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by Ernie Cardenas

I did not grow up in a hunting family. The only thing I knew about hunting was what I would see in movies or on television shows. I was always curious about the sport of hunting. I considered myself an outdoorsman and had become an avid hiker. I felt that it would be a natural transition into hunting. I did a little research, took inventory, gathered some supplies, and then put in for a draw.

I really didn’t know what I was in for. From my first trip to my last trip, the thing that really gets my blood pumping is the anticipation. The day the letter comes in the mail, I struggle to open it. An excitement comes over me. All I want to see is the words “Draw: Successful”. I finally get the letter open. I frantically gaze over it searching for those words. Finally, I see them. That’s when it starts. What to do now? I have come to learn that every hunter has different ways of doing things. Now that I know that my draw was successful, I do some research. Looking at maps, migration patterns, trail maps, and start reading through some online blogs. Then comes the first scouting trip.

I try to take as many scouting trips as I can to the area I am going to be hunting. I plan to take my hikes around the same hours that I would be hunting. I like to think of it as a dry run or a mock hunt. This allows me to gain some knowledge of the terrain and the conditions in which my hunt will be in. On my hike, I start looking for signs. It is reassuring when I finally start seeing some game trails, old tree rubs, or maybe some fresh scat. One of the best moments is when I hike up to a place where they had been bedding. The tall grass is smashed down and there is scat everywhere. Their smell is still lingering around. I know I’m onto them. Continuing on the hike, I spot one. I crouch down and try to stay quiet. My heart starts pumping and I think to myself; “Oh, this would be great if it was in season”. Knowing that they are there, in my area, and all I can do is wait for the season to start.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for that day that I have marked on the calendar. I check my backpack and supplies at least a dozen times. I stare at my maps and try to picture myself there. I start to doubt my strategy. I start re-thinking the area I picked out in my unit. I know they were there when I scouted the area, but what if they are not there anymore? I stare at migration patterns some more. I start panicking. If they aren’t there anymore, which way would they tend to go? Should I come up with a backup plan? Should I scout a different area? Did I pick the right unit? I make myself stop and breathe. The best way that I have found to calm down in this situation is target practice.

Target practice helps me in many ways. It takes my mind off of the actual hunt. It calms me down, sharpens my skills, and allows me to get my rifle or bow tuned in just right. Practice, practice, and more practice. As I see my skills sharpening up, it gives me a sense of ease knowing that if I do get the opportunity for a shot, chances are that my shot will be spot on. I practice so much that it allows the time to go by a little faster. The day draws closer. I start checking the weather patterns for my area. Then finally, the day arrives.

I pack up my truck. I check and make sure I have everything. Then, I’m off. I hit the highway with the music blaring and my heart pumping. It seems as though every car on the highway knows that I’m in a hurry and is purposely getting in my way. It now turns into one of the longest road trips ever. I have made my way to the dirt road that leads me to my area. Like clouds parting and a light shining down from above, I find my camp spot. I set up camp and prepare for the morning hunt. The night before the hunt is filled with excitement, like a child waiting for Christmas morning, I find it hard to sleep. Morning comes, I load up and head out. I glass the area and spot some movement.

 I come in at an angle and pick a good spot to stop and make some calls. I get one to move within my range. I have him in my sight. Everything is moving in slow motion. The silence is deafening. I feel a bead of sweat creep down my forehead. I then realize the excitement, the waiting, and the anticipation is over. All my preparation, my research, my target practice, my scouting, all my hard work has led up to this moment. He stops and looks, then…..I pull the trigger.