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Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Life's Lessons in the Deer Blind

I don't think that I had ever felt that cold in my entire life, at least in those first nine years. I don't believe I had ever been outside on so cold a day so early in the morning as I was on December 31, 1988. Being nine years old, I didn't really have much basis for comparison, but I will never forget how absolutely cold I felt that morning. I honestly think what made the experience so much worse for me was that I was really down on myself because I had already missed one deer the previous morning. Disappointment and cold make a fine recipe for discomfort, at least in the 9 year old mind. I'd never really been deer hunting before either. I'd never had to sit stone silent in a blind, never had to travel in a car for 7 hours anywhere, and never experienced the elements as I had that weekend.

As I look back on it, however, I feel like I learned a lot of valuable lessons on that trip to the Escondido Ranch. The first lesson was one that has stuck with me for the longest time: disappointment. The single most humbling thing my nine year old mind had experienced prior to that weekend was striking out four times in a row in a little league game. While the pre-adolescent male ego can certainly be shattered by such a traumatic series of plate appearances, little does more to deflate that same ego than going on a deer hunt, firing your rifle in the bitter cold, and having nothing to show for it save a bruise to the left shoulder and a boot full of cactus spines.

The latter came from my own personal attempt at refining the art of sulking while pretending to track the non-existent blood trail I swore was there. For me, defeat was not an option. There was a deer on the ground somewhere and I intended to find it. Second, I learned the value of spending time with your family. My father and I were spending that weekend hunting together and Dad assured me that we were going to be successful. I, however, had succeeded so far in shooting a tree stump (I think), stepping in a prickly pear cactus, and nearly falling into the river in sub-freezing temperatures. I was great company to be around. I finally realized how foolishly I was acting when someone asked me how many deer I thought that they had shot at and missed in their lifetime. I was about to reply with something rather smart-alecky when I realized it was my dad asking the question.

I also realized that I was spending a very special trip focusing on things that I couldn't control when I should really have been making the most of an opportunity to be with my father. Looking back, I realize now just how special that trip would be. The final lesson I learned on that trip was the value of perseverance. After missing the first deer, I decided I couldn't shoot straight, I didn't know how to use a scope, and that I would most likely never actually kill a deer. There was a part of me that was ready to pack my stuff up, ask to go home, and I was close to deciding that I'd never go hunting again. It's very easy to view yourself as a failure, especially when you haven't been a success to date. I just needed a little inspiration, and that came from my dad. He told me how his first deer hunt was not the resounded success I had imagined it to be. He shared that he too had missed his share of deer, and that the real test is how everyone deals with their setbacks.

It was then that I realized failure wasn't missing the deer; failure was not going out and trying to get the next one. I did end up shooting my first deer on that cold morning of December 31, and it's a memory I will cherish forever. I am grateful to my father for taking me on that first hunt, and it's one of those things I can't wait to share with my own children someday. That hunt was a unique time for my father and me to share, and that first deer is a memory that will last a lifetime.

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