter.
As hunters we know the typical questions that accompany hunting season. What will this hunt bring? Is the game moving and if so, in which direction? What tone should I have in my calls? Should I take this shot or hold off? How do I approach a hunting partner who seems to lack patience or compassion? Answers are not easy because outcomes are not guaranteed. What is guaranteed-with the right attitude-is the harvest of amazing peace and impressive memories. We have to hunt with all we have and keep our faith, just as in every other area of our lives. Our senses completely attuned to our surrounding environment, our minds completely on the task before us, and our hearts completely devoted to performing whatever our hands find to do for God. In Genesis, Nimrod is referred to as a "mighty hunter before the Lord." He developed his talent as a hunter and later contributed to the growth of what would later be Babylon, and to God's plan as well. Not everybody thought the way Nimrod spent his time was noble (just think of the unfortunate contemporary connotation of his name), but he stuck with it and found satisfaction and fulfillment. It is important that we as fellow hunters-especially women-do the same and retain a scaffold of hope to keep hunting moral and meaningful.
Faith. Oftentimes I am in the woods with the only sounds of life being my breathing and the song of a thrush. Minutes become hours and hours become days and I see no game. During these times I am able to get a lot of thinking time in, time to scrutinize issues and gain insight from my Father. I believe God works for the good of those who love Him, so waiting for game just makes me uncontrollably excited. I know God is my most knowledgeable partner and offers his wisdom to me unselfishly if I seek it, and when my heart says it is right, I know He will guide my shot to its mark if I do my part.
Prayer. I pray about all these little questions that inevitably surface. To me the wilderness is a separate entity from the community in which I live. The outright unreasonable and unforgiving demands of society can corrode inner spirituality. The natural kingdom calls for a more liberated state of mind. Ever had a mandatory meeting that exceeded office hours, or anxieties that funneled over to deny you of a relaxing hunt? As responsible people, we must deal forthrightly with our issues, but that doesn't mean we must let them detract from the outlet that recharges us. Hand worries over to God, pray for insight, and let your focus then turn to connecting with nature and using all your senses to ready yourself for the imminent appearance of game. A solution just might come as well. Turn the ringer off your cell phone and keep it for an emergency. Enjoy your surroundings and make an effort to keep your hunting experiences uninterrupted and pure. That bull moose will give you an adrenaline rush that will be fast-paced, so gather your breaths while you can!
Patience. Let your faith endure, because our Creator's timing may not always perfectly agree with our schedules. If the bear does not cross your path when you would like, or the caribou does not take one step to open a shooting lane to its shoulder, do not despair or get too anxious and hyperventilate. Take another example from me. I thought of my past uneventful afternoons hunting and wondered if I should just write that afternoon off because a final exam in Calculus was awaiting me the following morning. I heard a voice telling me to go, and against my will I went. It took me a while to let go of my stressors and settle into my "huntress mode," and after two hours of waiting I impatiently doubted my decision. I ended up taking my best buck that evening. After pictures and cleaning, I looked over my Calc. problems with a clear mind, and miraculously aced the test the next day. Not all of my tales have fairytale endings like this; I say this as a reminder that better things than you can imagine may be in store for you if you only trust in Him.
Persistence. Is that call sounding like an old dead tom instead of a seductive hen? Don't just stop calling - practice. Do you need courage when a hunt turns out less than picture perfect? Pray for courage. Or maybe your persistence has helped you harvest game. If so, offer thanksgiving. Be creative and flexible in your hunting strategies, and be persistent in supporting this pastime of which we are fond. Keep hunting fun. Get others involved! Continue to believe and remember that half-hearted faith is no faith at all.
God's abundant love. The most obvious manifestation in nature of His care for us is highly coveted by hunters...the animals! Take your faith, go in prayer, and become captivated by God's grandeur. At the risk of sounding too poetic, it is easy for hunters to become intoxicated by beauty in its most elemental forms right before us. We have the opportunity to receive knowledge and peace of mind, and even the very provisions we need for the hunt. The Lord has His own way of doing things, surpassing our wildest dreams, so instead of testing Him, faithful hunters rest in Him.
Sometimes God can give a surprise that the human mind would never dream of conjuring up. Last winter I was hunting an area bookended by our creek and a tangle of briars and other thick stuff, just waiting for that buck to make himself known to me. Well, I got an uninvited visitor in my stand. A grey squirrel had climbed through the top rafter and we noticed each other at the same time. I think we were equally dumbstruck and scared out of our minds, for I had my rifle on him in a second. I was surely not planning on blasting him away because to the best of my knowledge South Carolinian squirrels are not attack-rodents. It was just a reflex because in my mind I could see Mr. Squirrel doing a rabid belly flop onto my face! The rest of that evening was spent thankful that I didn't create an extra stenciled opening for my gun, and chuckling to myself at one of the many comical moments I have experienced afield.
This gift of love we should share, for only then will its meaning truly take root in our hearts and begin to bloom. Do you have a young person around who might like to accompany you on a trip in the field one afternoon? Maybe the person is not a child. I took a classmate of mine out in the turkey blind this spring and she had the time of her life. We both did. A tom was strutting out of range, but we had enough excitement to last for days. We got funny looks when we left to have lunch afterwards at a café, surrounded by men with their coffee mugs, but the friendship we developed as women hunters did not evaporate with the steam from their coffee.
I have done a lot of reflecting this year. Putting into practice what I believe, regardless of the consequences, allows me to share my passion for hunting with the positive light it deserves. The strength in gentility possible when we become involved in the lives of new hunters is transforming to them and to us. I am so blessed to share our sport with especially those who sit quietly intrigued; young or young-at-heart: they have the future of our shared love for and dedication to the outdoors in their hands. I can truly and oh-so-thankfully say that my entire life is "blessed by faith, prayer, patience, persistence, and God's abundant love."
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