In the last post, I highlighted one way hunting and conservation work together. This week, I am continuing that theme with lessons learned from a hunter. As a teenager, my dad would take me duck hunting and I most enjoyed sitting in the blind watching the ducks and geese fly over. Some of my favorite nature experiences occurred while sitting in a duck blind, and there is a practical reason for that. While in a duck blind, I am quiet, still, observant, and patient. The hardest part is getting up before sunrise. Hunters who consistently practice these skills will have some amazing wildlife encounters.  The best part is you don’t have to be a hunter to cultivate these skills; you just have to go out and practice them.

Lesson One: Sit Still and Be Quiet

In today’s age of music at the click of a button, television shows that travel with you, and always being connected, we have lost the art of sitting still and being quiet. Have you ever heard squirrels hopping through the leaves? They sound as though they are much larger than you know. Have you ever stopped to listen to the wing beats of a bird flying by, or watched a squirrel dig up a buried acorn? These experiences can only be had if you are able to sit still and stay quiet. Hunters know that a deer great hearing and are very skittish. When they move or make noise they will scare the deer and lose out on an opportunity. When you sit quietly out in the woods the animals will forget you are there and go about their business. You will see something new. Even I am guilty of not being still and quiet most of the time, we live in a culture of go, go, go, and we miss out on some amazing things

Lesson Two: Be Observant

What color is your neighbor’s front door?  How much do we see as we walk down the street? So much less than our ancestors did, I think. We watch short videos on YouTube, click through the channels to skip commercials and just scan the world of facebook. Do we do the same with viewing the natural world around us? I tend to look on the surface and miss the details on most hikes I take. What am I losing when I do that? I am missing the beautiful detail in the spider web, the tiny nest built by the hummingbird, and the tadpole with two legs and a long tail. As a hunter, one must watch for the tiniest movements in the brush. Otherwise you may miss the buck with 10 points or the strutting turkey. Once when hunting with dad in the duck blind I caught sight of a beaver with a large stick in his mouth. I would have totally missed it if I had not viewed the ripples he made in the water while swimming by. Being observant enriches our outdoor experience by letting us see the beauty in the tiniest things.

Lesson Three: Practice Patience

Patience is a virtue. We grew up hearing it, but have a hard time practicing it. When in a deer stand or a duck blind, patience is key. You may sit there for 20 minutes or 4 hours and never see a thing. Do you give up and go home? The buck may be over the next ridge or the biggest flock of the day is just across the levy.  If you go home early you will lose your opportunity at success. Patience is important for hunters, but patience is important for everyone to practice. We can’t give up at the first sign of trouble. We will miss out on the beauty and wonder of life when that is our first reaction. Patience takes practice.

Lesson Four: Wake Up Early

We have all heard “The early bird gets the worm.” A hunter will get up before the sun. He must be prepared and get settled before the animals start moving. All the times I went to the duck blind with my dad, I woke up at 4 a.m. (or earlier), get all my warm clothes on, and hop in the truck; he was up even earlier getting all the gear ready. When it comes to duck hunting, early morning is essential. Usually you see the most action right around sunrise. Do we dread getting up so early? Of course, but we would waste the trip and preparation if we didn’t.

One particular hunting trip, when I was 13 or 14 years old, dad and I woke up around 1 a.m., drove to southern Illinois, and drew a blind in the middle of a wetland. We had to wade through a moat of mud and I had to borrow men’s size 10 waders to get out there (they were bungee strapped around my legs so they didn’t come off in the mud). After we got everything into the blind, I stood at the opening and stared at the pre-dawn sky. Everything was quiet and dark and I couldn’t see anything other than a row of tree silhouettes in front of us. Then all of a sudden a loud whooshing sound was all around us. I was puzzled and asked dad what it was. He told me to watch and then I saw them, hundreds of waterfowl rose above that tree line and flew away. If I remember correctly, that happened about 10 minutes before official sunrise. I will never forget the sound of all those ducks flying off the water. I don’t remember if we saw another duck after that, but obviously it wasn’t a wasted trip for me. Beating the sun up is not something that I can manage every morning, but the times that I do I am rewarded with amazing experiences that I will always remember.

I challenge you to practice some or all of these lessons from a hunter; sit still and quiet, be observant, practice patience, and wake up early. Go outside with nothing but your ears and eyes. Leave your phone at home or in the car, the book next to your chair, and find somewhere to just sit. Wait for something new. Be observant; look at the small things. Focus on the tiny details. Practice patience, and wake up earlier than normal. I believe that if we all take the time to do these things, we will experience something unique, live a full, less stressful life, and experience life the way nature intended.

Ramona Puskar, education assistant