As I sit here, wrapped in my crocheted afghan and with the heating blanket roaring on the back of the couch, I thought I knew what cold was. Boy was I wrong.
On a good day, my average body temperature usually sits about one to two degrees below “normal”. Yes, I am that crazy person in the office who sometimes wears gloves when they type because my fingers get cold. I always bring a sweater with me in the car because I know my husband will crank on the air if it’s even remotely warm outside.
So yeah, I get cold easily.
When Scott and I first discussed the possibility of me hunting, I thought “I won’t be able to sit outside all day on a hunt, I’ll freeze!” His response was when you’re out hunting, and especially when you see your first deer, you just get over the cold. It’s part of the experience.
We decided to give me a taste of what hunting in Wisconsin will be like. Gun season may be over, but a holiday hunt runs from Dec. 24-Jan. 1 for antlerless deer, so we decided to head out to a promising location on public hunting land about 30 miles north of our home. Schedules only allowed us three days to hunt so we were going to make the best of it.
As I haven’t completed hunter’s education yet, I registered for a mentor’s hunting license. This is a program that gives people the opportunity to go out on a hunt, with a licensed hunter (mentor) before completing the required education to go solo. This allows them the chance to see if hunting is something they really are interested in pursuing. As long as the mentor is within arm’s reach of the mentee, they can take the shot.
Even though this a program usually populated by 12 and 13-year-olds, I was excited about going out on my first real hunt.
Christmas morning came and we opened festively wrapped presents left under the tree by Santa or some other such gift-giving creatures (i.e. ourselves). Rupert was quite excited to celebrate his first Christmas and gleefully tore into new toys filled with crinkles and squeakers.
After all the festive fun was had, we packed up our gear and headed out to the woods for an evening hunt.
The weather this December has been unseasonably warm. The week prior we had temperatures in the 40s and plenty of rain which melted the last lingerings of snow that were left.
Scott said the weather wasn’t ideal, but you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take so we headed out.
As we only have one tree stand at the moment, a week prior to our first excursion, Scott went out on a scouting mission and set up a ground blind made up of fallen branches. As we marched away from the truck toward the set up, thousands of thoughts went through my head.
“Will we spot any deer? Will I be able to sit still and be quiet long enough not to scare them off? Will any come within range? If the time comes, will I be able to pull the trigger?”
These, and many others, floated through my mind as I stumbled through the brush and branches. I marveled at how effortless Scott looked as he forged ahead following a trail only he could see. I imagine that I looked somewhat less graceful.
Along the way, Scott pointed out deer tracks in the mud and areas where does were recently bedding. He explained to me that during the late season the deer are typically only moving from bedding to food and water, then back again. Which is why our blind is set up with the Wisconsin River flowing to our backs.
We arrive at the destination and set up shop. My ears and eyes perked up with every sound and sign of movement. I imagined a beautiful doe was right around the corner, I would see one at any moment… That bubble was burst when I heard “squirrel” whispered behind me.
Day one came to an end and the only living thing I actually saw was a small spider crawling up the rifle muzzle. No birds, no mice, and especially no deer.
We marched back to the truck in the moonlight and, although we hadn’t gotten a chance at a doe, I chatted excitedly with Scott about the “what if’s” of the next hunt.
The day we went back to the blind Wisconsin weather made a much more seasonable turn with wind chill temps below zero. I layered up with shirts and sweaters, crammed my double-socked feet into eight-year-old boots with mismatched laces and insulation worn thin, took one final swig of hot coffee, and we were off.
And it was cold.
As stealthy as we tried to be, the freezing temperatures and lack of snow made leaves and twigs snap like broken glass beneath our feet and echo off of every tree. I half expected to glance up and witness animals fleeing in all directions as we loudly made our presence known.
We again arrived at our forest-made blind and settled in for an evening hunt. My glasses fogged with every breath that escaped from my facemask and my fingers were kept toasty with the assistance of hand warmers. I, however, bravely declined the foot warmers figuring my boots and socks would be enough.
I, it turns out, was wrong.
As the sun settled lower into the sky, I could feel my little piggies less and less. I wiggled, flexed, twitched, stretched, everything I silently could make my toes do while searching the landscape for deer.
The Wisconsin River flowed behind us. Out of sight we heard splashing and crashing and discussed whether the noises were caused by moving ice or a tenacious beaver. I’m still not entirely convinced it wasn’t a sasquatch attempting to communicate.
Day two of the holiday hunt came to a close without a deer sighting. However, unlike the previous day, we did see dozens of sandhill cranes filling the sky with their rattling “kar-rr-rooo” song. And a curious woodpecker snacked on a tree above us.
My walk back to the truck consisted of occasionally stomping my feet in an effort to unfreeze the little piggies and trying to navigate in the full moonlight through fogged glasses. After failing, and falling over a stump, I tossed the glasses into a pocket and carried on without them.
Even though we were walking popsicles, we again spoke of what adventures the next day’s hunt could bring. Surely third time’s the charm.
Holiday hunt day three was even colder with temperatures, before windchill, dipping below zero. Frozen toes be damned, we suited up and headed out for another afternoon filled with promise. And this time I didn’t turn down the toe warmers, although they only helped a little.
On the drive out to the parking area we noticed a truck pulled over to the side of the access road and witnessed, what appeared to be a father and son, hunting duo walking toward the woodline. As our truck rolled past we heard a single shot ring out. We looked behind us and saw a doe leap across the road, stop, turn, and run back the way it came, back toward the hunters.
That would be the only deer we saw during our hunt.
Now, as I sit here, cuddled in my afghan, I look back at my mentor hunt with a smile. Although we didn’t get a deer, I got to sit peacefully in the woods, mostly separated from technology, breathe in fresh air and watch the sunset.
And, most importantly, I learned that yes I will get freezing cold while out in the woods, but when I’m out on the hunt I can handle it.