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The Best of Time

In the hunting woods, time often has a mind of its own.

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It seems like only yesterday I was tripping along in the woods behind Dad, without a gun, just learning to move quietly and carefully and to pay attention to my surroundings - and above all else to watch where I put my feet. Seems like yesterday, but that was more than two decades ago! Time does funny things sometimes, especially when one spends as much of it as possible in the woods, where time seems to make its own rules.

Besides the feeling that the days of the season - and the years in between -- fly by, the hunter's perception of time is something that changes from day to day when he's hunting, and sometimes more often than that. Some days (or moments, or hours) waddle by like a lazy old 'coon who's already had supper, while others skip past quicker than a startled buck. Sometimes time even ceases to exist, out there in the wilds with nothing but animals to keep us company.

When you're out in the woods and there's nothing much happening around you, it seems like time has a way of rubbing it in - prolonging the misery of boredom, snickering at our pain as we stifle a yawn and feign interest in braiding a pine needle. Then when something stirs in the brush, time likes to jump into overdrive.

Still again, if we catch a glimpse of a deer's haunches through the leaves but can't quite make out the whole critter, time seems to jump into hyperspace - as if to take us past the excitement and redeposit us in tedium as soon as possible - while still dragging its feet to fully savor the trembling of our limbs and the pounding of our frantic hearts. Yep, time can be tricky sometimes.

If time seems too cruel in its erratic passage, it does seem to have some small capacity for kindness, too. Many's the occasion when time just quit - took a holiday - as I drew a bead and squeezed the trigger on a buck.

Senses slip away to join time on its brief vacation, leaving our adrenaline-addled brains to fend for themselves. The gun kicks, but we don't feel it. The BOOM of the rifle seems like a muted pop! while the clatter of a semi-auto's action cycling can be clearly discerned. Peripheral vision catches the empty shell as it exits the rifle, yet you may have to blink hard and concentrate to see what lies directly ahead. Reflex alone keeps you on your feet.

Then the senses return as quickly as they left, but time has its own ideas. It may stroll proudly back on the scene, tickled to have done a bit of good and yet ready to usher us past that sweet moment and get to the drudgery of dragging out the kill. Or it may nod off for a bit longer, as adrenaline shakes us to the marrow and blood roars through our veins to help it along. You never can tell what time might do in the hunting woods.

All of these traits of time in the woods combine to make any amount of it well-spent. Fast time, slow time, any time spent in pursuit of game beats any other form of it I've ever known. For out of the varied passage of time while hunting we draw ever nearer to the Maker of time and the beasts we hunt - and when, may I ask, have you ever had a better time than you had while hunting?

- Russ Chastain

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