Friday, December 3, 2010

The White-tailed Deer of Southern Ontario

For the past week at the school, white-tailed deer have been quite the neighbours. Very quiet, elusive, and reserved neighbours... and all interactions with them have produced a sense of majestic awe in their viewers.

The entire week was dedicated to their pursuit, either with bow or camera. The world of stalking and still hunting empowered students in awareness of the moment, and all were blessed by the beauty of the animals they saw, heard, and tracked.

Students began the course practicing the ancient skill of the sit spot. Finding a spot to sit in the woods, to watch, listen and observe the life around you, is a core routine for not only hunting, but for practicing awareness as well.

The start of the week was focused on sitting in its purest form. Students were taught to slow down with no other motive, and to pay attention to the details of their surroundings, and when they came back in, to relive their experiences in the form of stories and journals.

The quest for deer would take the class to several properties in the Orangeville area. Many of the landowners are members of the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Plan, and provide the school with the opportunity to explore their healthy forests.

Students learned that the areas most populated by deer always have cover (evergreens, valleys, corn fields), food (apples, acorns, beech nuts, shrubs), good hiding spots for socializing, and water. Upon arriving at a new property, it was the job of the students to discover, map and examine how these four ingredients fit together, and to choose a sit spot based on their own predictions.

Most hunters go out before sunrise so the birds and squirrels aren't put on edge, return midday for lunch and siesta time, and head out again late afternoon. For traditional bow hunters, siesta time is a bit of a misnomer. There are always arrows to make and targets to shoot.

Doug Getgood, a student this year, used his siesta time to train his arm to shoot without his compound bow. He decided to switch to his traditional recurve halfway through the week. Intern Mike used his time to finish his self-made hickory longbow, and to learn how to shoot it. There is something about traditional archery that honours the hunt, perhaps simply because of the hard work that goes into it.

But the biggest lesson of the week was in learning how to be invisible. It is one thing to be a successful deer hunter or photographer. It is quite another to do so without the deer knowing, using stealth, camouflage, and awareness.

It is a great pleasure to observe wild deer. Being invisible in the woods returns that honour by disturbing them as little as possible -- much as we take our shoes off and leave our noisy voices outside our own homes, we can do the same in the forest by slowing down and being grateful for all the gifts the deer give us, and by respecting their space.

Thank you to the white-tailed deer for the wonder and lessons that you have given us.

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